Sunday, January 20, 2013

Convener’s Report

By Ashok Choudhary

4th National Conference of National Forum of Forest People and Forest Workers

27th May, 2012,Dehra Dun, Uttarakhand

First of all I would like to pay our heartfelt homage to comrades Dr. Viniyan, Prem Khawas, Noor Alam and last but not the least Bharati ji, all of whom we unfortunately lost during the very important and critical phase of our struggle. In the space of just five years, between 2006 and 2011, we have lost four of our leading comrades, whose physical absence in our midst is an insurmountable loss to the movement for forest rights. Their dedication and memories will always remain with us as a source of inspiration. I welcome you all to the 4th National Conference in respectful homage to our departed comrades.
This conference is being held at a very critical juncture when the issue of forest rights, whether explicitly or implicitly, is becoming a key national issue and not just an issue in the forest regions only. A wide spectrum of the political, social and intelligentsia space is giving due importance to the issue of forest rights. Comrades, we have got to realise that the forest right movement today passing through an extremely important historically  phase, which will decide the future of the multitudes of traditional forest dwellers and the survival of the forests itself. It is in the context of this historical moment that NFFPFW and other organizations fighting for forest rights have to decide on their respective roles. Today, it is amply clear that we can play a decisive role in this movement only by making the right of self governance/rule of the forests (by the traditional forest dwellers) as our central focus. Though other related issues regarding forests and environment may influence the nature and context of this central struggle, but they will not be the deciding factor. It needs to be clearly understood that even worldwide, the struggles & movements for environmental justice have to focus on the right to self governance of forests and other natural resources by the dependent communities as the most critical and the core issue in this struggle. It should be this understanding which should form the basis of the political & organizational processes in the future struggle for forest rights.
In this context it becomes necessary that we, look back from the time of NFFPFW’s formation till today and carry out an objective analysis of this time span so that we may correctly estimate our strength and also understand the nature and content of this strength to appropriately face up to the challenges ahead. This analysis has to be an examination of the history of the organization from its inception and growth over the years. The movement for rights over forests as such is a 250 year old fight. It needs to be emphasized  here that the fight for the right to forest and other important mass movements on other critical issues are, in the present situation, an opposition to the onslaught of capitalism and thus in essence, a struggle towards systemic change.
Historically contextualizing all these movements would enable us to locate the essence of the four major streams of earlier movements which flows through the veins of our current movement. They are as follows:

1.                 The heroic struggle of the Adivasis (original inhabitants) against the colonial British Raaj for their rights to self rule/management of the forests, where thousands laid down their lives, was the first real fight for independence from the clutches of British imperialism and laid the foundation for our national freedom struggle. These movements remained confined to particular regions and could not take on a national character. To put a brake on such rebellions /upsurges, the imperialist powers enticed the then Indian elite into a game of give and take and compromises, thus creating a culture of compromise as the face of our later nationalist mainstream independence struggles. And in this scheme of things, the toiling, exploited millions were completely sidelined and excluded. But still, the battle for control over land, water and forests remains the core issue of national liberation and nation rebuilding.
2.                 1920 – 1930 saw a new beginning of revolutionary struggle/ movement – initiated by the phenomenal 23 year old martyr Bhagat Singh and his party the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association. The genesis of HSRA was rooted in Gadar Party and its revolutionary ideology, which had a strong base among the anti feudal peasant movement and youth movement in undivided Punjab. It laid out an anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist, anti-feudal alternative for the national liberation movement and the goal was to create a socialist socio-political reality for the country. British imperialists and capitalist forces very carefully but surreptitiously suppressed the heritage/legacy of such revolutionary thoughts and practices from the people of the nation. But the ingenuity and commitment of Bhagat Singh and his young revolutionary brigade kept the embers of such revolutionary thoughts burning and by the 70s, such revolutionary thoughts had become a national political heritage.
3.                 The 1920s also saw the beginning of militant revolutionary peasant uprisings and upsurges against the tyranny of Zamindari and Jagirdari practices from Champaran. And this found its full fledged political articulation in the Telengana peasant movement, which with its call for “land to the tillers”, called for basic land reforms to usher in a paradigmatic change in the agrarian base of the economy. Today’s movements against land acquisition, for right to land , carry the heritage from Champaran through Telengana and later in the Naxalbari peasant uprising in the 60’s. The governments which have ruled independent India have always refrained from initiating comprehensive land reforms and have conspired to hand over land to the capitalist, feudal classes and displace people from their own lands and habitat.
4.                 Beginning from our national independence struggles and especially from the 60s, the country has seen the emergence of strong women’s movements. In the beginning these women’s movements were oriented towards issues of violence on women and were led by the middle class but later on labouring women also started participating in large numbers. Gradually, the texture of the movement changed. In the last two decades, the struggle of the labouring women has not remained confined to just issues of violence against women but has evolved into a full fledged fight against imperialism, capitalism, feudalism and the oppression of paternalistic domination on the lives of women. Demands for an overhaul of the economic, political and social structure of society have been coming up very strongly. And this has had its effect on the social movements and its organizational processes – today the issue of women’s leadership in all hues of socio-political struggles and in mass movements has become quite central. This has also effects on the children and youth who are questioning the entire edifice of injustice woven around their lives and living.

The last fourteen years of our organization’s struggles need to be looked into and analyzed against the backdrop of these four major trends or streams of movements. Only then would we be able to form a correct / objective reading and analysis of our actions/campaigns/movements and its organizational dimensions and processes – which in turn would help pave the way for the future.
Broadly speaking, NFFPFW’s life and times so far can be divided into three main phases. They are:
i)                   1st phase – from 1993 when the formation process began to 1998 when the Forum was established; to 2002 when the 1st National Conference was held
ii)                2nd phase – 2002- 2006 i.e. till the passing of the FRA
iii)              3rd phase – 2007 – onwards i.e. after the passing of FRA.

1st Phase

In the beginning the process of formation of the forum began with the creation of NCL – an organization representing unorganized working class segments. It was then that a very important decision to prepare a report on the conditions of forest dwellers and push for a comprehensive legislation to protect the economic, social and constitutional rights of the laboring sections of forest dwellers was taken up. Further, keeping in mind the varying regional specificities of the forest dwellers, a powerful all encompassing charter of demands was sought to be created. In this process the different social/mass organizations working with various forest dwelling communities were contacted. For the first time probably, an effort to bring together the different organizations working amongst the different sections of the forest dwelling communities was taken up in India. Independent Trade Unions played a big role in this effort. Three years of relentless efforts saw the first coming together of many different such organizations in 1996 (Dehradun). After this , efforts continued at the regional and national levels to create an organization representing the forest dwellers, culminating in the formation of the National Forum of Forest People and Forest Workers – NFFPFW- at Ranchi, Jharkhand, in 1998.
During the period from 1993 – 2002 live debates/ discussions on the very definition of forest workers ensued and an understanding was arrived at that connecting and focusing on labour related aspects/ issues was central to fighting for forest rights. However, the Hindi name of the Forum – “van shramjiwi manch” was objected by many organizations as they felt that it did not reflect the very critical identity issue of forest dwellers. It is true that the issue of identity of the adivasis and other traditional forest dwelling communities is an aspect of great importance. Taking this debate forward saw the unanimous adoption of “Van-Jan Shramjiwi Manch”as an appropriate representation/naming in Hindi of NFFPFW at the 1st National Conference at Nagpur – 2002.
Summing up, the major realizations of this formative period were:
i)                   A communication was established amongst the different organizations working across the forest regions of the country and many of them got involved in a broader organizational framework to fight for forest rights and the 1st National Conference saw the participation of 90 such organizations.
ii)                A charter of demands for forest rights was adopted with a corresponding concept paper on devising a comprehensive legislation for the same. A political document of the Forum was also created from this entire process. Eminent social scientist Dr. Roy Burman contributed critically by establishing the legal definition of forest workers.
iii) The critical challenge in the formative period was in establishing an effective coordination between different organizations working for forest rights and secondly to develop a broad collective understanding about the movement.
iv)The kind of activities/campaigns we pursued during this formative period saw the participation of various kinds of organizations working for forest rights – from those involved primarily in intellectual pursuits to those directly involved in protests and struggles. Though all such organizations had a common purpose of ensuring forest rights to the forest dwellers but an effective framework to link up and unite these multipronged, multilayered efforts could not be effectively established. This did result in problems in the coming days. We should have focused more on creating such a framework from the very beginning but at that period we were not fully aware about this critical aspect.

2nd Phase
Our first National Conference was very encouraging wherein we could give final shape to the organizational framework, unanimously pass the constitution and form the National Council as per accepted conventions/principles. This conference also saw the creation of a strong action plan for the realization of forest rights. Let us recall that from 2002 onwards; the Forest department (FD in short) had issued country wide notices for forcible eviction of so called “encroachers” from the forests (including orders for destruction of dwellings/homes/settlements). Assam saw one of the crudest forms of barbarity unleashed by the FD, when elephants were let loose on the forest dwellers to destroy their settlements. However, this barbarity was strongly opposed by the forest people and the Forum unilaterally supported this fight against the cruelty of the FD. The forest people across many states, buoyed by the unflinching and active support of the Forum, launched a movement against this forcible eviction denial of rights to forest land / resources resulting in spontaneous reclaiming of their dispossessed land in the forest areas. Regions where such heights of action did not happen, the Forum carried out intense campaigns against these brutal and illegal steps of the FD. It was during this phase that the forest based communities increased their demands for enactment of a law to protect their inalienable right to forest land and resources. The pressure created by such mass movements and the fact that Assembly elections were round the corner in many states with large forest tracts  in 2003, forced the Central Government to instruct the FD to withdraw their forcible eviction order. The then NDA government ran campaigns for the return of rights to forests for the forest based communities and in many states like Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa success was achieved. The following year, 2004, saw the Congress party announce its intention to pass forest rights legislation during the Lok Sabha electioneering process. The 2004 elections saw the defeat of the NDA and the Congress party with the support of regional parties, in which the Left parties had a major presence, formed the first United Progressive Alliance – UPA - government at the Center. A Common Minimum Programme was decided upon and this included the issue of forest rights. Due to the pressure built by the ongoing militant mass movements outside Parliament and the Left parties within Parliament, the UPA government, in 2005, presented a draft bill for giving forest rights only to Scheduled Tribes. However, Parliament immediately returned this draft bill and set up a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) to look into the matter. NFFPFW strongly opposed this draft bill which only talked of forest rights to just one section of traditional forest dwellers – the Scheduled Tribes. We argued that the forests have been traditionally home to many other sections of forest dwellers and also many Adivasis   ( Indigenous people) did not have recognition under the Scheduled Tribes Act. Further, our argument was that enactment of such lopsided act giving rights to one section amongst the multitudes of forest dwellers could very well lead to inter community and race based conflicts ultimately resulting in a stalemate situation denying rights to any section of the forest dwellers. The Forum strongly put forward its case of creating a legislation giving rights to all the traditional forest dwellers or forest based working people. The Forum’s delegation met the JPC and presented its case/argument. The JPC heeded our views and in its report to Parliament also called for a comprehensive legislation covering all sections of forest dwelling communities. This was indeed an important political victory for the organization. The JPC’s report was a reiteration and strengthening of our political views. This victory gave us the confidence that even Parliament is an important political space which should be used for ensuring comprehensive forest rights. The Forum believes that this political space must be fully utilized in our struggles ahead. Ultimately Parliament did pass this bill. However it put a 75 year domiciliary proof clause for non Scheduled Tribe dwellers which created problems in implementation of the Act and engendered an atmosphere of palpable tension amongst the various other sections of forest dwellers and Adivasis with ST status. But still the Forum believes that the enactment of this act is a big step ahead for achieving overall rights for all forest dwellers by opening up a strong new political space based on which a vibrant political movement may be launched for the right to forests for forest based working people. And not only this, the Forum under the relentless pursuit of women members lead by one of our founding members comrade Bharatiji strongly positioned equal rights to women to forest and natural resources.
During the entire phase there were certain parallel social processes which gave strength to the movement for forest rights and ensured success in the enactment of FRA. After 2002, NFFPFW plunged itself wholeheartedly in various national and international movements and initiatives and established its identity, at national and international levels. In  February 2003 the Forum’s participation in the national protest demonstration, Labour Rally in Delhi against the anti-labour policies of the Central Government along with NTUI ( New Trade Union Initiative); in January 2004 participating actively and jointly with NTUI and its constituent member organizations with prominent number presence in the WSF in Mumbai; further participating in December’04 World Dignity Forum in Ramlila Maidan in Delhi and aligning and coordinating with various other world wide socio-political struggles of the exploited ; in 2006 participating in NTUI’s inaugural conference and relating its struggle and establishing a political relationship with the working class struggles  -  all these were important milestones in the Forum’s evolution into a political entity of  repute. It was also during this time span that NFFPFW established its relations with the ongoing world wide environmental justice movements. All these political processes enhanced the political awareness of the communities attached to the Forum and helped create an unprecedented growth in the community leadership within the organization. The desire to participate in the broader struggles being waged all around grew noticeably among the community leadership. Most importantly all these political processes made it very clear that a collective leadership of community members and field based activists was developing which could lead this forest rights movement at the national level in the near future. New challenges came up for the organization very strongly.  This was also true for all other relevant mass political movement based organizations.        

3rd phase
The passing of FRA in 2006 was a very encouraging milestone for the forest dwelling communities which helped to generate a dream of liberating themselves from the clutches of poverty and lack of dignity. Consequently,a new found political consciousness began circulating in their veins. At the same time however, the FD along with other administrative machinery created a ‘front’ amongst themselves to stall the implementation of the FRA. The FD which, right from its inception, thinks itself to be the lords of the jungle, just could not digest the fact that FRA, both implicitly and explicitly , was taking away their ‘birth right’ to lord over the forests and rule and exploit the forest dwellers for their personal gains. The Act actually kept the FD out of any decisive role in the implementation of FRA. Thus to keep its ‘lordship’ intact, the FD incorporated their old ally elites within their fold and in effect created a situation of direct confrontation between the State and the forest dwelling communities. The forest regions witnessed a new category of class conflicts. Further, the lapse of almost one year between the passings of the law in Parliament in Dec2006 to the framing of actual legal framework in Jan’2008 further complicated the implementation scenario. This situation also had its effect within the organization. The sizable sections of middle class of our associates, true to their class instincts, started vacillating and got into a negative frame of mind. However, the masses from the community of forest dwellers were on a positive high. The fact of the matter is that the ‘state of conflict’ prevailing between the community and the state pushed the middle class associates in to ‘state of indecisiveness and inaction’. This layer of leadership looked at the government as the prime mover in implementation of FRA and viewed the communities as mere beneficiaries! The government machinery’s lack of political will in implementing the FRA in effect created a sense of despondency, insecurity and vacillation in the middle class segments. It needs to be noted here that with the onslaught of the neo-liberal policies of floundering global capital the middle class’s appetite for political confrontation with the state has evaporated. On the other hand the appetite of the exploited multitudes of forest dwelling communities to take on the state machinery showed an exponential increase and it is this new force which is leading this challenge against the exploitative Indian state. The communities are no longer satisfied at being mute recipients of crumbs thrown in as relief by the state but are becoming aware, involved and demanding their rights. This new found positive and constructive political consciousness of the toiling masses of forest dwellers is creating a tussle with the vacillations of the middle class. Increasing active involvement of the women in the movement has also intensified such tussle.In fact this trend can also be located in numerous socio-political and working class organizations and movements. It is exactly for this reason that these intervening five years from the enactment of FRA and now that our organizational processes and dynamics have faced serious challenges. The whole question boils down to the fact that either strengthening the organizational functioning and dynamics to lead the movement towards achieving broader political objectives should be the challenge or focusing on “other safer issues” to get away from the ‘state of conflict’ inherent in the movement for Forest Right and thus reorient the very founding ideological base of the organization itself and “survive” – these are the two choices before us. The challenge now is to “take on” this ‘state of conflict’ without the fear of dragons in front or tigers at the back, rather than become deserters from the flaming battlefields.
The aforementioned conflict within the leadership in the 3rd phase of our organization’s journey has led to the development of a strange situation wherein a huge gap has opened up between the leadership and the regional bases. Though the fight on the ground has gathered momentum, the leadership has gradually become ineffective and for all practical purposes rudderless at the national level. There is also a conflict of interest between practicing and non-practicing activism. And it is because of this that parochialism and escapism has clouded the minds of a big section of the national leadership. The situation calls for a complete restructuring of the national leadership.

2007 onward – an account of the movement and organizational dynamics

The passing of FRA ’06 saw the emergence of a strong desire amongst the forest dwellers to get their rights and in different areas some solid actions, programmes were undertaken at their initiative. In March’07 thousands of the Forum’s members joined other mass movement based organizations under the banner of Sangharsh – a newly created platform which brought together other mass movement organizations, organized a three week long sit-in demonstration in front of the Parliament to successfully get across their stiff opposition to the land acquisition law. This joint sit-in demonstration by different mass organizations from different regions created an atmosphere of deeper understanding of each others issues and most importantly, a sense of co-operation amongst each other. Participants felt the power of collective strength and its role in helping attain each others rights. During these demonstrations under the Sangharsh banner members of different communities met ministers and secretaries from different ministries by being part of delegations which went for dialogues with such ministries. This definitely bolstered the morale of the fighting communities who got an exposure to take the state machinery face to face. Though people associated with the Forum and other organizations have been participating in big mass programmes earlier, this new found enthusiasm of Sangharsh’07 rally in Delhi, ensured increased participation and initiative from all sections of the people for all central programmes henceforth organized under the Sangharsh banner in the following years. The struggling people could form their own understanding and assessment of the working ways of the state machinery while participating in high level dialogues with Central ministries .The people emerged more positive and went back to their respective regions and areas of struggle with renewed vigour and an open call to up the ante and establish their control over land, minerals, water and forests. It was this belief and enthusiasm so generated by the Sangharsh interactions that in April 2007, people organized themselves in Rewa district of Madhya Pradesh , reclaimed (dakhal) about 4000 acres of fallow forest land and started cultivating the same and sowed seeds for regeneration of the forests. Prior to this, from 2002 onwards, the Sonbhadra region in UP was witness to such reclamation of forest land and forest regeneration activities. Taking cue from these successes and emboldened by the Sangharsh experience, people achieved major successes when they started challenging the very authority and legitimacy of the Forest Department. The comrades and fellow fighters of the communities were aware of imminent attacks on their movement by the forest mafia and Forest Department and so it happened. But the ‘prepared state’ helped people to counter such attacks strongly and boldly and even helped them repulse armed police battalions ,who were sent scurrying back to their barracks in the face of this united and democratic mass resistances. This sent shock waves down the corridors of administrative channels and they reacted by labeling such mass resistances as Maoist. False cases were filed which were fought tooth and nail and reversed; though thousands of such false cases are still hanging on the shoulders of members from different forest communities across the country and the government is not taking any meaningful steps to clear the people from false implications of the legal noose that are always used to drag down such peoples movements. Women in the movement in Sonbhadra area and kept control over the several thousand acres of reclaimed forest land. Fellow comrades from fraternal organizations united on the Sangharsh platform also co-participated in dialogues and discussions which were forced down the unrelenting threats of the administration, whereby the administration had to publicly acknowledge that land issue was a complicated matter and traditional inhabitants of forest areas should be given back their rights to forest land and resources. Today, in many of these regions, forest dwelling communities are cultivating the still legally entangled forest lands on a collective basis and re-nurturing and re-growing forests and beginning to get back the sense of dignity in their lives. Kaimur area which is spread across a terrain common to the political spaces of different states of the Indian polity – Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh  and especially the Sonbhadra district of the state of Uttar Pradesh has become the lighthouse for other common sea farers on the rough seas of the overall battles ahead – the rights to forest lands and its resources could very well be the stepping stone in the lives of the teeming millions of this part of  India to turn the course in the journey of humanity towards more humane, liberating and ennobling experiences in life and living. Such battles have won them the possibility of legally getting their collective rights to forests – which is at the threshold of a new history. Our departed leader Dr. Viniyan’s silent fight for the right to land for the poor people of Kaimur region spanning the states of Bihar and Jharkhand was a long battle already being waged on a militant but peaceful basis, creating ripples in the latent layers of smoldering rage at the injustices assimilated over ages. Dr. Viniyan led the fight for self rule of this region under Schedule V status, which raised the political awareness of the people of this region considerably. Comrade Viniyan, also a cofounder of NFFPFW, was ultimately snatched away sudden death and the movement suffered a setback. This was August 2006. But comrades from Sonbhadra joined in their struggle and helped people of the Kaimur region falling under the state of Bihar to regroup to fight against the illegal landlords to reclaim their lost land and forest. In the kaimur region different communities under the leadership of women have collectively reclaimed more than 20,000 acres of forest land. Of course this did not happen overnight. Strengthening the organizational network, depending on  the political wisdom of the people, facilitating the process through continuous interactions, protests, collective negotiations for  implementation of FRA’06, facing and countering administrative and political forces working against the movement, but always maintaining the Forum’s democratic mass based intent and practices on ground , a praxis centered around the growth of political consciousness at the grass roots with leaders, developing from within the communities, leading movements, of course with the commanding presence of conscious and capable women leaders – all of this collectively combined to give strength to the  Kaimur area movement. Very noticeable in this region is the successful operation of collectives run by women. The movement and new experiments in Kaimur region will be very crucial for NFFPFW in the near future. Other successes in our mass movements, like the one in Surma village in the Dudhwa National Park area, where villagers wrested rights to their land in a village within the core zone of a Tiger Reserve in Dudwa National Park under the FRA’06. This was an unprecedented event in the country – for the first time, instead of being evicted as always, a village earned constitutional right to land within a Protected Area. Further about 28 Tongiya “van-grams” (forest-villages/settlements) received their ownership rights in U.P. as per FRA’06.

          Other states have also seen a gathering momentum in the struggle for forest rights. Himalaya-Niti-Abhiyan, a collective forum of 26 local movements taken up in Himachal Pradesh is an organization which we, as a Forum, have been talking to and interacting with for some time. Since 2008 they have intensified their struggle and have used the FRA’06 as weapon to save the pristine but severely endangered Himalayan natural resources from the nakedly irresponsible loot by big corporations. Unfortunately the State Govts in the Himalayan states of Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, the North- Eastern states, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam have shown no interest so far in implementing FRA’06, though of late the Himachal Pradesh government has agreed to implement the same.

          The power and strength in the enactment called Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, commonly referred to as Forest Rights Act 2006, or FRA’06 in short, became evident to the nation during the struggles and legal victory against the opening up of the Niyamagiri mines and the anti-Posco movement in Odisha. The wanton loot of natural resources of Odisha, Jharkhand, Chhatisgarh by big transnational corporations bolstered by Global Capital, was nakedly laid before the eyes of the entire nation and the people of the country sat up. The power inherent in this piece of legislation became obvious as a potent weapon in this fight. Activities and campaigns to fight for the implementation of FRA’06 in southern India has picked up pace with several like minded organizations coming together to set up the South India Forest Rights Forum in Bangalore. The situation in Assam is quite volatile with our member organization Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti’s rally in Guwahati to press for implementation of FRA’06 in Assam being fired upon by the state government, leading to the death of seven community comrades and consequent unleashing of repressive measures by the administration. Akhil Gogoi and several comrades are behind the bars for leading anti big dam protests in Assam. West Bengal also represents a dismal scenario as far as getting FRA’06 implemented. The Forest Department there is firing upon and torturing Adivasis in the Buxa Tiger Reserve. Only under pressure of mass mobilizations has Sunderban area in West Bengal seen some implementation of FRA’06 rights, but still is desired.
Overall the persecution of forest dwellers continues unabated. Chattisgarh too has not seen much progress in the actualization of the legislative rights conferred on the traditional forest dwellers as per FRA’06; and being also Maoist territory, has led to a very awkward situation, where the democratic political space has become constricted because of the armed confrontation between the State and the Maoists, with people caught in the cross fire.
For all practical purposes the states are looking at FRA’06 as some kind of distribution programme of “pattas” and they are advocating the inclusion or treatment of the individual rights as enshrined in FRA’06 within the limited scope of “patta”. Besides this conspiracy by state govts, there is this unfortunate situation where many of the organizations working for forest rights also view the rights in a similar light. The West Bengal Government official website treats the rights as per FRA’06 as “patta” rights, which is illegal. At present no govt. body is really talking about the community right to forest land and forest resources and neither is the government in any way interested in understanding this aspect of FRA’06 or has the political will and strength to face up to the implications of accepting community forest rights. Rumors and confusions are being planted inside the forest dwelling communities e.g. they are being made to run around within the perimeters of individual rights; Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers are being made to fight over the 75 year resident clause inserted deliberately in the FRA with the sole purpose of driving a wedge between the traditional forest dwelling communities. This deliberate sidelining of the most important right granted under FRA’06 tantamount to a replication of the already accepted “historic injustice” committed on the forest dwelling communities. Member organizations of the Forum should deliberate on this matter with all due seriousness during the Conference and arrive at unanimous decision to bring this central right back into focus as the central fulcrum of our struggle. The Forum based on the experience gathered so far is of the clear opinion that unless the community rights of forest dwellers is ensured, the individual rights whatsoever granted cannot be sustained on a long term basis.
During the course of this struggle for implementation of forest rights, the Forum’s community leadership has arrived at a clear understanding that people’s power, the combined strength of communities is the engine to lead this fight for overall community management and ownership of all traditional forest dwellers. This realization has augmented the process of being organised amongst the people of the communities. A strong leadership – with women and youth in the forefront – is merging from amongst the community members. And they are leading the struggle on the fields as well as in the corridors of authorities at regional, state and national levels. Through these activities and dialogues communities are creating and expanding their democratic political space, which we may very well term as “advanced consciousness”. This can be visible in changing the language of the movement, which is more direct and unambiguous challenging the status quo.  

Along with constant struggle these struggling communities are also wringing in changes in the very relations of production. An effort to bring in the co-operative/commune type of organization of economic activities is being given priority. And these practices are convincing people that the best way to win their rights is on a collective basis, which is quite naturally setting into their advancing consciousness about the essence of the fight against the state. In many regions like, Kaimur, Terai etc collective efforts to farm and collect forest produce on a co-operative basis is being experimented with, though these quasi co-operatives do not operate currently on any legal or organizationally sanctioned framework. But for the past one and half years people have been exchanging opinions and sharing experiences to form Co-operative Societies within various communities. Com Thankappan and other comrades of New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI) have participated in various legal ideological issues of setting up /operating/managing /sharing surpluses etc of Co-operatives. NTUI is also helping carry out primary surveys of existing modes of functioning of fledgling co-operatives; various relevant statistics like quantum of land under their control are being collected. Videographic evidence of the new forest sowed and lands cultivated by communities are being gathered and it is also being checked whether appropriate land records, maps etc are available with the communities. Unfortunately however, in lot of other areas where the struggle is not so intensified, the consciousness of the people are lagging way behind ; here people are only interested in getting “pattas” for their individual land rights.

It must be seriously taken unto consideration that today in the forest tracts or amongst the multitudes of the unorganized sector there is no framework or space for negotiations and dialogues with the state machinery for an overall solution to problems plaguing such areas, in a democratic fashion. And this is resulting in increasing tensions between the state and the working people in some places and in most cases the state is resorting to violence to “resolve” issues. In such a situation it becomes imperative for us to force open a democratic space for interactions between people and administration in the form of Public Hearings/Tribunals where people express, interact, and reach collectively arrived at decisions in the presence of top most echelons of state state/administrative machinery relevant to districts/regions/state levels. In the last couple of years the initiative of the organization in some regions has seen effective Public Hearings being organized. These Public Hearings have seen intense and effective dialogues between the community members and the administration and with the political class on issues of forest rights and many critical and important decisions could be arrived at. This initiative of the regional organizations has seen the Forest Right movement to-day attain a political importance in the corridors of power and most importantly helped to create a space for democratic political mass movements, something which till recently was almost non existent. In future such initiatives should be taken in all states/regions fighting for their rights to forests.

The Movement and women

It is the Forum’s realization that to strengthen the organization , to bring the fizz back into the struggle and to expand the organizational reach and areas of struggle, empowering women into leadership roles is an absolute must. In the last two decades mass movements and resistance struggles against capitalist and feudal attacks have undergone an unprecedented growth where working women have played a very important and decisive role. In a way the women have taken up the cudgels themselves and have woven a new texture into the entire fabric of mass struggles. They have challenged the chain of capitalism-imperialism-feudalism-paternalistic domination end to end, thus shaking the very foundational shackles of the chains of tyranny. Women leading such movements have been targeted, attacked, victimized, tortured; but they have come back stronger and more united and fought back the oppression and helped achieve major successes. Women are going ahead and imagining and creating alternative structures of socio-economic functioning, thus challenging the present day socio-economic framework. The essential orientation in all these alternatives is collective. Women have through participation in struggles carved out a niche for themselves within the organization also. Thus, in short, it is absolutely imperative that we strengthen women leadership at all levels of the organization and its day to day functioning.

Wanton exploitation of Natural Resources and its unified opposition

It is from the era of the British imperialist rule in India that the capitalist attacks on natural resources and the race for increased profits has accentuated the limitless exploitation of land, water, forest and other natural resources. Capitalists of all hues and geographies – British and Indian – co-operated in wanton cutting down of forests, using cultivable land for profiteering activities, the limitless mining of mineral wealth and establishing control over sea and reverie resources ,thus in the process polluting the same irreversibly. Independent India, in the name of “development” kept up such ruthlessly irresponsible exploitative practices. This resulted in lots of the working and toiling masses being displaced physically from their productive domains and which in turn engendered a situation of grave environmental catastrophe. The neo liberal economic practices over the last two decades have multiplied the loot of natural resources. Profiteering has displaced millions and heightened the environmental imbalance to dangerous proportions. Observed carefully, it is evident that it is Natural Resources which are bearing the brunt of this desperate capitalist attack. Our government not only participates directly but also acts as a middleman in this rape of natural resources of the country. Investments made to facilitate this massacre are not easily available or assessable. One study reveals that 2% of the total investment is made for equipment/technology, about 5% for overall direct business infrastructure. Where the rest of the money goes, there is no real clue. Understandably a huge chunk of it is used to buy political control. Across the country protests have taken place keep getting organized against such anti-people policies and practices which the government is trying hard to suppress, pressurize by labeling them as Maoist with the sole purpose of pushing such mass based democratic out of the democratic political space. The progressive sections of the middle class, sympathetic to people’s causes are also being targeted, victimized, to terrorize them out of any alignments with ongoing mass movements.

It may be reiterated here that in many of the important regions / areas of the Forum’s operation, Maoist organizations are also active. Now the Maoists also oppose anti-people governmental policies. However, it must also be noted that in areas where the Forum’s member organizations are leading mass movements, Maoist activities are not that prominent. In fact Maoists are present only in some special areas and not across the country. Different organizations in different areas are leading struggles as per local specificities. On the whole it may be said that all Maoist and mass movements have similarity in causes, but there are major differences in ideological and operational practices. Maoists also raise the issue of alternative systems and are putting into practice some such alternatives. However, the focus of their practice is not mass based and whatever mass organizations they are setting up are controlled by party diktats, which eliminates the possibility of real participation of the people in ideological and strategically decision making processes. A dialogue process has not been established between Maoists and various mass movements. All mass based struggles have democratic processes as key, wherein a sense of collective leadership is evolving gradually. Many of the mass movements are influenced by different thought processes which have still not been filtered down into one common framework and there is lack of concrete co-ordination between the various streams. Some of these efforts are very individual centric. Thus it cannot be concluded that all these efforts are similar. On the contrary, these different strains have ideological, political differences. The necessity of the hour is to establish a continuous process of dialogues, debates between these different streams and through the process of sharing of experiences, through various forms and processes an overall collective unanimity should be arrived at. Without strengthening democratic practices and processes, democratic mass movements cannot be sustained on a long term basis, even though some such mass movements may see some immediate high points.

In these movements the role of workers basing their livelihoods on natural resources have a very important role and which has the potential to influence all working class movements. The fight for the right to forests is also a part of this overall battle. Thus it is imperative that forest rights movements establish a deep political and operational co-ordination with other on going movements for protecting natural resources like the movement of the fishermen , the landless peasants and farm labourers, the anti- illegal and irresponsible mining  struggles, etc. The movement for forest rights is the oldest of such movements and it is necessary for our sake to unify all the different mass movements; in fact it is a challenge to find out the path to bring all these movements under one common platform. In reality the future sustenance and success of the forest rights movement depends heavily on forging such a unity.
Based on this understanding NFFPFW has initiated a process of dialogues with different movements fighting for safeguarding natural resource based working community movements with the sole aim of bringing together the different array of movements under a federative framework i.e. simply to form a Federation. The planned Federation should be so constituted that it can challenge capitalist aggression, safeguard natural resources and thus voice strongly the struggle for protection of livelihood of working people based on natural resources. In June 2011, Banjar in Himachal Pradesh saw the beginning of this process of setting up a Federation with the declaration of formation on december16th, 2011, of Federation of Natural Resource based Workers Organization. NFFPFW has to play a key role in shaping the structure and establishing federative practices. Through the formation of this proposed federation the movement for forest rights has the potential to reinvigorate and reinforce other widespread working class and social issue based movements. All natural resource based workers movements are essentially a fight against the onslaught of international capital’s orchestrated attempts to globalize the rabid exploitation of natural resources. This fight is a decisive one against world capital and industrial working class movements, on their own, cannot generate this decisive offensive against global capital and its cohorts. The working class requires establishing an ideological and operational unity very urgently and this requires a new framework. NFFPFW has to play a key role in giving shape and life in this framework. The struggle to save natural resources is very much a social struggle for which widespread co-operation needs to be established amongst the other ongoing social movements especially movements against arbitrary land- acquisitions, against setting up of SEZs, movements against big dams etc. It is noteworthy that  communities based on natural resources for their livelihood are essentially from  backward, dalit and adivasi communities for which they have to face an additional tyranny – that of the elites and upper classes. The fight for social equity is thus also an essential facet in the forest rights movement. So the Forum has to participate vigorously in all these fights of the exploited sections. Today the social movements are passing though a phase of internal frictions. On the one hand we have the middle class dominance and on the other we have the advancing politico- organizational consciousness of the exploited sections, which gaining momentum and strength from the ongoing struggles will definitely challenge the middle class dominance in social movements.
All in all, NFFPFW has to strive to become the effective link between the various hues/ strains of working class and social movements. And new initiatives and practices need to be developed to attain this goal of an effective link. A new challenging phase is in the offing and the challenge is  to create the conditions for the emergence of a new leadership in the movement by uniting the diverse  working people with oppressed and deprived communities. The organizational structure has to undergo far reaching changes. It is only when these changes are incorporated that the decisive war against the structural logic of Capital can be led to victory.
As stated earlier organizational framework overhaul is a must to face up to the political challenges of the times. To strengthen collective leadership and to empower the emerging women leadership, the organization has to undergo an extensive and intensive restructuring right from bottom to the top (the approach has to be bottom - to – top). The real strength of the organization lies in its regional movements; thus it is extremely important to strengthen the organization at regional levels so that their independent identity is established and maintained and their effective representation and say is established at the national level. This will ensure that gaps do not persist between national and regional leadership. Keeping these challenges in perspective, the Forum proposes to transform itself into a federative structure i.e. NFFPFW should begin to function like federation. At the regional level also regional federations have to be put in place which will carry out the federative organizational responsibilities at the regional level. Even regional federations have to ensure appropriate representation of local units. At the national level, the Federation leadership will be constituted from the regional federative leadership. In this way we can ensure the desired democratic practice of paving the way for local unit leaders of today to grow into national leaders of tomorrow. To achieve this goal we have to first of all change the current constitution of the Forum through extensive and intensive discussion and debates. A Committee needs to be set up to oversee this process. This committee will prepare the draft of the proposed constitution and place it for discussion across al units and layers of the organization. Of course a time frame has to be kept in mind for reaching unanimity in the proposed new constitution which will be finally done by calling a general assembly. Till then National Committee members will function as earlier. It is also proposed that in place of Convener, we elect a Chairperson and a General Secretary and also an Organizing Secretary so that the Forum may transform itself into a full fledged federative organization.

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