We need Dayamani Barla

Dayamani Barla is back in jail, and the State won’t say why.

Dayamani Barla lives in Ranchi, the capital of Jharkand, in India. There she runs a small tea shop. That is not why she’s in jail. That is not why the State `released’ her on bail, only to put her back in jail immediately. It’s not tea that has placed Dayamani Barla in a  revolving door of jail – jail – jail, always accompanied by thunderous State silence.

Dayamani Barla is a journalist, according to some the first Tribal journalist from Jharkand. She is a women’s activist, tribal activist, and anti-displacement activist. She’s a popular leader who has refused to be intimidated by either multinational corporations or by the State. She has been described as “Iron Lady” and as “a woman with a steely resolve.”

Actually, she’s not made of steel or iron, but rather of flesh and bone and commitment and action and vision. Transformation and liberation come from ordinary people engaged in ordinary practices. Real change is and must be ordinary.

Dayamani Barla organizes, teaches, and writes in the realm of the ordinary. In 2008, she famously opposed construction of an Arcelor-Mittal plant in Jharkhand. Between 2005 and 2008, the State of Jharkhand signed 112 memoranda of understanding with multinationals. Development was booming … at the expense of those who lived on, nurtured and cherished the land. Dayamani Barla opposed the displacement of those who take care of the land, and of the Earth.

The Arcelor-Mittal plant would have involved 12,000 acres and would have displaced over 70,000 people from some 45 villages. For those people, land is not an asset. It is heritage. Ironically, officially at least, the Indian government agrees. This land is protected, and so cannot be sold for non-agricultural use. And yet, repeatedly, it is.

Dayamani Barla listened to her neighbors and helped them organize. Her neighbors understood the essential truth of displacement. Once displaced, you never return: “We will not allow the Arcelor Mittal Company to enter into the villages because one can not be rehabilitated if once displaced. The lands, which we cultivate belong to our ancestors therefore we will not leave it”.

The “simple” folk of rural Jharkand already knew what the International Red Cross and Red Crescent would only `discover’ four long years later. As the World Disaster Report stated, last week: “Development is a major, but often ignored, driver of forced displacement.” And where’s a hotspot for development-driven displacement? India. The poor of India `bear the brunt’ of development, making up one of the largest populations of internally displaced persons anywhere … ever. And, as is so often the case, there is actually little data concerning those displaced through development. This is ironic given that, unlike all the other drivers of displacement, such as natural disasters and conflict, development is always planned. And yet … the data is `surprisingly’ missing.

But the cost of development to the poor has not been ignored by the poor, by the marginalized. Dayamani Barla has not been surprised by the lack of information, by the ignorance. Neither the State nor the multinational corporations nor the un-civil society made up of journalists, academics, ngo’s and so on, know how to or care to listen to the people actually on the ground.

Since 2010, Dayamani Barla has led a movement to stop government acquisition of farmers’ land for three schools, one of management, one of information technology, and one a law school. Villagers have gone on hunger strikes. Others mobilize. They are not opposed to `knowledge’ or to schools being built. They want consultation. They want a say as to which plot, or plots, of hundreds of acres will be used. They want an end to military occupation. And they want answers. For example, they want to know who decided that Jharkhand needs a knowledge triangle of technology-management-law, rather than, say, basic healthcare or primary education?

Many answer, What Jharkand needs is Dayamani Barla. The Gandhian activist Himanshu Kumar agrees. In a recent poem he asks: “Why do we need Dayamani Barla?” Here’s the beginning of his answer:

“It is a grave danger now to be Dayamani Barla
It is a danger to be an adivasi
It is a danger now to reside in the village

There is land in the village
There are trees in the village
There are rivers in the village
There are minerals in the village
There are people in the village
There is also Dayamani Barla in the village”

There is also Dayamani Barla in the village. We need Dayamani Barla, and not just in the village. We need her in the world. We need her writing. We need her organizing. We need her reminding us that women are the shakers as well as the bakers of revolutionary action and praxis: “The participation of the adivasi women in our struggles has been more than that of men. They are more vociferous as they have to bear the major brunt of the economic and cultural destabilization. Adivasi women in the villages facing the threat of displacement … have clamped a people’s curfew. They equally participate with men in blocking any project-related vehicles, machinery or personnel inside their villages. Women ploughed up the roads and sowed seeds. Volunteers stood as watch guards to see that no one tramples upon their sown fields. Organizations involved in the struggle cannot take any decisions or make any settlements without consulting women’s groups.”

Women tear down walls of `development’ and plant saplings of self-determination and autonomy. We need Dayamani Barla.

 

(Photo Credit: India Resists)

Women haunt land grabs and mass evictions

Oxfam came out with a major report this week on land grabs in five countries, Uganda, Indonesia, Guatemala, Honduras, and South Sudan. In Uganda, over 20,000 people were evicted from land they had farmed for decades, evicted so that a British corporation, New Forests Company, could come in, create tree plantations, earn carbon credits, sell timber.

The residents were never consulted. Quite to the contrary, tales of violence abound. For example, Olivia Mukamperezida, whose house was burned to the ground. Her eldest son, Friday, was at home because he was sick. He was killed in the fire. She buried Friday, and now is not sure if he’s even in his grave. “They are planting trees,” she says.

Christine was forced off her land as well: “We lost everything we had .… I was threatened – they told me they were going to beat me if we didn’t leave.”

Christine lost more than everything she had. She lost the future. Before she and her family lived in a six-room house, farmed six hectares, sold produce, sent their kids to school. They had been doing so for twenty years. Now, they live in two rooms, eke subsistence living out of a small plot, eat once a day, and the children no longer attend school.

The Oxfam report highlights the particular vulnerabilities of women, and the specific impact of eviction on women around the world. They note that in Africa, the situation is particularly dire: “Women’s land rights are less secure and more easily targeted. They also depend more on secondary uses of land, which tend to be ignored in large-scale acquisitions. Furthermore, although women comprise the majority of farmers, men effectively control the land and the income derived from it, even if it is the fruit of women’s labour. In practice, a new commercial opportunity often means that men assume control of the land at the expense of women’s access. Thus, new sources of income from the land are likely to burden women and benefit men. The new competition for land between biofuels and food crops, leading to less availability of food and higher prices, is also likely to affect women more than men, as women tend to take responsibility for feeding the family.”

From direct physical and verbal assaults to the processes to the consequences, the entire land grabbing machinery is violence against women.

None of this is new. Previous researchers have issued reports on that describe the gendered impacts of commercial pressures on land, that wonder if land grabs aren’t simply, and intentionally, another bigger, badder yoke on women’s land rights. Activists, such as Esther Obaikol, Executive Director of the Uganda Land Alliance, have also been organizing with women farmers … for decades.

When it comes to land grabs in Uganda, as elsewhere, women farmers have been pushed harder, deeper, further. They are the first and final targets of land grabbing. Mass evictions attack women. Women haunt land grabs and mass evictions … everywhere.

 

(Photo Credit: Sven Torfinn for The New York Times)

The babies’ give-and-take

Hillary Clinton visits Angola this week. The caregivers of Angola, the United States, and the world haunt her mission as they haunt this age.

Isn’t it curious that those who care for others can be called caretakers or caregivers? A caregiver is “a person, typically either a professional or close relative, who looks after a child, elderly person, invalid, etc.; a carer”. A caretaker is “one who takes care of a thing, place, or person; one put in charge of anything”. This explains why caregivers are mostly women, underpaid or not paid at all, who look after others in need: children, the sick, the elderly, you, me. This explains why there are caretaker governments and why there are no caregiver governments or States.

In Ireland, a caretaker is “a person put in charge of a farm from which the tenant has been evicted”. Angola is evicting thousands of people right now. 3000 family households were just bulldozed on the outskirts of Lusaka, to make way for gated condominium `communities’ and shopping malls: “`They arrived at around 3am,’ explained Rosa, a pregnant mother of five who has lived for three years in the area of two neighbouring informal settlements known as Baghdad and Iraq. “First came the police, and then the machines and they just started to knock down the houses. There was no warning, we had no choice but to leave because of all the police so we just grabbed what we could and then watched as they pulled down our homes,” said the 29-year-old.”

What happens to Rosa and her five children, what happens to that future child of hers, if it survives its birth? What happens to Rosa, now homeless, when she goes into childbirth? The maternal mortality roulette is now firmly stacked against her. And what happens then to the five or six kids?

Maki knows. Maki is a fictional character in “Porcupine”, the title story of Jane Bennett’s collection, Porcupine. Maki is Black, Zimbabwean, lesbian, a writer and student living in South Africa, and she knows: “The statistics have been stable for centuries; the babies of the caretakers died with much more frequency than those in the caretakers’ care. It’s not a riddle.”

Rosa and her children, the women, men, children of Baghdad and Iraq, in the southlands of Lusaka, they must just die. If that’s economic and social progress, if their eviction and death is part of community formation, then Angola is a proper Caretaker State.

And Angola is not alone. We are living in a Caretaker Era, on a globe of evictions in the name of progress, in a world of caretakers’ children dying. The statistics have been stable.

Take the United States, a wealthy country. With all its wealth, the United States health care system is “one of the worst of all the industrialized nations.” In 2000, the World Health Organization stopped ranking national health care systems, because the data, they said, became too complex. In their 2000 assessment, of 191 nation states, the United States ranked 37th, and this despite spending a higher portion of its gross domestic product on health than any other country.

So, what happens to the Rosa’s of the United States? What happens to their children?

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation & Development Health Data 2009 report, “Most OECD countries have enjoyed large gains in life expectancy over the past decades.  In the United States, life expectancy at birth increased by 8.2 years between 1960 and 2006, which is less than the increase of almost 15 years in Japan, or 9.4 years in Canada. In 2006, life expectancy in the United States stood at 78.1 years, almost one year below the OECD average of 79.0 years….Infant mortality rates in the United States have fallen greatly over the past few decades, but not as much as in most other OECD countries.  It stood at 6.7 deaths per 1 000 live births in 2006, above the OECD average of 4.9.”

If Rosa is a caregiver in the United States, she’s an underpaid woman of color. She’s Black, Latina, Native American, Asian. What happens to Rosa, to her children, to her next child, if she’s, say, Black?  “Black infants in the United States are more than twice as likely as white infants to die in the first year of life. In New York City, infant mortality rates were 3 times higher for black infants than for white infants in 2001. Neonatal deaths, that is, deaths that occur within 28 days after delivery, account for nearly two thirds of all infant deaths. Similar to the racial disparities in infant mortality rates, black neonates are more than twice as likely to die, compared with white neonates.”

These deaths are called amenable mortality. That means they are considered amenable to health care. That means, they could have been prevented. They could be prevented. They can be prevented. In the United States, the worst industrialized nation in reducing amenable mortality, Rosa’s death will be another `amenable mortality’. That of her children as well.

Prior to the recession, in the United States, women were foregoing health care, which is like saying that caregivers have been foregoing living in gated communities and shopping at upscale malls. Around the world, women are `foregoing’ needed health care. Rosa is, her five children are, her impending sixth child is. They are foregoing housing, health care, education, water, food. Whether Rosa lives in Angola or in the United States is irrelevant. She is meant to die, her children are meant to die. The statistics have been stable for centuries. It’s not a riddle.

(Image Credit: Case Western Reserve University Health Disparities Blog)