Rajasthan government’s violent crackdown on protests an attempt to silence Adivasi assertion

30 December 2020
A man from the Adivasi community waves a flag that says “Long live the Bhil country,” at a protest site in Kankari Dungari, in Rajasthan’s Dungarpur district, in mid-September. In the last week of September, the Rajasthan police cracked down on the protesters and two youth were killed in the police action.
Vikram Adivasi
A man from the Adivasi community waves a flag that says “Long live the Bhil country,” at a protest site in Kankari Dungari, in Rajasthan’s Dungarpur district, in mid-September. In the last week of September, the Rajasthan police cracked down on the protesters and two youth were killed in the police action.
Vikram Adivasi

In the last week of September, the Rajasthan police conducted a two-day violent crackdown on protesters of the Adivasi community who were camped at Kankari Dungari, a hilltop in the Dungarpur district, since 7 September. The protesters were agitating for recruitment of Adivasis in government schools in areas where the community comprises a majority. Two Adivasi protesters were shot and killed during the police action and over 205 Adivasis were arrested. It is unclear how many have been released since. In addition, the Rajasthan police registered over twenty cases against more than six thousand Adivasis. Several of those named in the first information reports told me that they were not present at the protests. A perusal of the FIRs revealed that the police have even registered cases against Adivasis, from villages in Dungarpur, who died over two years ago.

The protests first began in July 2018 following a decision by the state’s education department to restrict the recruitment of Adivasis to teaching positions under the general category, in Adivasi-majority areas of the state. This prompted several Adivasi organisations to organise under the banner of the Bhil Pradesh Aarakshan Samanavy Samiti—an organisation that works on affirmative action for Adivasis—to seek legal recourse and hold peaceful protests. Over the next two years the movement witnessed several highs and lows, between July and September 2019, the district court in Jodhpur gave two contradictory judgements, which sparked intermittent protests. Then in December 2019, the state government was forced to intervene and a committee was formed to resolve the BPASS’s demands. However, over nine months later, the committee failed to come up with a solution.

In September 2020, distrustful of the state machinery after two years of seeking administrative resolutions, the protesters decided to hold an indefinite protest. The protests escalated to blocking a highway after state ministers and members of Rajasthan’s legislative assembly cancelled parleys with the protesters. This culminated in the violent clampdown by the Rajasthan police which attacked protesters and nearby villages, indiscriminately. Adivasi leaders have said that the arrested individuals are being kept in horrid conditions and subjected to custodial violence. All protesters I spoke to denied all allegations against them. No senior police official I contacted responded to any queries. Notably, the protests occurred in the backdrop of major Adivasi mobilisation in the state over the past three years that propped the Bharatiya Tribal Party—Rajasthan’s largest Adivasi political party—as an electoral force. Many Adivasi leaders told me that the police action was an attempt by the Congress-led state government to undermine Adivasi mobilisation, while several leaders of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party accused the protesters of being “Naxals.”

The vacancies for the teaching posts were first notified in April 2018. That month, the Rajasthan government announced the Rajasthan Education Eligibility for Teachers test for recruitment of teachers to government schools. The state notified a total of 5,431 vacancies in schools in Tribal Sub Plan areas. TSP areas are administrative divisions of blocks where more than half the population is from Adivasi communities, and have special funds earmarked for developmental activities targeting these communities. Many TSP areas in Rajasthan are also under the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution, which provides legal protections such as increased Adivasi control over land rights as well as more self-governance. According to the 2011 Census, 70.43 percent of Rajasthan’s tribal population reside in TSP areas.

On 1 June 2018, after the recruitment process was completed, 1,167 seats within the general category were left vacant. The government’s reasoning for not filling these seats was that many candidates from the Scheduled Tribes did not meet the cut-offs the government had set: 60 percent for general category and 36 percent for the ST category. Several Adivasi activists, including those from BPASS, told me these cut-offs were “arbitrary,” and that they had demanded that the unoccupied seats be given to Adivasi applicants. Organised protests against the move started in December 2018, when the last set of recruitments were formalised.

Manish Meena is a researcher of Dalit and Tribal Studies at TISS Mumbai. He has also written for Adivasi Resurgence.

Keywords: Bharatiya Tribal Party Rajasthan Adivasi rights police brutality BJP Congress
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