Forest Development or Adivasi Oppression in Maharashtra?
Nearly three quarters of the rural inhabitants of Maharashtra state are agricultural labourers and poor peasants. To be more exact, there arc 54.3 lakhs of agricultural labourers constituting 27 per cent of the state's total population. Tribal people who number 29.5 lakhs form the bulk of this class. The tribals though not grouped as untouchables, are by far the most oppressed. The overwhelming majority of them are extremely backward and unorganized. The estimate of per capita average monthly expenditure of the Adivasis at Rs. 8.50 1 is only one fourth of the minimum required for a bare subsistence.2 This is an index of dire poverty, which goes with the highest illiteracy rate in the country.
Most of the Adivasis still live within or very close to the forests. Their whole life (excepting for a few well to-do among them) can be described in one word—vana-vasa (banishment to the forest). The characteristic that is common to tribals all over the world is the absence of the accumulating tendency. It is money that enabled the non-tribals (Sahus) to become acquisitive usurers. The coming together of the non-accumulating Adivasis and the accumulating Sahus was bound to result in the inevitable: all the Adivasis, who fell into the clutches of Sahu usurers, before the enactment of the 'New Tenure of Land' by the British at the turn of the century, became the agricultural labourers.
The rest of the Adivasis became the asarnis, the rack-rented, debt-ridden and pauperized peasantry of the Sahu usurers. Bribing the revenue bureaucracy liberally, the Sahu (and the few newlv-arisen Adivasi) money-lenders set the land tenure act at nought and manoeuvred the alienation of Adivasis from their lands on a massive scale. There are 9500 cases of land alienation in one district—Dhulia—out of which not less than half pertain to the Adivasis. The transformation of Adivasis, like the Sahu poor, into rural proletarians through usurious exploitation, and then the ^primitive accumulation5 through exploitation of these bound (engaged on yearly or monthly terms) and day labourers by the semi-feudal and semi-capitalist landlords and the rich peasants, constitute the inexorable