The drive from Greenpeace office in Waidhan to the village of Budher was an interesting one. One could see the presence of the multinational giants in its infrastructure and offices and their markings in the region as a part of their forest study. MSS made its presence in the people of Amelia sloganeering against the Mahan Coal Limited, in the writings on the wall of its supporters and in their help given to conduct the Mahua Camp.
Akshay, our team leader explained to us the history of the movement in the region and the role of Greenpeace. The forest clearly means much more to its inhabitants than just a provider of natural resources. The value is not just in materialistic terms but in terms of its cultural and traditional values.
The idea of the mahua collection camp was to portray the importance of forest and the dependence on forest produce for the inhabitants of this area. It definitely is much more than mahua collection for the purpose of raising funds for the resistance. The Waidhan- Amelia region is eyed by multi-nationals for its cheap coal deposits. The forest which are just another source of electricity for industries are a source of livelihood, a way of living, culturally and traditionally crucial to the indigenous people of this area.
Contrary to popular perception, mahua is much more than a source for local alcohol. It is used in food, oil and forms an ingredient for medicinal products. Moreover with no saving mechanisms, it is a cash crop which provides a crucial supplement for the meager income and is utilized for special occasions like weddings, etc.
Our stay at the camp was interspersed with all kinds of distraction and inquiries. The police and the CID mostly working in favour of the companies would make inquiries to ascertain the objectives of the camp. Any suspicious vehicles would be checked on by the activists. The people who have been involved in the movement are too strong and cause driven to be discouraged by such formal visits.
Mahua camp was much more than mahua collection. The resistance movement by indigenous populations, fighting for their rights over natural resources is the largest resistance movement in the world. Mahua Camp was my opportunity to witness such a grassroot struggle by the people of mahan to save their forest. Of how state sponsored capitalism has penetrated the deepest in politics and administration and how laws fail at the ground level.
My interaction with people was full of stories by the villagers whose signatures were forged in sham Gram Sabhas in the presence of the requisite officers of the administration. Or how the powerful in the village fraudently acquired land in the village to sell it to the companies.
Laws of the land are played openly with. The nexus between state, corporate and administration works to deny people their rights over their natural resources. It was my opportunity to witness and experience firsthand, the big theoretical concepts and pretty many things of what has gone wrong with the post 1991 India.
Just like colonial India, the officials in the police, bureaucracy, judiciary and even industry act like masters of the people. Like Mr. Kripanath, one of the crucial members of the MSS said, not much has changed in the post independent India for them. Even their Gram Sabhas, the most crucial pillar in the deepening of democracy, is run according to the desires of the corporates.
Deepika Joshi is a volunteer with Greenpeace India.