Gandhian Strategy Preserves A Nation

Tribal people resisting eviction and relocation
to make way for missle testing site

One of the articles in Is Militarism Fading? (IC#20)
Originally published in Winter 1989 on page 8
Copyright (c)1989, 1997 by Context Institute

According to a recent article in Cultural Survival Quarterly (Sept. 1987), about 70% of the wars currently being fought are waged by states (centralized political systems) against nations (geographically bounded territories of a common people) defending their autonomy and land. Of these wars, 98% are being fought by Third World states against Fourth World (politically diesenfranchised) nations.

But here is the story of a successful strategy used by an indigenous group to resist being uprooted by the surrounding political order. Paul Routledge is a doctoral candidate at Syracuse University.

On the east coast of India, in the areas known as Boliapal and Bhograi in the state of Orissa, 45,000 tribal people in 54 villages are facing forced eviction and relocation as the government plans to develop a testing and launching site for long-range missiles and satellite-bearing rockets. The potential significance of their struggle to resist relocation is magnified by India’s increasing militarization, its belligerent relationship with Pakistan, and the fact that it is a threshold nuclear power.

In Gandhian fashion, the villagers have a adopted a non-violent, non-cooperation approach to their protest. A "people’s curfew" has been enacted, enforced by barricades of villagers at four checkpoints, which prevents government representatives from entering the area. Prearranged signals cause thousands of women, children, and men to form living road blocks in case of emergency, and the area has been effectively sealed off for almost three years.

The villagers refuse to pay taxes, hold people’s courts to settle area disputes, and attend frequent mass demonstrations. One of their slogans is, "We shall face bullets but not surrender the land."

The government has tried many anti-resistance measures, from economic blockades to threats of violence, but the villagers have successfully stood their ground. Most recently, in February 1988, 24 magistrates accompanied by 3,000 armed police attempted to enter the area to "explain" to residents the reasons for the choice of their homeland as the site for a missile range, and the nature of the government’s relocation scheme. They were met by 20,000 villagers and successfully prevented from entering the area.

The area remains in a state of tense uncertainty. But the resistance movement is well-organized, has the experience of three years of struggle, and is in no mood to capitulate. As one of the movement’s leaders, Sasadhar Babu, has stated: "We are ready to give our lives in front of armored vehicles and tanks. But if that kind of incident occurs, its protest will not be limited to India alone. The whole world will condemn the Indian government, saying that these ‘messengers of peace’ have built the missile range on the corpses of innocent Orissa peasants."

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