Corporate India Versus Indigenous People


Consistent with the unjust, decaying economic model of our deficit times, the commodification of everything and everyone proceeds apace in India. The commercialisation of the land is shattering the lives of millions of India’s poorest, hungriest most malnourished people, who are being murdered and raped, violently displaced and falsely arrested as huge multi-nationals, financially favoured and militarily armed by the Indian government, ravage the land.

The state has more or less abandoned rural people (70% of the population) and turned the countryside over to corporate India. Mineral extraction, dam building, infrastructure projects, water appropriation and industrial farming make up their burgeoning business portfolios. The acclaimed author and political activist, Arundhati Roy [discussing ‘The changing face of democracy in India’ (CFDI)] makes clear that the land and everything inside it, is now owned “by the corporations, every mountain, every river, every forest, every dam, every water supply system”. Add to this the telephone networks and the media, and some say the judiciary, and the world’s largest democracy looks rather less democratically sparkling clean. Indeed, to the persecuted people in the forests and the urban poor crying out for justice, democracy is a city fable of little significance and no reality.

Land sympathetically and sustainably nurtured by Adivasi families for generations (the original or native people), is being violently taken from them in what Arundhati Roy describes as “the biggest land grab since Christopher Columbus”. In varying degrees of intensity, conflict and resistance is taking place throughout the areas affected by the land appropriation, although Roy suggests the violence is even more widespread, “all across India there is insurrection, there is a bandwidth of resistance” – made up of various marginalized groups. Massive numbers are being displaced, villages destroyed, women raped, hundreds, as Human Rights Watch (HRW) state, “have been arbitrarily arrested, [and imprisoned] tortured, and charged with politically motivated offenses that include murder, conspiracy, and sedition”. Charges manufactured and enforced under one or other of the draconian laws passed by the world’s largest democracy, to stifle dissent and confine the troublesome poor to the shadows. Mira Kamdar, Senior Fellow at the World Policy Institute says, the nations oldest and most marginalised people are “completely cut off from the economically vibrant, rapidly growing India of the country’s major cities”, and, due to the industrialisation of the environment are facing a major threat to their livelihood. They are sidelined, intimidated and, labeled “Maoist (or Naxalite) terrorists” by the government, a call reinforced by the screaming ubiquitous 24-hour news media. They are relentlessly victimized, targeted, Roy states, “in the name of development”: A perverse idea of development that whilst feeding corporate coffers, is destroying the lives of millions of indigenous people and causing devastation to the natural environment.

Clear off we want our Bauxite

Within some of the poorest states of India, from West Bengal and Chattisgarh in the Northeast, to Karnataka in the Southwest, (taking in Orissa, Andra Pedash, Jharkhand, Utter Predash, and Manipur) sits a treasure trove of minerals worth trillions of dollars. A huge area incorporating large tracks of ancestral Land, where Adivasi who number around 150 million (half the population of the USA) and Dalit groups have lived for millennia. Rich in bauxite, iron ore and uranium, this area is an Aladdin’s cave of minerals, which India’s corporations, and the one percent beneficiaries of a decade of economic growth, see as theirs by right. A right assumed by wealth and power, as Arundhati Roy, speaking on BBC Newsnight 3/06/2011 puts it, “the middle and upper classes in India have ascended into outer space from where they look down on the (rural) poor and ask, what’s our bauxite doing in your mountains, what’s our water doing in your rivers?”

To facilitate easy access to “their bauxite”, corporations need the land to be cleared of obstacles – indigenous people and their homes. According to Ashish Kothari, author of Churning The Earth, “In recent years the country has seen a massive transfer of land and natural resources from the rural poor to the wealthy. Around 60 million people have been displaced (although some put the figure much higher) in India by large-scale industrial developments”. The millions of mainly Dalits and Adivasi, made homeless and destitute, forced to ‘re-locate’ to the slums and shanty colonies of small towns and mega cities, where they are also unwelcome, are patronisingly promised their plight serves a greater good, that of employment-generation. But as Roy makes clear in Capitalism A Ghost Story (CGS), “by now, we know that the connection between GDP growth and jobs is a myth. After twenty years of ‘growth’, 60% of India’s workforce is self-employed, 90% of India’s labour force works in the unorganized {unprotected, unregulated} sector”.

IDP’s in India fall into a bureaucratic chasm, with neither local nor national government taking responsibility for them. There is, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC) state, “no central government agency responsible for monitoring the situations and numbers of people internally displaced by armed conflict or generalised violence in India”, and although the government occasionally publishes figures of IDP’s in camps, there is no “monitoring of the number of people in displacement outside camps, including in urban areas.” Official figures they conclude are “therefore likely to underestimate the scale of the actual situation”.

In the resource-rich areas of central and eastern India, where large scale mining and infrastructure projects are taking place, fast economic growth, HRW, report, “has been accompanied by rapidly growing inequality”, and “widespread displacement of forest-dwelling tribal communities”. And, despite the fact that India is bound by the United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, which places IDP’s under the protection of the state, entitling them to the same rights as everyone else, “the government has yet to enact comprehensive laws to protect, compensate, and resettle displaced people”, caused by ‘development’, who number in the millions.

TINA and The Corporate Lovers

A violent undemocratic river of greed and indifference is attempting to drown the indigenous people of Eastern and Central India. The Adivasi and Dalit people, living in the vast Dandakaranya forest are, Arundhati Roy (CFDI), states, “being surrounded [by government forces], they are cut of from their resources, they can’t come out of the forest they are dying of malnutrition [so intense it has been described as ‘nutritional aides’]”, all of which constitutes genocide by attrition. To their great credit, and indomitable will these ancient peoples are fighting back, waging a tribal uprising against the range of security forces deployed against them; the military and paramilitary the Salwa Judum militia and Special Police Officers (SPO). Security personnel that operate it would seem under a cloak of impunity, particularly, HRW relate, “for abuses committed … in Jammu and Kashmir, the northeast, and areas in central and eastern India”, where “members of security forces implicated in serious rights abuses continued to enjoy impunity, in large measure, due to India’s laws and policies”.

As well as trampling on a range of international treatise the Indian government is vandalizing the constitution, in support of Indian businesses, as they attempt to clear tribal land of millions of people, and extract the treasures sewn into the fabric of the Earth. Taking something for nothing and with armed government support, it’s a dream come true for the multi million rupee corporations that, as Arundhati Roy (CGS), puts it, “have managed to muscle their way to the head of the spigot that is spewing money extracted from deep inside the earth”. Like the Bauxite, which runs through the mountains of Orissa, which to the corporations and futures traders, is estimated to be worth $4 trillion (extracted). To the Adivasi the bauxite is an ecological keystone, its value rests in it being in the mountain, because as Arundhati Roy (NN) tells us, it “makes the mountain a porous reservoir, which holds water, that irrigates the plains”, sustaining hundreds of thousands of people. To the people who live on the land, in harmony with the environment, the bauxite outside the mountain is worthless – they will not benefit in any way from the minerals being extracted, nor indeed will the people of India generally. Corporations, who are exempted from all manner of taxes and offered a range of government “incentives” to rape the land, pay only a nominal “royalty” to the government of India.

Out of step with the time

Such government negligence and indifference fits hand in glove with an obsessive desire for economic development and accelerated growth divorced from social justice. Destructive (government) policies pursued for the last two decades are at the root of the intense suffering being caused to millions of Adivasi and Dalit people, not just in the Dandakaranya forest but also in towns and cities across India. They are seen as a refuge of the past, to be swept aside, eradicated, lest India’s image as a financial destination of choice and the great shopping center of Asia be tainted in western centres of corporate/power. Government policies that are condemning hundred of millions to extreme poverty, fueling growing levels of cataclysmic inequality, and feeding a system of injustice and division, that traps the poor into greater and greater poverty and destitution, whilst concentrating more wealth and power with the wealthy and powerful.

Employed to justify a range of social violations, legal and illegal, from austerity measures, to the violent destruction of ancient ways of life, abuse and population displacement, development along with its partner in crime – ‘growth’ have become the golden chalices of the age. Fused together, they determine the policies of corporate/governments throughout the developed world and dictate the approach of developing nations – whose economic plans are fashioned by international agencies offering conditional support, dressed up as aid, who are themselves little more than agents of corporate power.

Growth and development, pseudonyms for profit and more profit, are the lead players of market fundamentalism, a system like all totalitarian ideologies, which is destructive, divisive and (often) violent in its methods and impact. It is a model of civilization that promotes separation and inequality, which seeks to reduce mankind to think in limited and limiting material terms, and sees everything and everybody as a commodity to be exploited until utterly spent. Every corner of every city, town and village viewed as a market, everyone a banded consumer. Crude by any standards, such subtleties of ‘development’ fuel the corporate political machinery that is violating the lives of millions of India’s most vulnerable people in the forests of central and eastern India.
Out of step with the new time that speaks of cooperation, unity and social justice, the ‘Neo Classical’ model has served its purpose and had its day. It does not meet the needs of the overwhelming majority of the people of India or the world. It has hold of the minds of men, restricting the possibilities for change to its own limited paradigm. It is a model, which has quashed the imagination of the unimaginative who deny even the possibility of a fair and just alternative. As British Prime Minister David Cameron, in his myopic manner, recently proclaimed – “There Is No Alternative” (TINA) the Financial Times 7/03/13 report. No alternative to what Prime Minister? To inequality and injustice, competition and division, to conflict and suffering? The poisonous river of consequences flowing from “TINA” – neatly packaged in shiny corporate/political propaganda and sold to us as the only show in town, it must be confined to the past and allowed to die. As Arundhati Roy speaking on Democracy Now, makes clear, “People [we] have to begin to formulate some kind of vision and that vision has to be the dismantling of this particular model, in which a few people can be allowed to have an unlimited amount of wealth and power, both political and corporate. That has to be dismantled” and “a new imagination” beyond restricting ideologies, neither communist nor capitalist” explored.

Such crippling ideological rhetoric (as Cameron’s) closes down the intellectual space in which open-minded investigation can flourish as Gillian Tett, Assistant editor of the Financial Times, puts it, “the way the elite stay in power is not merely by controlling the means of production – the money, but by controlling the cognitive map – the way we think”. A system that grows out of and perpetuates injustice and suffering, as market totalitarianism does, is one for which an alternative is not only required, it is essential for the health of the planet, the wellbeing and survival of humanity, indeed ‘there is no alternative’. A pragmatic alternative rooted in principles of goodness, sharing, justice and freedom – the birthrights of every man, woman and child, which if imaginatively modeled and simplistically applied, offer a just and fair alternative. One that, if mankind is to flourish and not simply persist, is, I suggest, our only choice.

Graham Peebles is director of the Create Trust. He can be reached at:

Graham Peebles is a British freelance writer and charity worker. He set up The Create Trust in 2005 and has run education projects in Sri Lanka, Ethiopia and India.  E:  W: