This July Droupadi Murmu became India's first Adivasi President. That is the good news. The bad news is that the people of Ubbha village of district Sonbhadra in Uttar Pradesh (UP) still await justice to visit them after a mass murder of tribals took place three years ago. Soon after the tragic incident, the ruling party promised land and other compensation to the victims. However, other than tokenism not much more has been delivered.

In July in 2019, 11 people were massacred in Ubbha for refusing to give up their land. The Gond tribals did not want to give up land that belonged to them, but was being claimed by the village headman from the dominant Gujjar community. Angered at the audacity of the poor and powerless people, the Gujjar hired goons to open fire on the Gonds, killing 11 of them. Marginalised socially, economically and culturally, the tribals have been fighting for centuries to keep their land.

Jal, jangal aur zameen i.e. water, forest and land, continues to be the backbone of a collective resistance against the powerful lobby of the land mafia. The story of Sonbhadra in southeast UP and on the border of Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Bihar is a sad one. Residents say that they are citizens only by name.

Once the job of the Bhils tribals, who are ace archers, was to crown kings. Today they are expected to please politicians who take their vote and give little in return. The tribals are aware that their population of 10 crore voters is important to politicians who sweet talk them before every election. But to this day the people of the forest have little access to clean water, education and health facilities. The land that they till is taken away from them by force.

Once an area of lush forests and hills, today Sonbhadra is an industrial hub. It has deposits of minerals like bauxite, limestone, coal and gold that are coveted by industrialists. The area is famous as the energy capital of the country due to the many power plants that hardly benefit local people. The hills here hide limestone and coal. Several small rivers run through the area with the Son being the most forceful one.

The fight of local populations pitched against the most powerful and wealthy land sharks in the country, and against the Land Acquisition Act 0f 2017 continues. Here is a verse from a poem by Jitendra Vasava, born on the banks of the Tapti river in the Narmada district of Gujarat. Vasava is one of those few poets writing in a tribal language. The verse is a translation into English by Gopika Jadeja, a bilingual poet and translator:

When there is anguish

in jungle, mountain, grasslands

in the bowels of the earth, in the waters of the rivers,

when people leave their mud huts —

like mice escaping a flooded nest —

carrying their earthen pot and wooden spoon

in the crooks of their waists

in search of land

what rises with the tears in their eyes

is Adivasi poetry.

Will President Murmu be able to wipe some of the tears of members of her community? Only time will tell.


The Yadav Vote Bank

Attempts to wipe out the Samajwadi Party (SP) from the political landscape of UP are in full swing. The ruling party wants to return to power in the Lok Sabha elections to be held in 2024. To be able to win all 80 Lok Sabha seats in UP, the ruling party needs to shop for more votes. It has its eyes on the Yadav vote bank which it is working to snatch away from SP chief Akhilesh Yadav.

Some 12 percent of Yadavs voted for the ruling party in the last assembly elections held early this year. The Yadav votes of the Dhosi, Kamariya, Gwal, and Dadhor communities are important in UP. A total of 38 Assembly seats and 10 Lok Sabha seats in UP are under the influence of the Yadavs.

The ruling party's win in the recent by-elections in Yadav stronghold constituencies of Azamgarh and Rampur, combined with the infighting within the SP, under the leadership of Akhilesh encouraged it to encroach upon 'Yadav land' with a vengeance. Almost half the family of the late Chaudhary Harmohan Singh Yadav, a founder of the SP has already been roped in by the ruling party.

Once Harmohan Singh had dominated the Yadav vote bank. His grandson has joined the ruling party and son Sukhram Singh Yadav is critical of Akhilesh Yadav. However, the late leader's sons Jagram Singh and Abhiram Singh still support the SP.

Mayawati Matters

Every time Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati stirs, the downtrodden of the state are filled with hope. Despite her indifferent performance in active politics in recent times, a large section of the population still looks up to Mayawati to wipe away their tears.

Last Wednesday, Mayawati lashed out at the government for not fulfilling its responsibility of taking care of the safety and respect of Dalits. Mayawati was reacting to the recent resignation letter of Dinesh Khatik, a minister in the UP government who has alleged neglect and disrespect by the ruling party. But as her own supporters know, the BSP leader vacillates in her political alliances, and what she says today might not be what she does tomorrow.