Depeasantisation: A result of uneven structural changes due commoditisation of Adivasi economy

land alienation

By Goldy M George*

In rural Chhattisgarh land is the lone sources of livelihood for both the landed class and landless mass. All economic activity related to land are based on cultivation and crop production. When land is taken for mining or any development project, apparently it is a denial of access to land and cultivation, which is the process of land alienation.

Land alienation need not happen only with displacement, it could be exercised with the potentiality to completely dismantle people’s dependency on land, forest and related sources for their life. Both alienation from land due to displacement and dismantled dependency are integral part of life in any mining plazas. In either case, it leads to a definite state of depeasantisation.

In the last two decade, as an integral part of globalization-liberalisation policies large area of land has been taken away from the people for various purposes – mega industries being the major one. While land acquisition has been a major issue of concern to the Adivasi population, the corporates views the opposition to land acquisition as the biggest challenge. To the industries – most of them being private including both national as well as international – it is a means of multiplying capital and market. This bridge between alienation and acquisition evades and blocks cultural practises of engagement with the land and forest ecosystem.

Depeasantisation, therefore, involves the erosion of peasant practices and the substitution of community rationality of cultivation and agriculture with market logic of agri-business and farmhouse culture.

The survival and persistence of peasantries in a globalising and ever more commodified world have been puzzling social scientists for a long time now. The very notion of peasants and peasantries confronts us more than anything else with the flaws of traditional/mainstream economic development theory. The understanding of old and new ‘agrarian questions’ asks for new historical knowledge about the role of peasantries within the long-term transformations in the capitalist world-system.

Represented as the expulsion of small producers from the land, it is a premise of theories of capitalist modernity. Both liberal and Marxist narratives of development view depeasantisation as a precondition for liberal democracy or collective socialism, respectively.

Peasantries are considered obstacles to change given the modern view of ‘tradition’ as pre-social, and given an assumed resistance to technological change. Modernisation trajectories follow the rise of urbane, industrial orders, and the relocation of peasants into the urban proletariat as industrial production systems expand. Such expansion involves the global elaboration of factory systems, postindustrial service sectors, and industrialisation of food systems from farming to retailing.

Agro-industrialisation and agro-exporting have been decisive in displacing peasants in Southern agrarian societies by the organised dumping of cheapened Northern food surpluses via World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) liberalisation rules, and land-grabbing for agro-exporting and industrial biofuels to supply distant consumer markets.

At the same time, rural–urban migration has proceeded apace, as rural conditions have deteriorated, urban jobs have outpaced rural employment, and farming and farm-work have been devalued in a modern market context.

The Adivasi situation in Chhattisgarh is not exactly for agri-industry, rather it is mostly the industrial mining that has displaced or caused land alienation. Most of these people’s standard of living has fallen drastically. The main culprits are big dams and mining/metal projects that dispossess tribal lands, flooding them or turning them into wastelands, and converting skilled cultivators into ‘unskilled labour’.

When tribal people and other small-scale cultivators are thrown off their land, this is often justified by economic reasoning: they are ‘only doing subsistence farming’, which is ‘uneconomic’. But Adivasi economics is based on ecological principles. Mainstream economists understand hardly anything about this, or about the ecosystems on which life on earth depends.

A sizeable part of land alienation and depeasantisation happened in mining areas of Chhattisgarh. Sarguja, Raigarh and Bilaspur districts are the coal zones in Chhattisgarh. It is estimated that more than 72 thousand acres of land have been leased out to SECL for coal mining, by which hundreds of villages have already been affected. Bastar and Durg districts have some of the rare quality of steel in the world. As per earlier estimates, nearly 20 thousand acres of land have been occupied for mining steel in Bailadeela and Dalli Rajhara areas of these districts.

Steel from here is even exported to various countries and also to other parts of the nation. Heavy deposits of limestone are found in Chhattisgarh region. In an area of three districts itself, i.e. Raipur, Durg and Bilaspur, there are 10 big cement factories of all big industrial houses and with many more small ones and its auxiliary units. Most of these have been established in the last 20-23 years.

Lafarge, a French MNC, owns two of the cement factories which it took over from Raymond Cements and Tata. Huge diamond deposits in Devbhog (Raipur) and Bastar are taken over by MNCs like Rio Tinto, De Beers and Vijay Kumar & Company. Here again the story of the Adivasi on whose land the diamond was found is simply pathetic. This irretrievable loss of land leads such regions to more and more poverty, pauperisation, and at large increases social and political disparity.

An overwhelming majority of the Adivasis are agriculturists. Apparently there are a few Adivasis nomadic by history, culture, character and nature. The settled groups owe land for centuries without any external intervention, mostly in forest areas and fringes. Their entire life process was centred and built upon two major means of production namely the forest and the land.

To understand the dynamics of land issue in totality, one needs to understand the logic underlying the forces that govern its ownership pattern. The specific economic form in which unpaid surplus labour is pumped out of the direct producers, determines the relation of the rulers and the ruled. Hence land problem of a particular area has to be understood from its historical perspective.

Historical evidences are ample to prove the conception of depeasantisation as the net result of uneven structural changes that have taken place from time to time due to the commoditisation of the Adivasi economy in which land plays a critical and predominant role.

This is what has and is happening to the Adivasi areas in Chhattisgarh. In Bodai-Daldali of Kabirdham district, which again is another of the mine field of Vedanta, in typical fashion, Baiga inhabitants from the first of four Adivasi settlements in the project’s pathway have been ejected from their homes, without due legal process, and dumped on the plains in the heart of a non Adivasi community. They had to leave behind their standing crops. This is where mellows like Baiga – traditionally a nomadic group practicing shifting cultivation – which has recently moved towards settled cultivation – has been thrown off the windows for the sake of corporate.

In Mainpat the land loss has been not only created a state of depeasantisation but at large it has ruptured the socio-cultural community life, social organisation, nature-centric economic structure, balance of culture and nature – which the community has evolved over thousands of years. People have also lost their faith in State and it’s democratic systems.

In a nutshell land alienation and depeasantisation are interconnected and inter-exchangeable aspects, which in itself is a gross violation of human rights of Adivasi people not only in Mainpat but at large across the length and breadth of the state. It has changed the socio-cultural, economic and political dynamics of the community itself.

*Activist-cum-academician, Chief Editor of “Journal of People’s Studies”. These are excerpts from the paper “The Sociology of Land Alienation”. Click HERE to download


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