EU-India Free Trade Agreement – A view from the victims

In the second part in a series of interviews, TNI looks at the work of activists from Asia who came to Brussels this October to participate in the Asia Europe People's Forum (AEPF 8). Dayamamani Barla talks about the struggles of indigenous people who are being forcibly removed from their land to make way for extractive industries and corporate developments, while Vijay Jawandhia tells  about his work to improve the lives of Indian farmers suffering under neoliberal trade conditions.

Dayamamani Barla is a member of the Mund Tribe, from Gumla District, Ranch, Jharkhand. She is a full time activist and journalist, investigating and protesting land grabbing and oppression of indiginous communities.
What's the problem?

“The Indian Government, together with about 1000 multinational companies, signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) saying that a huge piece of land was now their property, and that the tribal, indigenous people who had been living on the land for generations no longer had any right to it, since they had not formal legal papers.”

“The land, the river and the forest provides our culture, our identity, our livelihoods and subsistence" says Dayamamani. "It is our heritage." How, she asked "can we sell this land, our soil? How can we sell the river that flows or the air that we breath? Can these things be sold?"

Since the MOU, the Government has begun to take the land by force. The police are usually involved with forcibly removing families, Dayamami says. When asked what has happened to the people who have already been removed, she replied "we do not know what has happened to them, they disappeared, maybe they live, maybe they are dead, or they go to be beggars in the cities."

The Government claimed the deal would be good for the local people because industry will bring jobs to the area - the people who live there will be "employed". This however, is not their idea of development. Dayamamani said their beliefs, cultural and social values cannot be compensated for with money or jobs.

The effort to seize land began ten years ago on the Jharkhand estate, where Dayamamani is from. There are 74, 714 km of land the government says it will distribute among the companies, who want it to build power plants, dams, coal mines, iron mines, highways, urban developments, water, and the coastal areas for ports.

Under these kind of deals - which have happened in many parts of India, one company can become the owner of 62-70,000 hectares. "They want to invest their capital here" Dayamamani says. "But this leaves nothing for the people who have been living there for generations." Appropriation of land by companies with the violent support of the state - has been happening in Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh, she said.
In Jharkhand, since Independence, around 2 million people have been displaced because of development projects, but no one knows how many have been displaced so far as a result of the recent attempts to take land for industry.

What does your work involve?
Dayamamani has published articles in local media to publicise the crimes of the security forces, and raise awareness about what is being done to indigenous people. She also came to the Asia Europe People's Forum to help network with other activists from indigenous communities, civil society and people's movements, to build alliances and support for their struggle.

Unfortunately, as we saw in the last part of this series - talking to Elisha Kartini of the Indonesian Peasant's Union - the current trend of removing indigenous people forcibly from land to enable corporations access to natural resources is widespread in the global South. However, since much of the outputs of this industry are serving industrialised and emerging economies (including the EU) raising awareness globally, and strengthening transnational civil society is a necessary step to counter such neo-colonial or imperial practices.
Dayamamani hopes to bring the suffering of indigenous communities to the attention of European policymakers as well, as it is directly affected by their trade policies. A European Free Trade Agreement with India would only exacerbate these struggles and further increase the competition among companies racing to access what natural resources are left. This will have serious implications both for the people who live off the land, and for the environment.

This is one of two interviews conducted by TNI at the Forum. Read the other one on TNI’s website