Protests have broken out over scheduled tribe areas being ‘taken over’ by other castes
Tens of thousands of Adivasis are in danger of becoming aliens in their own lands in Agency (reserved tribal lands) areas of Visakhapatnam.
The non-tribal population, which is growing numerically bigger and politically influential, is now in a position to disenfranchise the Bhumiputras.
These ‘outsiders’, who migrated to tribal lands for livelihood long back, have unleashed a socio-economic assault on the areas posing a threat to the very existence of the Adivasis, say tribals in these areas.
The natives are becoming a minority in the local bodies which is supposed to be their territory. Ironically, the recent reservations announced by the government of Andhra Pradesh for Panchayat Raj (PR) elections made them a minority with BCs (Backward Castes) and SCs (Scheduled Castes) cornering more seats in an area scheduled for tribes.
Non-tribals have gained control of not only the economy but also the cultural life of the region.
According to an activist, Ganesh, Deepavali and Navaratri festivals, celebrated with huge processions in a way hitherto unknown in the tribal belt, have become a routine affair. This shows how the areas have come under cultural invasion as well, he said.
Driven to the wall, the Adivasis of 11 mandals of Visakhapatnam Agency have upped the ante against the non-tribals in the region. A two-day Manyam bandh was observed on January 06 and 07, which was peaceful.
All tribals in this fifth schedule area have joined hands and demanded that all non-locals leave the area. During the bandh, tribal youth went around the villages asking the outsiders to quit the area as early as possible.
Several tribal organisations have come together to form a Joint Action Committee (JAC) to carry forward their agitation against non-locals who, they allege, are devouring all the resources, conniving the with unscrupulous officials and political leaders.
“Ours is a non-political movement. We have not sought support from the leaders from the mainstream parties. Our request to the Adivasi MLAs and an MP from the area is that they raise the issue of this tension building up in the region following the methodical entry of non-locals, and seek constitutional protection,” said Bonangi Chinna Padala, a JAC leader said.
The non-tribals have had a corrosive effect on the region’s society and nature, said another JAC member Gobbadi Nageswar Rao.
“These days they are celebrating festivals like Vinayaka Chaviti, Deepavali and Navaratri with fanfare. They bring thousands of idols and plastic bags in large quantities. Their Deepavali festival has heralded a new hazard of sound and air pollution.
These are entirely unknown to our culture. Our festivals are harmonious with nature and do not cause pollution. Our traditions are now being bogged down by these foreign cultural practices. If not checked, they would destroy nature and our area which is being seen as the Kashmir of Andhra Pradesh,” Nageshwara Rao told The Lede.
“The bandh call was the beginning of our agitation to preserve not only the livelihood opportunities but also the salience of the hilly region,” he added, stating that the opportunities, thrown up by the spurt in tourism, also were being grabbed by the settlers.
The bandh was observed to register their protest against the officials’ apathy in safeguarding the rights of indigenous people. They allege that the officials connived with the non-locals and issued them identity cards and false documents to prove that they had been living there for ages.
The flashpoint for the two-day bandh is the finalisation of reservations for the ensuing elections to the panchayat raj (PR) local bodies. The non-tribals, who have grown in number these days, are in a position to elbow the tribals out even from the elected bodies in the scheduled areas.
Recently the Andhra Pradesh government has reserved 10 Zilla Parishad Territorial Constituencies (ZPTC) to non-tribals in the Agency Mandals, which include four OBCs. This left only 4 ZPTCs for tribals.
The Adivasis’ contention is that the rules pertaining to scheduled areas in Panchayat Raj Act have been flouted to accommodate non-tribals.
Taking objection to the reservations for the non-tribals, tribal organisations want the strict implementation of 1/70 in scheduled areas. They are demanding all Zilla Parishad Territorial Constituencies (ZPTC) and Mandal Parishad Territorial Constituencies (MPTC) be set apart for tribals alone. They declared that they would even go to the extent of boycotting the elections.
During the two-day bandh raising slogans against the reservation for non-tribals namely BCs and SCs, the Adivasis took out rallies in Paderu, Munchingput, Pedabayalu and Araku valley.
“Many socio-economic causes, including the developmental projects drove the non-tribals to the agency areas. Of all the 11 blocks, Paderu, Chintapalli, Araku and Sileru have become the havens for migrants.
Over the decades, backed by political support, the non-tribals have become local inhabitants and dominant players in all commercial activities from grocery shops to lodges to finance business.
The ubiquitous presence of the outside settlers is a threat to our culture and economy. We will intensify our struggle to regain our lost territories,” Chinna Padala told The Lede.
The tribal tracts of the Agency are not new to revolts in Andhra Pradesh. Every revolt has been triggered by the interference of ‘outsiders’ in the form of state or settlers.
The first recorded revolt led by Rambhoopati took place in Rampachodavaram of East Godavari district in 1802.
The region was jolted by another revolt in 1879 led by Chandrayya, Sambayya and Thammadora.
The third and most popular revolt took place in 1922 and this was led by the legendary Alluri Sitaramaraju.
The fourth revolt which was more organised occurred during 1968 and 1970. This heralded the popular Naxal era in Andhra politics.
Though none of the smaller agitations that took place in the recent past have been comparable to the earlier ones, they certainly did point to the growing tensions between the Adivasis and settlers.
It is not clear yet what shape the present unrest in the area would take in the future.
The lure of new opportunities is bound to bring in more outsiders and which would in turn aggravate the woes of Adivasis.