Tribal Activism Of Himanshu Kumar
Posted by Sriram Akanksha on Jun 8, 2009
The Indian media has been over the top with the shrill coverage of the attacks on Indian students in Australia and the release of the Hafiz Sayyed. However, most of the same shrill seekers of justice and fairplay in the legal system mutely ignore the excesses happening directly in India.
This is Dantewada, a remote district in the south Bastar region of Chhattisgarh. The man in white is Himanshu Kumar, a Gandhian human rights activist from Meerut who has been working in Dantewada for 17 years. And the war is an old triangular one: between the State, the Naxals, and the tribals — cleft violently from within by the infamous government-sponsored Salwa Judum.
Himanshu is crushed mercilessly.
On 17 May, a day after the Lok Sabha election results, a police force of over 500 surrounded Himanshu’s Vanvasi Chetna Ashram, ten kilometers from Dantewada town. He was given half an hour to wrap up two decades of work. Then, the bulldozers moved in. They broke everything: home, dispensary, dormitories, training halls, kitchen, telephone towers (sanctioned by the government itself), swing, even a lone hand-pump that was the only source of clean water for the villages around.[...]
Demolished is a poor word. Erased is more accurate: erased with an implacable anger: an obscene violence. There is nothing there but crushed cement and strewn papers. A tiny pink crocus that has escaped the bulldozers droops in the heat. For 17 years, Vanvasi Chetna Ashram had functioned as a kind of fine nerve connection between the tribals and a forgetful State. Come from distant Meerut and Delhi, painstakingly learning Gondi, Himanshu and Veena had focused on teaching tribals about their entitlements, traveling on foot into villages deep inside the forests, slowly tugging isolated communities into the democratic system. Building concepts of community monitoring: what government schemes had been announced in their name, how were they to access them, how were they to hold corrupt officials to account, how were they to file FIRs and applications, how were they to demand teachers in their schools. “Our work was to strengthen democracy at the roots,” says Himanshu,
Through all this, though, their strength to continue in the face of such odds is just staggeringly awesome:
His father, 82, a dignified old man (Prakash Kumar had given up college in 1942 to join the Quit India movement; he met Gandhi in Sewagram in 1945. Later, he joined Vinobha Bhave’s Bhoomidan movement. “My father helped give away over 20 lakh acres of land in Uttar Pradesh,” says Himanshu, “but he and I do not possess one acre between us.”), has come to give him moral support. He sits calmly, uncomplaining, amidst the heat and mess. “I fought in the freedom movement. I know truth always prevails, but it takes time and much sacrifice. Himanshu is my only son. I don’t know what the solution is, but I know the road he is on is right. The more consciousness he generates among the tribals, the more they will be able to claim their right to life.”
Such battles are perhaps best fought silently with a dignity that defines dignity and with a love that defines love.