Muthanga

A Spark of Hope

in Social Analysis
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  • 1 Centre for Development Studies rr21@soas.ac.uk
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On 19 February 2003, the armed police of the currently rightwing government of the Indian state of Kerala descended on over one thousand adivasi1 families— men, women and children—who had peacefully settled on the fringes of the Muthanga range of the Wayanad Wild Life Sanctuary, driving them out in a most brutal fashion and even killing one of those women who resisted. The state had failed to give any prior warning of the police action, nor was any attempt made toward a mediated negotiation. The police unleashed a reign of terror in the region; physical molestation of women was also reported, the latter having been substantiated by the National Women’s Commission. Those who fell into the hands of the police were brutally manhandled en route to the police station; in a bizarre innovation, the activists were forced to beat one another. The movement had been launched by the Adivasi Gothra Maha Sabha—the Grand Assembly of Indigenous People—led by a tribal woman, C. K. Janu. The demands of the Adivasi Gothra Maha Sabha for land, food, shelter, the enforcement of constitutional provisions, reparation for losses incurred by the intervention of foreign companies in their environment, etc., are paralleled in indigenous movements elsewhere, e.g., the Zapatistas in Mexico (see Collier 1994; Gledhill 1997; Hellman 2000; Weinberg 2000; Womack 1999). However, unlike other indigenous movements, the situation in Kerala has received little world attention.