Nilupu Samaram: Redefining Political Struggles in a Democracy

Rupesh Kumar

dbof 4The five month long Standing Struggle ('Nilupu Samaram') of the Adivasis of Kerala has just ended. The Adivasis protested by standing in front of the Kerala Secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram all these months. The government has now agreed to the Adivasi demands and the movement is a historical success. This Adivasi Standing Struggle was not only for claiming their land and civil rights, but is a powerful democratic movement that has a message for Indian democracy as a whole. Though it has received mass support from civil society, the only groups that stood against and tried to ignore this most historical, democratic and non-violent protest are the ruling Savarna Right, Left and Hindutva groups.

A major part of the Kerala mainstream society having understood the political significance of such a struggle extended solidarity to the Adivasis, by providing physical, mental and economic support. No other struggle in recent history has received such a great support from the people, unlike the strikes, hartals and other token protests of the Left and Right wing savarna political outfits of Kerala. While the people have understood and accepted it, the mainstream Left and Right ruling political entities have no courage to address such a great struggle. This is because they have illicit relations with the land mafias who have grabbed the Adivasi lands and who will continue to terrorize society in the future too.

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        Gothra Maha Sabha leader C K Janu and others 

It was evident that the UDF government under Mr. A.K. Antony had first agreed and then cheated on a contract for the release of the Adivasi lands, in a very cunning way. The left government in 2007 under V.S. Achuthanandan had also agreed to give them their land, but the given lands were inappropriate for their environmental and physical needs. The ignorant mainstream politics with their 'top-down' governance approaches had imagined that Adivasis would be satisfied with such gimmicks and tricks. They underestimated the power of Adivasis to intercept such attempts on their rights and lives. 

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Standing for Adivasi Rights

This strike is not only for their land rights but also to strongly affirm that they are fully equipped to enter into and claim their political space and define their political needs and means by themselves. The Gothra Maha Sabha leader C.K. Janu has clearly stated that this land struggle is not going to end even after the government agrees to their demands. They are going to enter the mainstream politics after future discussions on Adivasi issues. The aims and intentions of such discussions and political interactions should be seen as a positive development for the whole of the Indian society and for their own survival as a political movement working towards different environmental and power politics.

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Rupesh Kumar and colleagues at Nilupu Samaram

Kerala is witnessing an emerging understanding among the mainstream that they should become part of such historical struggles. A growing recognition that these struggles are not only relevant for Adivasis or the youth restricted to campuses and different organizations was evidenced as a huge section of the local media and intellectuals went to the venue of the Standing Struggle and stood in solidarity with the Adivasis creating a positive wavelength. The comment of the left leader Kodiyeri Balakrishnan that the Standing Strike is an anarchic struggle has been read as funny by Kerala society which trivialized such leaders and the Left's stand on this struggle. It has been clearly evident that the bureaucracy and the Savarna casteist political leaderships are the culprits who have ignored this struggle.

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Music and Nilupu Samaram

One of the major problems that the Adivasis highlighted is the lack of Adivasi representation in the political institutions, groups, parties, bureaucracy and other agencies. They have a clear reading that the Savarna rulers without any knowledge of Adivasi issues are running a top-down mode of addressing their problems. They assert that decision-making about their needs cannot be done by excluding them from those processes. They reject the small scale relief programs as inadequate remedies for the poverty deaths or any other backward conditions of this society. It was the historical mistake of the ruling parties to avoid the representations of these sections in the decision making bodies. 

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Students' solidarity with the Standing Struggle of Adivasis

But it is a positive sign that the students and other groups are standing hand in hand with the Adivasi society. Recently, thousands of students from institutions like Sacred Hearts College in Kochi had come out of their class rooms to stand in solidarity with the Standing Strike and the Adivasis. A group of students from the same institutions went to Trivandrum and extended their support to them. So many other organizations, colleges, media activists, mainstream media, people from different sections came and expressed the view that this struggle, unlike regular hartals and strikes, has a great significance.

Unlike the hypocritical and show off strikes by the mainstream parties, this strike is going to leave its mark upon history. And it is very revealing when political parties claim "if we give something, they will ask more and that would be a problem". The fact that the mainstream political parties and communities have again and again taken their rights, grabbed their lands and created cities and is not interpreted as a problem in history. Unlike Gandhi's 'non-violent' movements which strengthened the brahmanical politics of India, the Standing Strike which arose from among the Adivasis, with music and oral discussions on land rights, has brought in a different political dimension and ended as a sign board for new non-violent strikes.

The multilayered discussions of the Adivasis on the rights over land, environment, political decisions, self-determination, entry into the mainstream society is an invaluable text book for those who read democracy in positive ways. This strike goes in rhythm with various other black struggles and indigneous struggles all over the world. It is the creation of a different human philosophy of human struggles and human rights around the world. Despite extensive coverage by the Kerala media, the national and international media have not caught on to the significance of this struggle. The international media should focus on such important struggles in global spaces. This will help engender a positive movement towards democratic humanity addressing the rhythms of different identities around the world. And that would be the best thing to be done by the international media.

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Rupesh Kumar is a member of the faculty of Cinema and Television, SH School of Communication, Sacred Heart College, Thevara, Kochi. He is a documentary film maker, writer and film critic based in Kerala.Please visit his production company's website Buddha Never Sleeps for more details.

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