have only tales of exploitation to narrate
was a meeting in the Capital of tribesmen from all over the
country. But I found myself thrown among kings and princes,
people who were so wealthy that they did not need any money.
Darbar Singh Padei, among them, was more like Hamlet, a prince
with a grudge. He was supposed to have been the monarch of
all he purveyed in Satphude in Maharashtra. He wore no flowing
robes. He wore a safari suit which looked as soiled and sad
as his face. He spoke of the 128 villages of which he was
once lord and master till they were taken from him by the
government in the name of the Sardar Sarovar project. He and
his villagers were promised Rs 100 crore as compensation 25
years ago which never came, says the king.
he found out recently that the government of Maharashtra has,
in fact, given one of the villages to the Tatas. He says he
will not take this lying down. I hear the rumble of invisible
and probably non-existent arms of an invisible army. Time
has not stripped just him of his powers but also that of his
kingdom, his palaces not of gold but of green trees.
in 25 years the ‘kingdom’ of Satphude which has been with
the government has lost all its forests. The ‘palaces’ are
gone. The king is also apologetic that he and his people have
to go to Surat and other places to make a living these days.
But there was a time when ‘‘we grew everything we needed and
therefore did not have to buy anything’’, he says. ‘‘Our currency
was different from the rupee. It was a silver coin with a
hole in the middle. Our women strung them in their necklaces.’’
king at the meeting was Pourus Surya from Jharkhand. His Highness
who had a turban on his head spoke little while another Munda
‘king’ from the area swore that they had kept the self-rule
system of the tribals intact through the ages from 6000 BC
when they settled in the area. ‘‘We remained independent even
during the British rule and now would throw out all non-tribals
and all parties opposed to tribals from Jharkhand.’’
Karma, a Hindi teacher at Bhrumpal village was a chieftain,
not a king. He too remembered the days when the tribals were
so self-sufficient they they did not have to buy anything
except salt and kerosene.
these kings and princes was a princess too. Not a blue-blooded
one but a princess by her imperiousness, by the anger on her
mane and her determination to take on all who try to uproot
tribals from the soil.
was Indu Nitam from Bastar. ‘‘We were bamboo eaters. Bamboo
was our food. But after centuries, the Indian government on
the advice of some agency of the United Nations tells us that
we are responsible for depletion of bamboo forests. And they
fenced us out of the bamboo forests snatching our food from
us. But their ‘protection’ has harmed bamboo more than it
was ever harmed,’’ she says.
princes and princesses of the forests are today ready to take
on the forces of darkness which are conspiring against them
and their rights. They swore by Schedule V of the Constitution
as if it was their main forest deity, their sole protector.
They vowed to fight every move to amend it. ‘‘They will face
our wrath,’’ said Nitam.
As I walked out, it was drizzling. The tribals too were walking
out with placards proclaiming their right to jal, jungle and
jamin, warning those who planned to plunder the natural wealth
of the country.
was plundering it? Who is opposed to himself, to the air he
breathed and the water he drank, I asked myself, as my eyes
filled with drops of rain water. And I walked on with the
procession that was going towards Rashtrapati Bhawan, where
they set all their hopes now.