How Savarna platform “The Wire” publishes Savarna Anti Adivasi Writing!
It has come to our notice that an article titled Lockdown has pushed Tribes in Odisha’s Niyamgiri Hills to the brink of Starvation by Abhijit Mohanty was published in The Wire.
I would like to point out that the article is inaccurate and misleading.
Firstly, the headline itself is misleading when it says the lockdown has pushed us to the brink of starvation. The starvation and malnutrition in the area are a long-unsolved problem because of structural injustices that Adivasi people face. To reduce the problem of being just an impact of the lockdown is a distortion of reality.
Secondly, the story has been written without any field visits being made by the author and is based on misinformation provided by certain NGOs. These NGOs have not communicated with the Panchayat or the community in general regarding the matter. In fact, the pictures provided are of a different time and the names do not match the photographs. This seems like the concerned NGOs are posturing as concerned organizations to the larger world to fulfill their project goals.
Thirdly, if the article was based on facts then it would have not missed the biggest problem we face right now, i.e. the sale of the massive pineapple stocks recently harvested. If these stocks do not move to the market, we are going to lose lakhs of rupees.
Fourthly, our Panchayat has taken swift action to address the lockdown situation. Free ration for three months was distributed by the Panchayat. Rs. 1000 has also been provided per ration card. Nirman Shramik beneficiaries have been provided Rs.1500. All Government provided benefits have reached the citizens of Kurli Panchayat. Also, several NGOs have provided relief material in several villages of the Panchayat.
I would like to point out that the village mentioned in the article, Kadragumma, is just 1km away from the Panchayat headquarters and I have not been informed of any starvation case due to the lockdown. Let me repeat that starvation, malnutrition, health problems, livelihood problems are endemic to our region because of years and years of exploitation and apathy. To reduce the problem to just be an effect of the lockdown is a grave distortion.
I find this article to be unethical and incorrect. Rather than stating our real problems, the NGOs are twisting the narrative to serve their agenda. Since we do not have access to mainstream media like your website, our voices are not represented and Delhi-based writers are cooking up stories that serve their interests.
I strongly condemn this unethical reporting and urge the website to pull down the article or make immediate corrections.
This reply was published by Nirveda Odisha, an online Ambedkarite portal based on Odisha, and is available at this link: http://www.nirvedaodisha.in/how-savarna-platform-the-wire-publishes-savarna-anti-adivasi-writing/
Brahminical Impunity in Negating Lived Experience of Adivasis
At the outset, I would like to mention to the reader that the above-mentioned article was written by me (Jitu Jakesika) on 15th May, 2020 has been commented on by Mr. Abhijit Mohanty in the comments section of an online portal, Nirveda Odisha, where he rejected the experience of an Adivasi and reduced his critiques to personal frustration. On the other hand The Wire maintained its Brahminical silence on the matter so far. Therefore, the current article by me is again some clarifications for the wider public to understand the Brahmincal impunity in negating Adivasi Lived Experience.
So, throughout the article by Mr. Abhijit Mohanty, nowhere it has been mentioned that whatever our community people ‘told the Wire’ is essentially information provided by Susanta Dalei, a NGO employee. Why has this not been mentioned? Why it is made to seem that the author of The Wire has spoken to all our people? And just because this Susanta Dalei has been working for an NGO for eight years, why do we, the Dongria Kondh, have to accept his authority on our matters? The links provided are from the same NGOs that he is associated with and cannot be a certificate for his credibility.
To dismiss the critique of NGOs as abusive, unethical and unacceptable is not only a poor defence, it also amounts to intellectual bullying of Adivasis by Savarnas. Isn’t it obvious that all NGOs work towards fulfilling the project goals set by donors? Since the author himself seems to be a NGO professional, his bias is understandable. But to term the criticism of NGOs as abusive and unethical is a typical Brahminical way of silencing Adivasi dissent.
Whether pineapple, jackfruit and mango are our traditional crops is another issue. The matter is that we have invested our money and hard labour in growing these crops and they have been a major source of livelihood for many years. Are we supposed to give up our existing livelihoods because it does not match the idea of what our tradition is as per Savarna NGO professionals?
And is it not obvious that if our major products are not being marketed, then MFP (Minor Forest Produce) is also facing the same problem? ‘The Wire’ story is talking about the lockdown impact and my response was that, right now the biggest impact is upon the marketing of pineapple, mango, jackfruit, etc. There is no mention of it at all in the article which indicates that the author has no idea of the current situation because his analysis is based entirely on secondary sources.
In my response to the article it was clearly mentioned that our problem is with the way it has been depicted that our people are at ‘the brink of starvation’ because of the lockdown. I have clearly mentioned that this problem is decades old and because of the systemic exploitation by Manubadis. Do not reduce it to a lockdown impact to serve your disaster capitalism. The relief provided by the Panchayat and NGOs was just to illustrate that steps have been taken to address the impact of the lockdown. By no means was it said that this is going to eradicate exploitation. Rather my response was to illustrate that, just like the Government, even NGOs mislead and create narratives to serve their purposes, which are further amplified by Savarna platforms like The Wire.
At no point is one trying to say that any philanthropy will solve any problem. Rather, these charitable organisations are just like the development NGOs that use ‘ground work’ with Adivasis to justify their vested interests. One is stating facts that people are not at the brink of starvation because of the lockdown. Again I repeat that our problems are because of decades old exploitation by Manubadi forces and it includes the problems of inability to market MFP.
There are more than 100 villages in the Niyamgiri hills and many more in the foothills. The Wire story mentions only two villages which are located in our Panchayat, Kurli. Now the author is clarifying that he meant to talk about all 100 villages and wants me to provide evidence for whether all Dongria Kondh have availed of benefits, and if they have Aadhar and Ration cards. Let me point out again that in my response I have clarified about our Panchayat since the only two villages mentioned are from our Panchayat and since I have been working as a Birsaite-Ambedkarite worker for the Constitutional rights of my people, to ensure that Manubadi groups do not make inroads as well as for health and education, I can humbly claim to be in a better position than him to know the reality of my own community.
All information regarding our Panchayat can be furnished regarding number of Aadhaar card holders, number of families who have been provided relief, and other such information. But the author of the article demanding evidence for it is absurd as he seems to have sources to find out other information. Why can’t he find this out from his sources, which he has claimed are very knowledgeable and credible?
The author is using the shield of democracy to justify his right to speak about our community but he should understand that the very foundation of democracy is representation. Democracy means that we, the Dongria Kondh, have the right to represent ourselves. It is this democratic right of representation that enabled our community to go to the highest courts to stop a company like Vedanta. Tomorrow, even Vedanta might say it has a right to say whatever it wants to say about our community, citing that it’s a democracy. It is not democratic when the elite Brahmin-Savarna impose their views upon the oppressed Adivasi-Dalit people.
The author has also provided a brief biodata of his involvement as a professional with Adivasi issues and claims to have ‘strong empathy’ for tribal communities, but, evidently, he has no willingness to listen to us Adivasis.
The author wrote a story with a certain headline and now he claims that he is not saying what the headline says. The author wrote about two villages and now he is saying he is talking about all the villages in our region. The author is saying that MFP sales are affected by the lockdown but doesn’t mention the lakhs worth fruit produce. The author has admitted to writing the story on the basis of accounts provided by NGOs working with MFP specifically, but claims that it is not related to their project. The author is blaming me for raising these questions while he himself is admitting that he has not spoken to a single Dongria Kond person himself and has written his article entirely on the basis of information provided by some NGO professionals.
Despite all these inconsistencies he is making a personal attack upon me even ridiculing my mental health with words like ’emotional-outburst and a kind of personal frustration’. As an NGO professional he should be aware that making such derogatory comments and remarks on any person is extremely unethical and abusive. It is a typical, tyrannical Brahminical response to suppress Adivasi Dalit voices. Not only that, he is even giving a certificate of credibility to The Wire which itself is funded by corporate philanthropy. This network of Brahmin-Bania corporate philanthropy is a parasite that feeds on Adivasi-Dalit misery and must be called out at every given opportunity.
Jai Bhim! Jai Birsa!
Jitu Jakasika is a mass leader in South Western Odisha. He has been fighting against the corporate loot of Adivasi communities and their resources in Odisha. He contested the last State Assembly Election for the post of MLA in 2019 as a Bahujan Samaj Party candidate. He vastly represents the oppressed masses of the Adivasis, OBCs, and Dalits and has been an authentic and powerful voice for them.