The Adivasi population in Maharashtra as per the 2011 census is 1 crore 5 lakh. This is 9.4 per cent of the population of Maharashtra. In 2001 the proportion of the Adivasi population in the state was 8.9 per cent. Maharashtra has 10.17 per cent of the total tribal population in India. There are a total of 47 tribes and sub-tribes among the Adivasis in Maharashtra.
The Adivasi Adhikar Rashtriya Manch (AARM) was formed in Maharashtra at its first state convention held at the Comrade Godavari Shamrao Parulekar Bhavan at Talasari in Thane district on December 21-22, 2013. It was attended by 362 delegates from 15 districts, plus the Union Territory of Dadra & Nagarhaveli. There were 347 Adivasi delegates who came from 16 different tribes. The three major districts represented were the traditional bases of the Left movement in Maharashtra, viz Thane, Nashik and Nandurbar, but the significant feature was that representatives from a dozen other districts were also present.
The convention was addressed by Brinda Karat, Jitendra Choudhury and Dr Ashok Dhawale. There was a good discussion on the 18-page draft resolution placed by J P Gavit. The convention elected a 51-member state committee, which in turn elected J P Gavit (Nashik) as chairman, Barkya Mangat (Thane) as convenor and Jaising Mali (Nandurbar) as joint convenor. Veteran leaders L B Dhangar, Lahanu Kom and Kumar Shiralkar were elected as advisors. The two-day convention culminated in an impressive rally and public meeting.
Two years ago in November 2011, a preparatory state-level meeting to form the AARM was held at Belapur in New Mumbai. However, the platform and its work did not quite take off then. It has been resolved that this mistake should not repeat itself in the future.
Maharashtra has had a long and rich tradition of the Adivasi movement beginning with the historic Adivasi Revolt in Thane district from 1945-47 that was led by Comrades Shamrao and Godavari Parulekar under the red flag of the Kisan Sabha and the Communist Party. In the 1970s the movement spread to Nashik and Nandurbar districts. In the last one decade the movement among tribals has spread to newer districts like Nanded, Yavatmal, Ahmednagar, Amravati and Pune.
The traditional organisation that has been working among tribals for the last seven decades has been the AIKS. The AIKS is particularly strong in the tribal areas of Thane and Nashik districts and it also has good units in the tribal areas of Nandurbar, Nanded, Yavatmal, Ahmednagar, Amravati and Pune districts. The AIAWU has a good unit in Nandurbar district. The AIDWA and DYFI have good units in Thane district and some work in Nashik and some of the other districts above.
Hence our work report will briefly deal with the struggles led by the above mass organisations.
ON IMPLEMENTATION OF FOREST RIGHTS ACT
Two massive struggles were led by the AIKS in the last two years for the stringent implementation of the Forest Rights Act - in January-February 2011 and in April 2013. Over 50,000 tribals blocked state highways indefinitely on both occasions, forcing the state government to concede major demands. The two main issues that were raised were: mass rejection of thousands of genuine tribal claims to forest land, and granting land far less than what is actually being cultivated by tribals for long. Now a concerted follow-up is being conducted to see that the government decisions are implemented.
Another major land issue that has been taken up in Thane district is that concerning lands that are being tilled by tribals for several decades but which are still in the names of the old landlords. Now these lands are being sold to new fatcats and the tribals are being sought to be evicted. This is being opposed tooth and nail by all the mass organisations and struggles are being led on this issue.
ON INCLUSION OF NAMES OF RURAL POOR IN BPL LISTS
In 2012, the AIKS led another major statewide struggle for the inclusion of the rural poor in the Below Poverty Line (BPL) lists. Large demonstrations of thousands of people were held in several tehsils of Thane, Nashik, Nandurbar, Ahmednagar, Nanded, Yavatmal, Pune and many other districts. The total mobilisation in this statewide agitation was over 1,20,000, of which over 75,000 was from the tribal belt. In some districts, as a result of consistent follow-up, thousands of names of the poor were included in the BPL lists.
ON IMPLEMENTATION OF THE NREGA
In districts like Nandurbar, Ahmednagar, Thane, Yavatmal and some other districts, struggles were led by the AIAWU, AIKS, AIDWA and DYFI demanding work and proper wages under the NREGA. Many of these actions were successful and the tribals in various places received work and wages.
The DYFI in Thane district took up the issue of registration of seasonal migrant labour and the issuance of identity cards to them.
ON FOOD SECURITY AND THE PDS
The AIDWA in Thane and Nashik districts was in the forefront of struggles for food security and against corruption and mismanagement in the PDS. Thousands of quintals of rains being diverted to the black market were caught by our activists resulting in the suspension of licenses of the guilty ration shop owners. Campaigns were led for ration cards to those who did not have any.
The issue of malnutrition-related deaths of children was taken up in Thane, Nandurbar and Amravati districts by means of dharnas and demonstrations.
In Nashik district it was under our imaginative leadership that the novel Doorstep Ration Scheme was first started in the tribal areas of Surgana tehsil. This scheme is now being implemented in the state. It has served to check corruption in the PDS and to provide guaranteed grain to the poor.
ON DRINKING WATER AND IRRIGATION
The issue of drinking water and water for irrigation has been taken up in several districts, especially in the light of chronic drought conditions. Tribal districts have been wilfully neglected and water from here is often taken away to the non-tribal districts and areas.
The classic example of this is Thane district which has the largest water reservoirs in Maharashtra, but the tribal areas are bereft of even drinking water, leave alone water for irrigation. This is in spite of the fact that many of the dams built in the tribal areas are funded by the tribal sub-plan.
Now there is a new proposed river-linking scheme that aims to submerge several villages in some tribal tehsils in Nashik and Thane districts and take the water away to Gujarat and Mumbai. This is being stoutly opposed by the AIKS.
ON EDUCATION, EMPLOYMENT AND HEALTH
In several districts, local issues concerning education, employment and health have been taken up. The SFI has taken up the issues of admissions in secondary schools and colleges and of atrocities on girl students in ashram schools in Thane and Nashik districts.
In Thane, Nashik and Nandurbar districts, several schools with thousands of students are being run well by educational institutions under our leadership. One senior and junior college named after Comrade Godavari Parulekar at Talasari in Thane district is also being run with nearly 2000 students.
ON ATROCITIES AGAINST WOMEN
There have been growing incidents of attacks and sexual violence against women and girls in the tribal areas. The infiltration of consumerist culture with its commodification of women has adversely affected the security of women in tribal areas too. As is the experience elsewhere, the police administration is often hand in glove with the guilty in such cases. The AIDWA has taken up many such issues in Thane and Nashik districts, leading to the arrests of the guilty. The observance of International Womens Day on March 8 and the Savitribai Phule Birth Anniversary Day on January 3 by the AIDWA has helped to make tribal women conscious of their problems and their rights. A sustained campaign against superstitions has been carried out by the AIDWA in the tribal areas.