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Many forced to vacate land for Statue of Unity project; Is commemorating Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel by evicting Adivasis justified?

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Statue-of-unity(1)

By Ishan Kukreti

Words like ‘development’ and ‘progress’ go hand in hand with democracy. Geared towards improving the lives of people, development projects are the torchbearers of everything that modern society stands for.

Yet, on closer inspection, nothing can be more un-democratic than what goes in the making of these projects. In the past 50 years, more than 50 million people have been displaced for ‘national interest’, according to a Planning Commission report. Tribals or adivasis, who are a mere 8 per cent of India’s population account for more than 40 per cent of the displaced communities, while Dalits make up the other big chunk of 20 per cent.

The absurd phenomenon of multiple displacement and how it has rendered people homeless over and over again, raises some serious questions. People from Singrauli have faced eviction five times to make way for Rihand dam.

All these facts state the obvious question that whether people have any say in the process of development? At the end of the day who will benefit from the growth and who will have to pay for it?

Unity Project – for the sake of the tourists

The Unity Project in Gujarat, however takes the whole thing to a new dimension. The Kevadia Area Development Authority (KADA) created for the implementation of the tourism development plan for the Unity Project will affect around 70 villages in the region. The project includes building a 182 feet tall statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel along with a 13 Km lake.

Tourism is not a development activity, not in the same way a power plant is. Still, the government is ready to boot people out of their homes for the sake of someone else’s leisure activity. People living for generations on that land have to move out so that some work exhausted urban working couple can come there and relax their bones. The callousness of the government is all too palpable even on the surface.

The region is a tribal agricultural land area. Although there is a provision in the law of safeguarding tribal interests by prohibiting sale of tribal agricultural land to non tribals, but KADA can declare the land non-agricultural, thereby making the transfer smooth.

Moreover the project was approved without obtaining the permission under the Environment Impact Assessment Notification. A group of activists from Gujarat have filed a petition regarding the same with the National Green Tribunal.

Time to relocate?

However, the government is not deterred by any challenge.

For many who are currently residents of the area, eviction seems inevitable. An area of 20 acres has been cordoned off since March, 2015. It is the site for Shreshtha Bharat Bhavan, a complex which will include hotels. The irony of the situation is that the site which will make many homeless, will provide lodging facilities for tourists.

The government is cold and clear about its intentions. People protesting the land acquisition have to face the rough side of law, if it can get anymore rough. The day the foundation stone of the site was laid, Sanjay Tadvi, a farmer from the region and an active protester was locked up for a day without any charges.

Although the government has promised providing land to the displaced, no progress has been made in thist. Plus, the administration will only provide for the loss of agricultural land. For many who earn their livelihood mainly through non agriculture activities, the project is nothing but a mechanism to force them into extreme poverty.

Postscript

The area is prone to high seismic activities and might not be safe for the construction of
large 182 feet structures. Thus, the only thing that can help Narmada district residents win their rights from the Unity Project is the National Green Tribunal.
But whether they win or lose their rights, by taking such a step the government has undoubtedly failed its people.

Next Story

Tourism Benefits Tribes, Boosts Economies, Creates Jobs for Native Americans

Summer is fast approaching, and with it comes millions of vacationers from at home and abroad

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americans, tourism, economies
This undated photo shows a Yavapai tour guide speaking with a group of visitors to the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation in Maricopa County, Arizona. Courtesy: AIANTA VOA

By: Cecily Hilleary

Summer is fast approaching, and with it comes millions of vacationers from at home and abroad. Travel experts cite growing interest in Native American tourism, “authentic” cultural exchanges with tribes beyond gambling at tribal casinos.

Native tourism can be beneficial to tribes, boosting economies, creating jobs and allowing Native communities to control their own historic narratives. But tourism has its drawbacks, and some tribes have found that pleasing tourists while maintaining their cultural identity can be challenging.

americans, tourism, economies
This September 9, 2018 photo shows dancers at a pow wow, part of Indian Summer Festival, which takes place each year on the weekend after Labor Day in Milwaukee, Wi. Courtesy: AIANTA VOA

In 2016, the most recent year for which there are statistics, 1.95 million international tourists visited U.S. Indian reservations, supporting more than 44,000 jobs.

The American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association (AIANTA), a national organization that helps Native American, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian tribes and communities to advance tourism, projects the number of international visitors to U.S. reservations will rise to 2.4 million by 2020.

“People want to learn the real stories from the people who have lived them,” said AIANTA spokesperson Monica Poling. “So, rather than bringing in a non-Native tour guide to recount a history they don’t have an attachment to, our tribal members are involved in developing and crafting their own stories,” she said.

americans, tourism, economies
Memorial to the 1838 Trail of Tears at the Cherokee Heritage Centre in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. VOA

Some tribes, like the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, already have well-developed programs that include museums, cultural centers and guided tours to landmarks and historic sites. Cherokee National Day, an annual commemoration of the signing of the Cherokee’s Constitution in 1839, attracts as many as 100,000 visitors each year.

But others, particularly those located in poor, rural areas, are hard-pressed to meet tribe members’ needs, let alone build up tourism.

economies, tourism, americans
In a Friday, July 20, 2012, photo, from the left; Tricia Bear Eagle, Helen Red Feather, Rudell Bear Shirt and Edward Jealous Of Him, all of Wounded Knee, S.D., wait for tourists near the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservati. VOA

Ivan Sorbel, executive director of the Pine Ridge Area Chamber of Commerce, says the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, home of the Oglala Lakota, has much to offer tourists: casinos, visitor centers, a heritage center dedicated to the arts, historic sites and incredible scenery.

“But we don’t have the infrastructure to support big numbers of visitors,” he said.“We have one motel and one casino hotel, but they offer limited beds and couldn’t accommodate large tour groups for overnight stays.”

Expanded tourism, he said, would also strain the reservation’s road system and water supply.

“But given the increasing interest in Native travel, we’re looking forward to growing this sector in the near future,” said Sorbel.

economies, americans, tourism
The landscape of the Badlands boasts a maze of buttes, canyons, pinnacles and spires, with sedimentary rock layers exposed by eons of erosion. VOA

Contrived culture?

Tourism can sometimes have a negative impact on tribes. Some studies suggest that encounters between tribes and tourists may be too brief to significantly change non-Natives’ preconceived notions about American Indians.

Tribes may stage artificial culture by dressing up in inauthentic regalia, setting up tipis or passing off cheap souvenirs as “genuine” Native crafts.

economies, tourism, americans
A vendor wheels her cart of souvenirs before the start of the North American Indian Days parade on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Browning, Mont., Saturday, July 14, 2018. VOA

“If the best you can do is to dress up and show visitors what people looked like 200 years ago, to my way of thinking you have already failed,” said Sara Mathuin, the owner of Go Native America, who for 20 years has conducted small tours in Indian Country for international visitors and says she has “seen it all.”

Many tourists, in her experience, developed an interest in Native Americans through the “New Age” movement.

“They choose what elements of the culture they like and meld it all together to create a religion that bears no resemblance whatsoever to the real Native America.”

tourism, americans, economies
Dancers and a tipi at the European Rainbow Gathering in Bosnia, 2007. New age movements and Indian “hobbiests” have appropriated many elements of Native American cultures and spirituality. VOA

A good tour, said Mathuin, focuses on human similarities, not human differences. Tourists are less likely to appropriate from those they’ve gotten to know personally.

Tourists sometimes cross boundaries or fail to show respect for their host cultures — crashing religious ceremonies, for example, or picking up artifacts.

“I have friends on Pine Ridge who say (some European tourists) don’t even bother to knock on front doors,” said Mathuin. “They just open the front door and say, ‘Can I have a look around?’”

Tourists can also wreak havoc on the environment and strain water and energy supplies.

tourism, economies, americans
This undated photo provided by the U.S. National Park Service shows toilet paper strewn throughout Death Valley National Park, Calif. National parks across the United States are scrambling to clean up and repair damage caused by visitors and storms. VOA

Despite the potential drawbacks, Mathuin believes when done right, tourism can benefit tribes tremendously. And “doing it right” doesn’t require fancy facilities or play-acting.

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“All it requires are people and knowledge,” she said. “In the end, it’s all about the stories.” (VOA)

Cecily Hilleary is a journalist at Voice of America. Twitter: @CecilyHilleary