I have been following the issue of the Dakota Access Pipeline very closely. Everyday, there would be at least twenty posts (though some of them repetitive) on the pipeline, its progress and state of protesters. The apogee of the protest was met with violence and sexual assaults on tribe members who were only praying and dancing to show opposition. It is clear – governments around the world are afraid of its people.
This concern needed attention because of various reasons: first, it was about a community, thoroughly neglected after being taken over by its colonisers; second it echoed the main developmental concern – for how long will indigenous communities of the world pay in the name of this “greater common good”?
There were loopholes in the way the Dakota Access Pipeline and its construction was reported, and I discovered that there are many lessons Indians can take away from the issue, because learning by parallelism might perhaps make us understand better about what is happening in the country.
1. Media changes the way you think :
I still remember, a close friend had sent a screenshot from US Chamber’s website. It said that Native Americans were protesting against a pipeline that will absorb 12000 construction jobs. The US Chamber is a business federation representing companies and business associations.
It was interesting because this article in their journal never mentioned that these lands of Natives were protected by the law since the 19th century (hence the protest chant – Respect the treaties. Water is life.), and in building a pipeline, they would not only be desecrating holy land but will also openly flout the legal promises made by the US Government to the Natives.
How do you think it is not the case when it comes to a topic like demonetization? Can’t the media change the way you think too? Taking your argument, when such biased news is prevalent in the United Sates, how come India is still protected?
Let us admit it, demonetization has halted 80% of small scale industries from functioning, caused numerous deaths. Everyone knows that a decision against “Benaami property” would have been better than the present scheme. Why become so conservative in realizing that?
2. Indigenous communities have always been targeted :
Yes. That is true.
The Dakota Access Pipeline has proved how concentrated people were in the efforts of providing fuel and employment that the basic issue of water was ignored. There was a complete dismissal of pipeline leaks and the protests were assumed to be a conspiracy against US’s progress.
Dam building is in vogue. Because they are temples to modern India, and for the present government, India is a temple (they have desecrated thoroughly).
The simplest example I can give you is of Tehri Dam. During its construction, local villages did mass protests because the ancient town of Tehri was expected to drown in the waters, which ultimately happened. What was the discourse adopted by people in cities? If you haven’t read on it, remember: the indigenous communities faced backlash because Tehri Dam was dubbed to provide electricity in every household in cities as far as Delhi. The prashasan and people were least bothered about what would happen to villagers.
Now, villages near Tehri are subject to frequent landslips.
Illegal mining is a big issue in the country. People who get fed off the energy are obviously not facing the brunt of it, but the tribals are. They regard forests sacred. Not only that, there is a question of sustainable development that has mushroomed.
Somehow, the populace is insulated from the worries of tribals.
3. Independent journalism is important :
One thing that I really noticed while following the Dakota Access Pipeline concern was the positive and widespread role independent media played in it. It provided a counter narrative to US Chamber’s drive. With constant updates, it protected a nation from complete media blackout that all major news houses perpetuated.
In this sense, independent journalism and citizen journalism plays a very active role in determining that there is an alternate discourse in the country. A recent crackdown on independent journalists from Bastar was a wrong decision precisely because of this. The reason why tribal movement in India has not succeeded while the Native Americans’ has is exactly because there was no major crackdown on these independent websites and journalists. The government did not arrest them on charges of sedition, or suspected them of being Russian agents.
Here, every alternate discourse is injected by the ISI or JNU.
We can ascertain the depth of a pool of information being kept away from us by the government due to this draconian censorship.
The last point is not something I would state in the list, rather I would leave it open for the reader – understand that there is an entire entanglement of government, politics and big corporations. The common people face the repercussions because we have no choice but to go with all the changes that are being made in the name of nation-building. The silence of Trump and Clinton, even Obama suggested that there are some serious issues that are still puerile in the eyes of politicians of any party.
The tribal communities of India will still be demonized, no matter what course of politics the country follows.
One might argue that the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe did not resort to violence to make themselves heard, but we should also understand that what has been happening on Indian soil has been going on for years, not months. No one can hide that truth.
The present demonetization decision is a classic example of how government bends rules for itself. Of course, how else could Jan Dhan Yojana and Make In India be successful?
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Views presented in the article are those of the author and not of ED.