Perspectives

AS LONG AS WE HAVE LAND

Wati Longchar


India is a country of diverse culture, numerous languages, multiple races and regional and economic disparities. To try to unite India on a mono-religio-cultural model is a futile attempt. Number-game relating to religious followings is irrelevant, as the sustenance of a civil society does not depend upon which religion dominates. Whether a country is Buddhist, Christian, Hindu or Islamic is not a relevant question as there are more urgent and pertinent socio-economic questions that need to be addressed and tackled with all the resources available to our nation.

- Dr. Lalchungnunga


Introduction

It is a great honour and privilege to contribute an article in honour of Dr. Lalchungnunga’s significant contribution to theological education and universal church. The Mizos refused to hoist Indian flag on 15th August 1947 which followed violent confrontation between the Indian army and Mizo National Front (MNF). Being born and brought up when Mizoram was under the clouds of fire and military atrocities, Dr. Lalchungnunga is deeply very concern of ongoing religious conflicts, misuse of power, unprecedented exploitation of the poor through pro-rich development activities. As the Principal of Serampore College, he has witnessed the justice cry of the farmers in Singur and Nandigram and expressed deep concern on the violation of human rights in the name of development. I would like to highly some aspects of the impact of pro-rich developmental activities and its implications for churches mission today.

The Dilemma of the Farmers and Tribals

We will not leave our village, or our jungles, or our mother-earth.
We will not give up our fight.
They built dams drown villages and built factories.
They cut down forests, dug out mines and built sanctuaries.
Without water, land and forest where do we go?
Oh, God of development, we pray, tell us how to save our lives?
Dry is the Jamuna River, the Narmada River and the Suvanrekha River.
Ganga River is a dirty drain, Krishna River-but a black line!
You may drink your colas and bottled water, how shall we quench our thirst with such polluted water?
Were our ancestor’s fools that they conserved the forest?
Made the land so green, made rivers flow like honey?
Your greed has charred the land and looted its greenery!
The fish are dead, the birds have flown, who knows where?
The minister has become industry’s broker, snatched away our lands!
Armed battalions protect them!
The officer is king and the contractor is millioner!
Our village is their colony!
Unite and break the silence!
Fisherfolk, dalits and adivasis (indigenous people) unite!
From fields and mines arise! Sound the nagara!
Listen, people of the country, struggle is the only way out
![1]

When the mountain disappears, what will be our identity?
If we leave our ancestral village, what will be our culture and spiritual identity?
If you do not allow us to cultivate, what will we eat? Do you want our children to die?
If you do not allow us to fish, how can we send our children to school?
Our religion and identity are centred on the soil! How can we worship God?
If you do not allow us to cultivate, what will we do the whole day?
When all the trees have been cut down, where will be the home of the animals and birds?
When all the waters are polluted, what will we drink? Do we have to buy water?
When all the air is unsafe to breathe, can we buy air?

If we sell our land, money will remain just a few years. If we have land, the land will feed us more than 3000-5000 years. We know we will live in peace as long as we have land.

The Voices of the Policy Makers

Development is good for people
Industries are good for people and nation
Governments are doing development for the future generation of the people
What will be the future of the youths?
What will they do if we do not bring development and industries?
People need industries to enhance their economy and living standard
Sell your land. Government will give adequate compensation
Development alone can alleviate poverty
You are poor because of the lack of industry
People who oppose industry will always remain backward and primitive
Industry will bring you more money and comfort
Your children will be given employment
You will have more money to send your children to better school
Electric city, road will be improved
Your life will be more comfortable
You will no longer work in rain and scorching sun
Stand for development of the people
Development is sign of progress and civilization
Europe, USA and China are the world economic power because of industrialization.

The Voices of the Farmers in Singur and Nandigram

  • This land is our mother, how can we leave her, where will we go? What will we eat? This mother earth provides us with crops and food. We won’t give her up so easily.

  • We grow beetle leaves. We saw paddy once a year and then we grow vegetables like cabbages, potatoes, bringal, etc and harvest the crops till the monsoon. We also grow mangoes, coconuts and other fruits. This is sufficient for the sustenance of our life. Money will not satisfy our hunger. We do not want money. Our land, village, river, forest alone can feed us. We cannot compare our land with money.

  • Today Governments are talking about development and industries, what will happen to us. They will build five star hotels - will they serve us? A golf club will come up, what is the use of it for us? They will build shopping malls, golf courses, entertainment complexes, etc. what is the use for us? Will we be able to send our kids to the kinder garden that will come up here? Even if we give our land, we will not enjoy the benefits. Only the rich can enjoy the benefit. We have not been the employee of anybody. We do not want to be slave of somebody in our land.

  • When we resist against the Government to protect our land, we are brutally tortured, women are raped and beloved ones are killed by the state police. We have experienced firing, tear-gas and lathi-charge many times. What fault have we done?

  • Govt. officials are telling us that if an industry comes up here all our children will get job. But our question is….where and what types of jobs are there? We have also worked in factories, polishing iron-rods, carrying oil-drums etc. They told us that without ITI training, we can’t get a job here. True, without having ITI training how can we have knowledge about machinery parts? Only one or two boys from here will pass from the Industrial Training Institute, what about the rest of the villagers? It is not our children but the outsiders who will get the jobs. We will be left jobless and landless.

  • Govt. officials are telling us that if an industry comes up here they will provide jobs to the people. But to how many persons have they provided job during the last 30 years? So many industries are lying closed. Let them first open those closed industries. After that we will think about their proposal. Till then, we will not give a single inch of our land.

  • People who have lost their land have not received full compensation till now. Those who have become refugees are yet to be rehabilitated. No arrangements have been made for their livelihood. If we give our land about 65-70 thousand people will become refugees in Nandigram alone. We do not trust that the governments will rehabilitate so many people. We do not want to be landless people in our own villages.

  • If electricity reaches the villages, people will automatically start their own industry. Suppose I am a tailor, and know embroidery work and if I can set up a few machines here at home it means industry. When electricity comes here we will start our own industry. Why do we need industry from outside?

  • We are a hard working poor people, we till our land and it is our occupation and if they want to take away our source of food then we will resist with all our strength. We will carry on our protest till the last drop of our blood.

  • We will give our blood, our life; we are the people of this land since from the time of our great great fore-parents. They were buried here and their spirits live here. Our village land is sacred. Our religion, culture and identity are rooted in this land. How can we sell our life sustaining mother?

  • Why do agricultural land and heritage destroy in the name of industry? We are determined to protect our land and home at any cost. We are not scared of bullets and bombs.

  • Anyone who comes to take our land will have to first give his/her life. It does not matter whether that person is Chief Minister, President, Prime Minister or anyone. This is our last word. We have lost our father, mother and children and yet we will continue our fight till the last drop of our blood.

  • We want development for our mothers who have to spend winter nights without proper clothes. We want development of hospitals for the sick people where they can be treated. Establish a hospital/dispensary in every villages. We want development of drinking water in every village so that people do not walk miles to fetch drinking water. We want development of education in villages where our children go for study. We went development of irrigation to produce food for the people. We want development of road between villages and towns. We do not want the present pro-rich development. Our life and our land are more valuable than industries.

The voices of the people are simple but clear. The present growth oriented development paradigm does not bring any good to the subsistent communities. As liberalisation in many parts of the developing countries gathers momentum and various governments compete for investment from domestic and foreign multinationals, many countries are experiencing a radical transformation on the use of the land. Vast tractor fertile agricultural lands are being handed over to the corporate investors in the name of development and industrialisation. This puts at stake the livelihood and security of millions of tribals and farmers who are dependent on land and nature for their subsistence.

In Nandigram and Singur, and many other places villagers who gave lands initially got manual labour jobs but the projects/industries stopped functioning after a few years. There are still many families who are yet to receive compensation. The government also took no initiative to reopen the closed units. It is not only in India, but similar stories are heard all over the world. The Tinguians of Abra in the Philippines experienced the similar fade when the government decided to give to the Cellophil Corporation almost all the mountains of Abra as a logging concession. The Kalingas went through the same agony when the government decided to build several dams along the Chico and Abulog River that submerged at least sixteen municipalities.

Tribals and farmers’ stand is that they will become refugees, if they give up their land. Even though compensation is given how long will they survive, how many generations and where will they live. The money will fly away like a bird within a few years. But the land will sustain and nurture them for generations. Till now even the basic needs like electricity and water supply are yet to reach the villages and they are talking about industrialization? Development for whom? on whose cost?

Development and the Victimization of the Poor

The present development paradigm cannot liberate the poor from the yoke of misery and hunger. The underlying principal is maximum profit, maximum capital accumulation, and maximum exploitation of labour. Development is measured in terms of the amount of goods and services produced rather than by what is produced and how it is distributed. All human and natural resources are directed to the market for the purpose of commodity production and profit making. In this development process, while some nations have tremendous economic advantages, others have become more and more dependent. The main players in the present process of development are the governments of powerful nations (in particular the G7), Transnational Cooperation, the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO. Rogate R. Mshana of WCC rightly argued that free trade is only a myth because 40% of the global trade performed by 350 big companies takes place in the Northern part of the world. He further explained that this has occurred because there is a strong tendency of developed, powerful countries to control and manipulate natural resources of other poorer countries, global trade, and world market for their own benefits and interests.[2] The development of all third world countries has to be related to the world market. This is so because the overall control of the global economy is in the hands of the G7 countries. They control the monetary system and international trade. The multinationals and other institutions with the help of the state control all development processes. The foreign debt works as an instrument to control the development process in these countries. Terms and conditions on the loans are imposed on them, which make them almost impossible to develop on their own terms. The role of developing countries is simply to provide cheap labour to attract investors and to provide raw materials, which are at the mercy of fluctuating prices. They are to meet the needs of others as cheap as possible. This unfettered growth of the multinationals and the emphasis on foreign trade are not conducive to a development pattern that is oriented to the basic needs of the people. The production needs and patterns are often determined by the market forces. It is unfortunate that they seldom take into consideration the basic needs of the people. It is very clear that the present economic pattern no longer serves the interest of the majority of the poor people. It rather destroys the lives of many people due to its unjust distribution of wealth, exploitation and deprivation of basic needs. Josef P. Widyatmadja in his book, Rerooting Mission: Towards a People’s Concept of Mission and Diakonia,[3] pointed out the following consequences of the pro-rich development activities on the poor:

First, it has yielded dependency of agrarian countries on industrial countries. Agrarian countries depend on the products of industrial countries as well as on the mercy of their loan. They have to import goods from the industrial countries on high price, but sell their raw materials for a low price to the same industrialized nations.

Second, the development process has widened the gap between the rich and the poor. The GNP of industrial countries is far exceeding than that of the agrarian countries, and the gaps between nations are getting wider today. The gap is not a phenomenon in the international relations alone, but also within the nation states in Asia; the gap between the poor and rich are increasing unabatedly. While a few elites possess and enjoy abundant national wealth, majority of the people are left to live under abject poverty. In recent years, some national business houses in Asia have grown as international players and the names of few people from the poor nations occupied in the list of the richest individuals in the world.

Third, it promotes authoritarian or dictatorial governments because they are amenable to manipulation and are easy to deal with. This has led to the promotion of dictatorial regimes, corruption and abuse of power all over the world. In the name of progress, these governments offer trade facilities or monopolies to their own families. Nepotism has shown its ugly face in many countries.

Fourth, the process has resulted in the huge debt of poor countries. They are heavily indebted to the financial institutions of the West including their government financial agencies, the World Bank, the IMF and their private banks. Today it has amounted to trillions of dollars. Most African, Latin American, and Asian countries can no longer pay back their debt but continue to collect new loans promising to honour repayment schedule. There is no balance and justice in policy of “give and take”. Though the givers insist on transparency, participation and accountability from the receivers, the rich countries fail to maintain their own norms and policy.

Fifth, because of the debt, the poor countries have to devalue their currency. In the process their debt multiplies more and more. The devaluation is a mechanism of the industrial countries to rob and manipulate the natural resources and labour power of the poor. The purchasing power decreases and the prices of imported goods are getting higher and higher. Trade liberalization has cemented inequalities among states.

Sixth, the process has also promoted the growth of arms race and increased the spending on military and other security arrangements by individual nations. Militarism and arm race are increasingly becoming serious concern even in the so-called developing countries. It has contributed to violation of human rights and democracy. Freedom of press is curtailed; labour organizations for the peasants and students are restricted. The arrest, killing, torture of many people’s movement leaders are becoming a common phenomenon. Democracy propagated by developed countries maintains double standards, and it has been applied discriminately.

Seventh, it has destroyed the natural environment. For the sake of maximizing profit, natural resources are being exploited where the profit is enjoyed mostly by certain foreign capital. Indiscriminate felling of trees, exploitation and pollution of water resources, air and land has caused and continue to bring misery to the life of the people.

Eighth, the process has created a consumer culture. It encourages consumers to “want” more than they “need” because the survival of the growth paradigm is based on the ability of people to consume more and more. Under a consumer culture, consumption becomes the main form of self-expression and the chief source of identity. In short, consumption itself is seen as a virtue. Consumption determines the status and work of a person. It means that both material and non-material items including kinship, affection, art and intellect become commodified.

Ninth, the process has resulted in the destruction of traditional values, moral norms and national culture. The ethnic minorities often have to sacrifice their own cultures for the sake of economic growth. In many parts of the world, indigenous communities have become the victims of big reservoir, mega project, wild life sanctuaries, mines, industries, etc. In the name of development, they are forcefully evicted from their ancestral land and the abode of the various spirits they worship by imposing repressive measures without proper compensation.

Tenth, the misuse of power often exists due to the top-down political policy pursued in development process. This has curtailed people’s ability to take initiatives. They become passive participants of their own development and participation is taken for granted after making contribution to the power elites. The scope of people’s participation lies around their participation in funding certain project. Meanwhile their participation in social control is neglected.

Eleventh, the misuse of religion, ideology and culture are a common factor in the strategy of development planning. Religion and ideology are used to justify development, national stability and power. They are often misused while interpreting the policy of development. Promises are offered as propaganda of development and they are often in line with the propagation of religion and ideology. To criticize development is often interpreted as an act of opposition to the ideology of the country or disobedience to one’s own religious faith.

Twelfth, children and women are made to sacrifice their life. The trading of women and children across countries forces women to prostitution parlous and children as low paid workers. The problems of migrant workers and domestic workers are growing in India/Asia.

Furthermore, in the context of ongoing war on terror led by Americans, we need to see the relationship between development and militarism. It has become increasingly clear that development, religious fundamentalism, ethnic conflict, various people’s movement in the form of arm struggle are all closely interconnected to economic justice. Financial instability, economic inequality, competition for resources, and environmental degradation lead to conflicts among people of different culture and religions and nations. War on terror and conflicts among various communities give lot of advantage to arm producing countries to sell their arms and ammunitions. Steven Staple has rightly observed that globalization and militarism is like the two sides of the same coin. He wrote that “On one side, globalization promotes the condition that lead to unrest, inequalities, conflict and ultimately war. On the other side, globalization fuels the means to wage war by protecting and promoting the military industries needed to produce sophisticated weaponry. This weaponry is used - or its use is threatened - to protect the investments of translational corporation and their shareholders.”[4] Weapons of all types are a profitable business. Conflicts guarantee plenty of buyers. It is creating more threats to human security. More conflicts and civil war are emerging everywhere.

In summary, `development’ despite of its great potential to enhance the quality of life, has contributed in accelerating unrest, conflict and war; disrespect of national sovereignty, territorial integrity, inequalities between nations, exclusion of poor people from mainstream development process, suffering, misery, famine and death of millions especially women and children.

An Ethical Concern

The present development paradigm reflects reminds us of the time of famine at the time of king Pharaoh and Joseph. Taking the advantage of famine, Joseph made the king Pharaoh a `capitalist’, a `dictator’ and also a `landlord’. Genesis 48:13-22 reads as follows:

Now there was no food in all the land; for the famine was very sever, so that the land of Egypt and the land of Canaan languished by reason of the famine. And Joseph gathered up all the money that was found in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan, for the grain which they bought; and Joseph brought the money into Pharaoh’s house. And when the money was all spent in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan, all the Egyptians came to Joseph, and said, “Give us food; why should we die before your eyes? For our money is gone”. And Joseph answered, “Give your cattle, and I will give you food in exchange for your cattle, if your money is gone.” So they brought their cattle to Joseph; and Joseph gave them food in exchange for the horses, the flocks, the herds, and the asses: and he supplied them with food in exchange for all their cattle that year. And when that year was ended, they came to him the following year, and said to him, “We will not hide from my lord that our money is all spent; and the herds of cattle are my lord’s; there is nothing left in the sight of my lord but our bodies and our lands. Why should we die before your eyes, both we and our land? Buy us and our land for food, and we with our land will be slaves of Pharaoh; and give us seed, that we may live, and not die, and that the land may not be desolate.” So Joseph brought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh; for all the Egyptians sold their fields, because the famine was severe upon them. The land became Pharaoh’s and as for the people, he made salves of them from one end of Egypt to the other”.

Joseph is considered as a man of God with great wisdom, a man who can see the future, a good planner, a person who has ability to mobilize people, a person with high morality, a God fearing person, and an able administrator. But he protected and contributed to unjust system and relationship.

For Pharaoh’s sake, Joseph did four things. In all these people were the losers.

First, he gathered all the money from the people in exchange of grains. He made people moneyless.

Second, he gathered all the properties and live stock from the people in exchange of grains. He made people propertyless.

Third, he gathered all the lands from people in exchange of grains. He made people landless.

Fourth, he bought all the bodies of people in exchange of grains. He made people slaves.

How do we see the process of development today? Do we protect and contribute to unjust system and relationship? The Biblical perspective is very clear. The Bible plays into the hands of those vested interests to satisfy their unbridled thirst for power and pleasure at the expense of the right of fellow humans and the earth. A very powerful biblical teaching is that any economic system that relegates or marginalizes human life falls short of the divine standards. Each person is created in God’s image and thus, is worthy and valuable for the Creator. Therefore, in economic life, “any individual, class, caste, nature, gender and community, should not be regarded as an object whose value is determined by the fundamental of the market and who may be bought and sold or dispensed with a whim or will of those who possess economic power, he or she is not to be treated as a means but as an end”.[5] The central preaching of Jesus is the Kingdom of God, a symbol with universal or global repercussions. It embraces the message that all are brothers and sisters in the one family of God and demands special concern for the marginalized people and justice for all. It demands a more equitable distribution of the world’s resources, not the accumulation in the hands of a few. The present development paradigm is definitely not the way of the Kingdom because it uses human beings as cheap labourers and does not respect humans as person. This value is contrary to the biblical teaching of Kingdom’s value. The Bible upholds a community where justice is expressed in equality and sharing and affirms a community economic system with reciprocal sharing and hospitality.

In the context of growing inequalities, different forms of injustice and conflict under the umbrella of globalization, we need to address and promote:

  1. Trade and economic co-operation on the basis of equality and sharing of life and resources; mutuality of support and respect to one another’s life;

  2. Respect and protect the rich ethnic, cultural and religious diversity;

  3. Sanctity of human life as well as the entire God’s creation;

  4. Alternative spirituality grounded in the respect of human dignity and in the integration of creation;

  5. Spirituality that promotes justice, peace and reconciliation;

  6. Cultural co-operation to resist the cultural impact of globalization and to find new ways to overcome the problems of division;

  7. Promote respect of human rights in their own cultural context;

  8. Spread a spirituality of a common future that respect peace and justice, life for all irrespective of religious and ethnic differences; and

  9. Policy and values that guarantees the diversity as well as the uniqueness of each culture.

Peace as long as we have Land

The land is fundamental for genuine peace. The world is at war and conflict because of the misuse and abuse of the land and its resources. Without the affirmation of the integrity of land and its resources, there is no life, no peace, no culture, no religion, and no identity. The land is everything for tribal people, even the multiplicity of their cultural expressions comes from the earth, from nature.

One will notice that deliberate attempts are being adopted by the policy makers to make the tribal people and poor farmers remain illiterate that they depend completely on the sale of their labour power. Upholding the deceptive policies, the governments in turn promote pro-rich development advocating that it will alleviate poverty, generate employment and income. Generate employment for whom and what kind of employment? Local people are employed mostly as manual labour jobs like watchman, sweeper, gardener, cleaner and some are forced to work in health hazard and dangerous conditions. Generate income for whom? Income goes to the rich people. On the other hand, in the process of pro-rich development, indigenous people are forcefully evicted from their ancestral places without adequate compensation. Along with denial of fishing, hunting and cultivation rights, their cultural assets are also increasingly marketed by privatizing their land and natural resources. In the process of being re-packaged for modern consumption, tribal people’s historical and religious sites, rituals, festivals, arts and crafts are often unrecognized, distorted and commercialized. This creates poverty, indecent living style, identity and spiritual crises. Genuine `peace’ cannot be realized without addressing the people who have been crushed and denied of their land, culture, language and identity.

Therefore, we demand .....

  • Stop violation of the tribal/adivasi peoples’ right to ancestral domain and territorial integrity, including systematic and massive land grabbing;

  • Stop anti-people development aggression;

  • Stop militarization of indigenous communities and violations of the human rights of indigenous persons;

  • Stop institutionalized discrimination and cultural chauvinism;

  • Stop commercialization of culture; and

  • Rectify the long historical government neglect of basic services, resulting in worsening marginalization, poverty and food insecurity among tribal peoples.

  • The right to own, manage and develop their territory and all resources therein;

  • The right to practice and develop their indigenous socio-political systems, including customary laws, justice systems, rituals and beliefs, and other cultural practices, and to maintain their cultural integrity and ethnicity;

To bring about the lasting peace, harmony and justice in our world today, we also need to recognize the collective rights of tribal people:

  1. the right to the ownership of tribal lands as the territorial based for the existence of their populations;

  2. the right to use, manage and dispose of all natural resources found within their ancestral lands;

  3. the right to control their own economies, and the right to economic prosperity;

  4. the right to restore, manage, develop and practice their culture, language, traditions and way of life in accordance with their worldview, and to educate their children in them;

  5. the right to determine the form of self-government, and to uphold indigenous political systems;

  6. the right to engage in foreign relations and trade if they so desire;

  7. the right to form alliances and federations with other indigenous people for the attainment of common goals; and

8) the right to a life of peace and security.

 

Notes:

  1. This is a song composed by Bhagwan Maaji, leader of Adivasi struggle against bauxite minning in Kashipur. Lyrics by: Meghnath with the support of Sunil Minj and Vinod Kumar

  2. Economic Globalization: A Critical view and an Alternative Vision (Geneva: WCC Publication, 2001), pp. 7 ff.

  3. Josef P. Widyatmadja, Rerooting Mission: Towards a People’s Concept of Mission and Diakonia (Hong Kong: CCA, 2004), pp. 13-15.

  4. Steven Staples, “Social Justice Magazine’, Vol. 27, no. 4, 2000.

  5. I. John Mohan Razu, “Reading of the Bible in the Context of Globalism: From the Perspective of the Exploited”, a paper presented at National Consultation on the Priorities of Theological Education in India, Chennai, May 22-25, 2001

* Rev. Dr. Wati Longchar is Dean of D.Min and Extension Programme of the Senate of Serampore College, West Bengal. He hails from Nagaland.

11.11.11

Interfaith Cooperation
email: interfaithcoop@gmail.com
web site: http://daga.org/icp