Grand council of tribals taking shape
By Roy Mathew
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, OCT. 2. A grand council of representatives of about 30 tribes in the State will be meeting here on Wednesday to chart out agitation programmes to press their demand for land and employment.
The Joint Action Council of Adivasis and Dalits said in a statement here today that the council would deliberate on their demand for 2.25 lakh acres of land for the 45,000 tribal families in the State and declaration of the land as a tribal area under Schedule 5 of the Constitution. The demand for the enforcement of the provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act of 1996 would also be discussed by the council.
It would decide on extending the `refugee camps' being organised as part of the agitation here to the districts also. The council would also consider launching of a movement for farm land involving landless Scheduled Tribes.
The meeting of the grand council will be preceded by a mass rally attended by tribals, Dalits and human rights activists. The rally would be led by representatives of 30 tribes from across the State, the action council said. Various folk art forms of tribals would be presented during the rally. The grand council would meet at the Martyr's Column, Palayam.
Umbrella organisation With the holding of the grand council, the action council led by Ms. C.K. Janu is likely to emerge as an umbrella organisation representing various tribal groups. The State has about 35 small and large tribes. Now the action council represented mostly the tribals from Wayanad, especially the Paniayas and Adiyas. They were mostly bonded labourers who were not in possession of any land.
Though the Government was expected to rehabilitate them by providing land and employment following abolition of bonded labour in the country, only a limited number were rehabilitated under various special projects. (More than 1,000 tribal families were rehabilitated in 3,295 hectares under five special projects). When tribals were given land outside such projects, alienation of land had invariably occurred through an immiserisation process or outright cheating.
Several other tribes had land. But, over the years, they were gradually deprived of their land. Already, the Government has partially conceded the demand of the tribals for land. However, allocation of land would be meaningless unless the Government demonstrates that it would not permit further alienation of tribal land. Successive Governments were supporting settlers who had usurped tribal land. Hence, the present imbroglio.
The Governments for years have not attended to the tribal economy. The mainstream political parties always spoke for the farmers, but tribals were not in the ambit of their arguments. While there is a lot of noise about the fall in prices of major agricultural commodities, nothing is being said about stagnation or imports in the area of minor forest produce. The Government had also not intervened effectively when tribals were being cheated of their produce at abysmally low prices by middlemen.
The Chief Minister, Mr. A.K. Antony, has opined that the tribals are exceeding the limits by organising ``refugee camps'' in front of the Secretariat. However, in striking contrast is the agitation being launched by the feeder organisations of the main opposition parties in the State.
They are resorting to bomb attacks and picketing of the Ministers, partly eclipsing the agitation of the tribals which has been, by and large, peaceful so far.