The dream of an ‘inclusive society’ can be realised only if we think about others and not just us, says C K Janu, a tribal leader from Kerala.
Janu, who was in the city recently to participate in a seminar, ‘I Have a Voice’ organised by Poovulagin Nanbargal, shared experiences of the struggle she went through while organising the tribals for a land agitation against the Kerala Government in 2001 and the challenges she faced.
“We didn’t start our agitation just like that. We had a solid reason to fight. Around 30 tribals died of starvation, an outcome of our lands being confiscated. We constructed around 1,000 huts opposite the Secretariat at Thiruvananthapuram in protest, asking the State to return our lands. The then Chief Minister A K Antony came to an agreement that the government would provide rice for six months. But what would our people do after six months? So, we said that we didn’t need rice or money, but just our lands. After that agitation, the State agreed to return our lands,” she recalls.
As a result of her struggle, around 20,000 tribals have got back their lands in different parts of the State, on the basis of availability, till date. Those who got the lands are now into farming activities.
Chekot Karian Janu, popularly known as C K Janu, was born in Chekot, a tribal village in the district of Wayanad. Her parents were bonded labourers and as a result, she had no proper schooling. She started to read and write at the age of 17 and joined the Communist Party of India (Marxist), in its agricultural labourers wing – Kerala State Karshaka Thozhilali Union.
Later, in the year 1992, she started the Adivasi Vikasana Pravarthaka Samiti, which aimed at retrieving the lands confiscated from the tribals by the government. For her service to the Adivasis, she was presented the Kerala State Award in 1994. But Janu refused to accept the award.
Her agitations that included staging dharnas opposite the Kerala Secretariat that lasted for 48 days in year 2001 and the ‘Occupy Muthanga’ struggles in 2003, were the results of the government’s inability to return the tribal lands. The Muthanga struggle instigated writer Arundhati Roy into writing ‘You have blood on your hands’. These two agitations brought C K Janu into the limelight and she got an opportunity to tour Europe as a delegate of the People’s Global Action Group and delivering an address in UN.
But for all the troubles she went through, she had 75 false cases filed on her. “Till now, around 25 cases have been dismissed. But I need to face 50 more,” she says.
But why is it that she doesn’t believe in political parties? “Today, every party has separate wings for adivasis. If they come together, there might be a solution,” she says.
So what’s her guiding philosophy? “No such kind. Ordinary people’s lives are my guide. If you have a will to do something, the lack of neither language nor education will deter you from doing that” she concludes.
“Women always live for their family and homes. Not for themselves. By celebrating their rights on days like Women’s Day, one can ensure that women are part of the society and nature,” she signs off.