Article 21 of the Constitution of India states the Right to Life and Liberty. This was what I was taught in my Jurisprudence lectures but the reality of it all seems to be different and unfortunate. It seems that all law students are taught to be professionals and legal scholars for an ideal world – totally blind and deaf to the ills and plight of the underprivileged poor citizens.
One look from Bhajandari Kushwaha's eyes gives away the love he has for the Mahan forests. For the government, it is just a piece of land – for the company it is a land filled with black gold. But, for the villagers here, it is their only home – their pride – their love. The question here is not only about rights of the villagers and the tribals but the ethics and responsibilities of the government and the Gram Panchayat.
Looking at everything from a legal perspective – the system has completely crumbled and disintegrated at the most basic level – not only from the administrative or the judicial level but also the trust and credibility has eroded from the villagers hearts.
My journey started with the thought of contributing constructively to an environmental cause. For a budding lawyer activist – the 'Mahan' issue seemed as a good start to work actively and learn more about forest, tribal and environmental rights. When I actually came here and opened my mind, I observed more than I had asked for. It really was a turning point for me. Speaking with villagers who had been abused and oppressed by the system, which was the only guardian they could count on, deeply affected me.
As a law student, I was shocked at the degenerated levels of the judicial authority.
I believe more than anything else, it is the lack of sensitivity prominent at all levels in the local administration.
What concerns me is that the people are not given the right kind of information that they require in order to be treated equally, as honorable citizens.
The law that is there to protect them is the weapon used by the administrative and police officials to abuse them.
The company officials, the police and administration are all on the same boat. The administration here is totally corrupt – they have forgotten their purpose, their duty and their aim.
Reality hits hard and it hits you in the face. The people in this area don't need hi-tech gadgets – they need to be empowered. They need our support.
Whoever is reading this; please don't chuck this topic as any other fight for environmental rights. This is a fight. A fight for pride, for land, for meaning and for a better India.
Ajay Maherchandani is a law student and a volunteer with Greenpeace India.