Tribal Activism Of Himanshu Kumar

Posted by Sriram Akanksha on Jun 8, 2009
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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.

Since Binyak Sen was released on bail a few days ago, Tehelka cover storied the rampant injustice meted out in the tribal district of Dantewada.

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.

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Comments (7)

  • Yoo-Mi wrote ...

    Thanks for sharing this story Sriram.  The Indian government's disregard and destruction of its own people is unconscionable.  And the selflessness of people like Binayak Sen and Himanshu Kumar without peer.

  • Yogendra K wrote ...

    Great man who has sadly gone unsung.

  • Mitra wrote ...

    Everything that you are saying would be true if Tehelka was the last word on all issues. But it is not. They have an ideology and we know what it is. Why don't we learn to be a little bit more skeptical about our sources?

    What is the police version? Why was the Ashram demolished (if it was)? It is quite possible that people in the Ashram had links with Maoists- a revolutionary group with a violent totalitarian ideology that is trying to overthrow a legitimate democratically elected government.

  • sriram wrote ...

    Dear Mitra, Thank you for your observation on my reliance on tehleka's credibility. I cannot give you any explanation on why I consider tehelka more reliable than other media sources. My overall experience and understanding makes me rely on tehelka more than others. But I certainly will not impose my selection criteria on others.   The moot point is not tehelka's credibility, but the work of Himanshu Kumar. I can point out some other sources which cover his work, which reinforces the credibility of his work. 1. http://www.mainstreamweekly.net/article1428.html 2. http://www.sacw.net/article1205.html 3. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/msid-5223813,prtpage-1.cms 4. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/msid-4628674,prtpage-1.cms [...] See full comment.

    Dear Mitra,

    Thank you for your observation on my reliance on tehleka's credibility.

    I cannot give you any explanation on why I consider tehelka more reliable than other media sources. My overall experience and understanding makes me rely on tehelka more than others. But I certainly will not impose my selection criteria on others.

     

    The moot point is not tehelka's credibility, but the work of Himanshu Kumar.

    I can point out some other sources which cover his work, which reinforces the credibility of his work.

    1. http://www.mainstreamweekly.net/article1428.html

    2. http://www.sacw.net/article1205.html

    3. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/msid-5223813,prtpage-1.cms

    4. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/msid-4628674,prtpage-1.cms

     

    The main part of his work is running a clinic in dantewada and it is of course possible that naxals and maoists were treated there.

    But that is the duty of any doctor. Their oath swears them towards curing any ailing person, even if it is a proven criminal.

     

    The object of himanshu and his distant supporters (like me) is in no way to condone the maoist violence against the state/people. Neither is it to justify that the violent action is a response to salwa judum, etc.

    It is merely to restore peace by addressing the core issues which are bothering the people in those areas.

     

    If you can point me to any information on the official version of the events, I would be happy to go through them and respond.

     

    Love,

    Sriram

     

    Hide full comment.

  • Arati wrote ...

     

     

    I was part of the PUCL, Bangalore team that was visiting Raipur on a Free Binayak Sen Campaign at the time of VCA demolition. Some of the students from IISc, where I reside, proceeded to VCA, Dantewada and were present at the time of the demolition.  Two of them were also badly beaten up. However, they were able to film their visit, part of the demolition, and aftermath of it.  So VCA is definitely demolished. As to the State's version of why it needed to be demolished, maybe Himanshuji's activities speak out the loudest - he was, and is, actively involved in the rehabilitation of large displacements forced on adivasis by Salwa Judum. His activity  is now backed a judicial order which the State refuses to comply with. The National Human Rights' Comission has acknowledged the widespread and largescale forced displacement of villagers in the region, and their conditions in SJ camps. Return to normalcy of civilian life in the region would adversely effect the corporatised agenda of State that seeks to clear the region for large scale development projects following MoUs already signed with large globalised industries.

    Let me see if I can have the IISc film be put up on Youtube - please watch out for it.

  • sriram wrote ...

    hi arati - many thanks for the update.

    would love to see the video. do let us know when that is uploaded.

  • mediocre wrote ...

    Himanshuji is a on a fast (private one). The local authorities turned down his request for a non-violent, peaceful protest. He was not allowed to do Satyagraha and even the request for a peaceful march - padayatra was turned down. Over 34 women and 5 men were not allowed to participate.

    This man is a true gandhian. Just because the authorities turned down his request, he is fasting under a tree outside his house. Shri Rajiv Vohra of Swarajpeeth trust is also there in the interview.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zq3zbukPiP8