Revolution in South Asia

An Internationalist Info Project

Haiti and Bastar: Two Disappeared Peoples

Posted by Ka Frank on January 30, 2010

This article appeared in Sanhati on January 23, 2010

Haiti and Bastar: Comparative notes on disappeared peoples

Siddhartha Mitra

200,000 or more dead in Haiti. Many more wounded and left homeless.

200,000 or more missing in Bastar. Nobody knows where they are. And many more living in Salwa Judum camps under atrocious conditions.

Wait, you might ask. Missing is better than dead, is it not so? After all, they must be somewhere, and there must be hope that they will be able to live?

Actually, not very likely. At least not for long. The jungles in Chhattisgarh are inhospitable, without easy access to food or drinking water. And there is always disease like malaria and bloody dysentery, which will get you if you if the forest does not. Even the hardiest tribals know that they will not last long hiding in those inhospitable jungles. It will not be death in a flash, but it will come very soon.

The world knows about Haiti. And no one knows about Bastar.

In Haiti, the civilisation as we know it, buildings, hospitals, schools, churches have ceased to exist, turned to rubble and dust.

In Bastar, civilisation as the indigenous people know has ceased to exist. Their mud homes broken down, their honey and food sources burnt or looted, their women and children raped or maimed, the very fabric of their well-knit society left tattered and destroyed.

Is it because we think that civilisation is necessarily that which the “developed” world wants it to be? That it necessarily consists of roads and buildings and concrete artifacts, where nature plays a secondary role? A world where humans need not gain succour from their natural habitats? A place where food necessarily has to be grown in factory like hothouses and sold in supermarkets, where fashionable clothes must necessarily be brought from glitzy malls which are one end of a long chain of exploited labour, where houses that people live in must be made of concrete and steel dug up from the bowels of the earth, shredding the very fabric of nature and the lives of the people that live with it?

Are we so lost in that fantasy that we cannot feel our humanity when it comes to the plight of people who think otherwise?

People whose only crime was to chose to live with nature, who grew their own foods in their nearby lands or gathered them from the forest, people who dressed simply if they could at all, people who lived in simply houses of mud and brick, but who unfortunately lived on top of the very steel and iron that is needed to make civilisation as we know it?

Or does technology and science tell us that such people are the lesser kind, not worthy of pity or commiseration? We are not even talking about helping them in a positive manner. With all our science we have done little to help the indigenous people

Haiti is getting some aid. At least it is in the international focus. Maybe the people there can begin to hope against hope.

But the indigenous people of Bastar have nothing to hope for. Bastar will never be the same. The hundreds of thousands of the Gondi’s, Koyla’s, and other indigenous tribals will never return to their shattered homes, their natural habitats. No one is going to replenish their looted food stocks, rebuild their mud homes, or make them feel that they have a future without an impending threat of killings, rape and arson.

These people, who know no language besides their own, will mostly perish in the fringes of the new cities that will take root in the decimated forests that they used to live in. If they survive the current carnage, that is. And maybe then, when perhaps a handful of them remain, will the world will throw a kind glance at their condition. Maybe let them live out their remaining lives in safer guarded enclosures, viewing them as objects of pity and curiosity.

Let us remember that over 3 million Taino’s, the original peace-loving indigenous people of Hispaniola, today’s Haiti and Dominican Republic, perished within eight years of the arrival of Columbus. Though there was no single apocalyptic event like the recent earthquake, it was a gradual and eventual process. After their population had started to get decimated by the Spaniards, many of the Taino’s chose to commit suicide, and the Taino women decided not to have children, embracing death as the only escape. A whole nation of people, perished in utter hopelessness. The Haitian’s we see in our TV screens today are not the native inhabitants of Haiti, but are the slaves brought there from Africa, who also had to go through centuries of suffering as they dared to declare independence and call themselves free people.

Today, Bastar is no different from the Hispaniola that Columbus saw. The horror of Salwa Judum has yet to fade before the new onslaught on them has begun. If it took Columbus eight years to annihilate the Taino’s, the Gondi’s and the Koyla’s, who also number in the millions, might be pushed to a similar fate in an even shorter time frame.

Haitian’s are having amputation done at a rate possibly not seen since the Crimean war. The two year old boy of Gompad in Bastar, whose three fingers were chopped off, and Shodi Sambo, whose leg was shattered by the military bullet, are also being mutilated.

Sambo received treatment, not because people took mercy on her, but because she was a “medico-legal” case, and most importantly, she needs to be hidden from the media because she might talk about the massacre and killings she has witnessed. But the baby boy, and countless others, are just lucky to be alive, without some body parts, even if they did not receive any medical help. The killings, the mutilations, the trauma of the people of Bastar is a hidden tragedy that the world has failed to acknowledge.

The people of Haiti can at least hope for aid. Maybe they will live.

The people in Bastar cannot. They will be sent to their deaths.

A triumph for civilisation, but a fall for humanity.

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