CLAIMS, HISTORIES, MEANINGS: INDIGENEITY AND LEGAL PLURALISM IN INDIA by POOJA PARMAR B.A. Hons., Panjab University, 1993 LL.B., Panjab University, 1996 LL.M., The University of British Columbia, 2006 A THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY in THE FACULTY OF GRADUATE STUDIES (Law) THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA (Vancouver) December 2012 © Pooja Parmar, 2012 ii Abstract This dissertation offers critical insights into issues of access to justice by tracing the gains and losses in meaning across multiple accounts of a dispute that began with Adivasi protests against Hindustan Coca‐Cola Beverages Private Ltd. in a village in Kerala in South India. A sit‐in agitation started by Adivasi residents of the area in 2002, soon after the company set up a beverage bottling plant in the middle of small hamlets and began extracting large amounts of groundwater, is now in its tenth year. The juxtaposition of the various popular, legal and Adivasi accounts of this dispute enables a closer look at the ways in which meanings change as claims originating in contested, layered histories and in the narratives of displacement and exclusion are translated into the stronger languages of social movements and the formal legal system. Much of the particular and situated meanings, critical to the Adivasis’ experience of injustice and their opposition to the operation of the Coca‐Cola plant, have been eclipsed in the accounts of their many committed supporters, more often than not, in pursuit of justice for the Adivasis. In addition to drawing attention to the practices and processes of literal and conceptual translation, the stories presented here demonstrate that when Adivasi protests against Coca‐Cola are understood on their own terms, in the context of their lives in the place and the stories they tell, the meanings that emerge are quite different from the ones that the available popular and legal accounts convey about these protests. They also indicate that a recognition of this difference is important for a meaningful resolution of this dispute for those whose lives have been most affected by it. iii Preface The research for this project was conducted with the approval of the UBC Behavioural Research Ethics Board. The certificate No. H09-00495 was issued on June 10, 2009. iv Table of Contents Abstract.......................................................................................................................................ii Preface....................................................................................................................................... iii Table of Contents ....................................................................................................................iv List of Maps ...............................................................................................................................vi Glossary.................................................................................................................................... vii Acknowledgements............................................................................................................. viii 1 Introduction .......................................................................................................................1 1.1 Introduction ............................................................................................................................ 1 1.2 Adivasi ....................................................................................................................................... 4 1.3 Legal Pluralism....................................................................................................................... 9 1.4 Translation.............................................................................................................................13 1.5 Telling Other People’s Stories .........................................................................................16 1.6 Translation and Justice......................................................................................................20 1.7 Some Notes on Research Methodology and Methods ..............................................23 1.8 Organization of Chapters ..................................................................................................28 1.9 “Just Write it as I’m Telling it. You Will Understand” ..............................................29 2 Locating A Dispute......................................................................................................... 33 2.1 Places .......................................................................................................................................33 2.1.1 Plachimada ...................................................................................................................................... 33 2.1.2 Chittur................................................................................................................................................ 36 2.1.3 Cochin State..................................................................................................................................... 39 2.1.4 Palakkad ........................................................................................................................................... 41 2.1.5 Kerala ................................................................................................................................................. 42 2.2 People ......................................................................................................................................44 2.2.1 Adivasis ............................................................................................................................................. 44 2.2.2 Eravalans and Malasars ............................................................................................................. 45 2.2.3 Settlers and Others....................................................................................................................... 51 2.3 Change .....................................................................................................................................54 2.4 How it all Started .................................................................................................................60 2.5 Water .......................................................................................................................................63 2.6 Protest .....................................................................................................................................68 2.7 State Response to the Resistance Movement .............................................................74 2.8 The Litigation ........................................................................................................................76 2.9 The Samara Pandal..............................................................................................................77 2.10 A Separation........................................................................................................................80 2.11 Water, Protests and Meanings ......................................................................................81 3 A People’s Movement.................................................................................................... 83 3.1 Plachimada: A Peoples’ Resistance Movement..........................................................83 3.2 Activists and Organizations in Kerala...........................................................................86 3.3 Support from a Wider Community.................................................................................97 v 3.4 Media..................................................................................................................................... 103 3.5 Translating for the ‘Outside’ ......................................................................................... 109 3.6 Conclusion........................................................................................................................... 118 4 Litigants, Lawyers and the Questions of Law .....................................................122 4.1 Litigation.............................................................................................................................. 124 4.1.1 Perumatty Grama Panchayat .................................................................................................124 4.1.2 Litigation Begins .........................................................................................................................134 4.1.3 In the High Court of Kerala – Part 1....................................................................................135 4.1.4 In the High Court of Kerala – Part 2....................................................................................149 4.1.5 In the High Court of Kerala – Part 3....................................................................................156 4.1.6 In the Supreme Court of India ...............................................................................................161 4.2 Framing Legal Claims: Legal Professionals as Translators ................................ 162 4.2.1 The Legal and the Social ..........................................................................................................164 4.2.2 The Tribal Question and Tribal Rights ..............................................................................166 4.2.3 Differences and the Inevitability of Sameness ...............................................................168 4.3 Conclusion........................................................................................................................... 172 5 Claims and Meanings ..................................................................................................175 5.1 The Separation................................................................................................................... 176 5.2 The Ones Who Left............................................................................................................ 184 5.3 Mylamma ............................................................................................................................. 190 5.4 Differences .......................................................................................................................... 199 5.5 Insiders and Outsiders.................................................................................................... 208 5.6 Stories and Meanings ...................................................................................................... 214 6 Law, History, Justice....................................................................................................215 6.1 Oral History ........................................................................................................................ 216 6.1.1 Maariamma’s Story ....................................................................................................................218 6.1.2 Journeys, Places, Belonging....................................................................................................233 6.2 Adivasi Dispossession in Kerala .................................................................................. 245 6.3 Law’s Story of Adivasi Lands ......................................................................................... 249 6.3.1 A Law to Restore Alienated Adivasi Lands ......................................................................249 6.3.2 Muthanga........................................................................................................................................260 6.3.3 The Legalities of ‘Paper Owners’: State of Kerala v. PUCL.........................................263 6.4 Adivasi Pasts and Presents ............................................................................................ 273 6.5 Conclusion........................................................................................................................... 283 7 Conclusion......................................................................................................................284 Bibliography.........................................................................................................................290 Appendix A: Summary of Research Methods.............................................................307 Appendix B: Themes and Questions for Interviews................................................310 vi List of Maps Fig. 1: Location of Palakkad ……………………………………...……………………. 31 Fig. 2: Location of the Coca-Cola Beverage plant, Samara Pandal, Plachimada and other hamlets ………….………………….………… 32 vii Glossary Adivasi Resident of earliest times, original inhabitant Adivasi Maha Sabha Adivasi Grand Assembly Adivasi Samrakshana Adivasi Protection Council Samithi Adivasi Samara Samithi Adivasi Struggle Committee Anganwadi Derived from the Hindi word ‘angan’, which means courtyard, anganwadi is translated as ‘courtyard shelter’. Set up under the Integrated Child Development Services Scheme in India, Anganwadi centres provide basic health care to young children, offer advice on nutrition to parents and function as pre-schools. Anganwadi workers/teachers also provide meals to children during the day. Coca-Cola Viruddha Anti-Coca-Cola People’s Struggle Committee Janakiya Samara Samithy Dharna Sit-in agitation Samara pandal Protest hut Sirkar The word generally refers to the government or a person of authority viii Acknowledgements The people and opportunities my life has been blessed with are far too many to list here. On these pages I acknowledge all those who have made significant contributions towards the successful completion of this project. I offer my gratitude, first and foremost, to Professor W. Wesley Pue for his guidance, inspiration, and encouragement through some of the toughest phases of this project. Of the many things I am grateful to him for, two deserve special mention: for our many conversations that helped me think about law and scholarship in new ways; and for helping me find the courage to tell these stories as I wanted to. In addition to guiding this research, reading every draft with care, and offering thoughtful critique, Professor Pue also offered numerous opportunities to develop useful professional skills. I offer my enduring gratitude to Professor Karin Mickelson for her guidance since the inception of this project, for making time for our long conversations, for reviewing all the drafts of this dissertation with exceptional care and for her support over the last several years. I am grateful to Professor Renisa Mawani for her enthusiasm, support, questions and provocations that have all shaped this dissertation in significant ways. I offer my gratitude to Professor Margot Young for reviewing previous drafts, and for her valuable support. Several people at UBC Faculty of Law have helped and supported me. Professor Douglas Harris, head of the Graduate Program, offered support and opportunities for professional development. I am indebted to Joanne Chung, whose commitment to the program and to the well being of students is above and beyond the call of duty. Joanne’s friendship, kindness and advice through all the ups and downs over the last several years have been a source of strength. I am grateful to the librarians at the UBC Law Library ix and the Koerner Library. The people at the UBC Inter-Library Loans office deserve a special mention for responding to my far too many requests for books. I would like to acknowledge the financial support that made this research possible provided by the University of British Columbia, the UBC Graduate Program in Law, the Centre for India and South Asia Research, and the Law Foundation. I am grateful to Professor Jon Corbett and Prabh Bedi for the time they spent creating the maps without which this dissertation would not have been complete. There are several people who facilitated my fieldwork in India. I am indebted to Shiny Gopakumar for her enthusiasm for her role as an interpreter, her curiosity, and most of all, for her patience during the many hours we spent discussing our conversations with respondents and transcribing interviews. I am grateful to her and her family for their continuing friendship. I am indebted to Baby Siraj and P.M. Sirajuddin, the only people I knew in Kerala before I went there, for providing me a home in Ernakulam and for helping me in numerous ways. Another couple I cannot thank enough are Laila and Saifuddin Kitchlu, for welcoming me into their home and lives in Palakkad, and for their kindness, concern and care. I am grateful to Dr. Koya for introducing me to them. I am also grateful to Shoma and Animon Ilias, Jiss Verkey and Robin in Thrissur, Preeti and Ravindra Gosain in Bangalore, Professors Chandan Gowda and S. Japhet at CSEIP in NLSUI Bangalore, Zainu Kitchlu and M. Balachandran in Palakkad, Dr. Sivanandan in Trivandrum, Sreejith Nair, Praveen Hariharan and Professor N.S. Soman in Kochi. I offer my enduring gratitude to all those who agreed to speak with me and share their views. While not identified by their real names here, their words, their stories and their silences have inspired and challenged me and shaped this dissertation. I have x learned a lot from all that was generously shared with me. While I continue to learn from what they shared with me, this dissertation and my gratitude is all I am able to offer to them now. Special thanks are owed to my family and friends across three continents for their invaluable support. I would like to especially acknowledge Prabh Bedi, Michael Begg, Mary-Ann Chacko-Khan, Patricia Cochran, Emma Cunliffe, Erika Cedillo Corral, Robert Diab, John Ferguson, Varsha Gurha, Sandy Kaur, Mosarrap Hossain Khan, Asad Kiyani, Nikhil Kripalani, Don McIntyre, N.S. Negi, Padma Negi, Tavnit Parmar, Kanan Rana, Naayeli Ramirez, Chanan Singh, Harmandip Singh, Sukhchain Singh, and the Gill and Manhas families. I am indebted to my parents for too many reasons to list. Of the many things they have taught me, I am most grateful to my mother for always insisting that I look for the ‘other side’ of any story, and to my father for early lessons on the importance of hard work and perseverance. Last but not the least I would like to acknowledge the two people whose love has sustained me through the years of research and writing. I would like to thank Navneet for believing in me, for reading so much of what I write, and for all that I learn from our disagreements. It is to Arshia that I owe the greatest debt. I could not have completed my fieldwork and this dissertation without either the sacrifices she has had to make or the wonderful little notes and pictures she leaves on my desk on days I most need them. 1 1 Introduction 1.1 Introduction The focus of this dissertation is a dispute that began with Adivasi (‘original inhabitant’) protests against Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Private Ltd., a subsidiary of The Coca-Cola Company, in a village in Kerala in south India. A dharna or sit-in agitation initiated by Adivasi residents of the area in 2002, soon after the company bought 32 acres of farmland in Moolathara village, and set up a beverage bottling plant in the middle of small hamlets, is now in its tenth year. The Adivasis who began objecting to the operation of the Coca-Cola plant have lived on and cultivated the farmlands in the area for generations. After some initial reluctance, and in some cases even strong opposition to Adivasi protests, other residents of the area, large farm owners, local activists, several political organizations and civil society groups also joined in the protests. The plant stopped operations in 2004 and the Plachimada anti-Coca-Cola people’s movement,1 with its focus on the excessive extraction of groundwater by Coca- Cola, and the ways in which it has violated environmental and human rights of residents, has since received widespread local, national and international support from committed activists, numerous social and religious organizations, and eventually also from the Government of Kerala. Over a decade later, even as the litigation related to the dispute awaits final adjudication in the Supreme Court of India, and the Central Government disagrees with the Government of Kerala over the legality of a proposed law aimed at awarding 1 Plachimada is the name of one of the hamlets beside the Coca-Cola plant and has become synonymous with the agitation against Coca-Cola. 2 compensation to those who suffered losses due to the functioning of the beverage plant before it stopped operations, two Adivasi women continue to sit in protest outside the gates of the plant every day, waiting for the Company to leave ‘their’ place. The dispute continues to pose significant political and legal challenges, and much has been written about the Plachimada Struggle over the last decade in newspapers, online blogs, reports, research papers, administrative decisions, petitions and judgments of various courts. My previous research also explored the allegations of excessive extraction of groundwater by Coca-Cola in the village and the challenges such disputes pose to the current formulations of a human right to water within international legal discourse.2 My doctoral research began with questions that still lingered from my previous engagement with the dispute: what does this dispute mean to those who started it? How do we understand the claims of the different protestors and the wrongs that they meant to draw attention to? These questions led me to a number of different locations: the hamlets that are home to Adivasi protestors, the High Court of Kerala and the Supreme Court of India, the Kerala State Archives in Trivandrum and Ernakulum, National Archives of India in New Delhi, offices of various government departments and publications, offices of lawyers in Kerala and New Delhi and other locations where I interviewed activists involved in the struggle against Coca-Cola. I had set out with the hope that speaking to the protestors, their supporters and those who claim to represent them in various capacities would offer a clearer understanding of the dispute, especially from the perspective of those who began it. I spoke at length with several Adivasis, as well as with non-Adivasi residents of the place, 2 Pooja Parmar, “Revisiting the Human Right to Water” (2006) LLM thesis, unpublished (available in the UBC Library). A part of this thesis was published as Pooja Parmar, “Revisiting the Human Right to Water” (2008) 28 Aust. Fem. L. J. 77. 3 activists, local politicians, bureaucrats, lawyers and judges. I found some answers, and more significantly, discovered more questions. I also found something I had not anticipated: incompleteness, uncertainty, anxiety, tears, guilt, anger, and affection. Through all of these emotions and reactions – mine and that of others I met during my research – I have also learned to learn. In this dissertation I juxtapose the multiple accounts of this dispute as narrated by various people I spoke with, as well as the accounts that emerge from media reports and legal records. This juxtaposition enables a closer look at the ways in which meanings are gained and lost as Adivasi claims originating in contested, layered, histories and in the narratives of displacement and exclusion are translated into the stronger languages of social movements and the formal legal system. As will become clear, many of the particular and situated meanings critical to the Adivasis’ opposition to the operation of the Coca-Cola plant have been eclipsed in the accounts of their many supporters, more often than not, in pursuit of justice for the Adivasis. Thus the purpose of my dissertation is twofold: to demonstrate that when the Adivasi protests against Coca-Cola are understood on their own terms, in the context of their lives in the place, the meanings that emerge are quite different from the ones that other people’s accounts convey about these protests; and that a recognition of this difference is important for a meaningful resolution of this dispute for the Adivasis whose lives have been most significantly affected by it. By presenting the multiple accounts of the dispute in Plachimada, my attempt is to draw attention to the injustice that is visited upon the Adivasis even before the Supreme Court of India decides the appeals before it, even before the Central and State Governments resolve their differences over the proposed law on compensation, and even 4 before any claims for compensation lead to any actual money reaching the hands of any real people. This is the injustice brought about by and through the very processes of the Adivasis’ grievances being put forward for consideration, that is, in the very acts of re- presentation of their stories. Thus, regardless of which side ‘wins’, Adivasis who began the protests appear to have already ‘lost’ because critical elements of what the dispute means to them are already eclipsed. Before I turn to these stories, I introduce the concepts that have informed my understanding of this dispute and explain important concepts and themes that recur throughout this dissertation. 1.2 Adivasi Several Adivasis I spoke with referred to themselves, as well as to each other, as ‘Adivasi’. At times they also self-identified as ‘Eravalan’ or ‘Malasar’, which are two of thirty-six communities recognized as ‘Scheduled Tribes’ in the state of Kerala. For this reason perhaps, a few also self-identified simply as ‘ST’, a reference to their membership of a Scheduled Tribe. Non-Adivasi residents of the area, local activists, politicians, and public officials almost always referred to the protestors as Adivasi, but ‘Scheduled Tribe’ and ‘tribal’ were also used. These terms – Adivasi and Scheduled Tribe – used interchangeably in everyday conversations in the country, are not, however, synonyms, but rather have distinct origins and invoke different histories.3 The word ‘Adivasi’ is a combination of the words, ‘adi’ and ‘vasi’, which mean ‘of earliest times’ and ‘resident’ respectively, and is generally 3 See Pooja Parmar, “Undoing Historical Wrongs: Law and Indigeneity in India” (2012) 49:3 Osgoode Hall L. J. [forthcoming]. 5 translated as ‘original inhabitant’.4 The phrase ‘Scheduled Tribes’, on the other hand, refers to “tribes or tribal communities” that are explicitly identified as such in a periodically revised schedule of the Constitution of India.5 During the debates in the Constituent Assembly these communities were identified as ‘backward’ and in need of ‘uplift’ following the logic and language of the colonial administration.6 It was felt that they had to be ‘developed’ and ‘assimilated’ in the new and ‘modern’ India.7 Inspired by this sentiment, as well as partly responding to demands for undoing historical injustices from Adivasi leaders, the Constituent Assembly approved a legal framework for the country’s affirmative action policies that include, among other things, reservation for members of Scheduled Tribes in educational institutions and public service employment.8 A few laws enacted since then for preventing commission of further ‘atrocities’ on Scheduled Tribes, or for protecting their rights to access forests and forest produce, are also aimed at addressing some of the inequalities.9 As per the census data for 2001, 84.3 million or 8.2% of the total number of people in India are members of various recognized Scheduled Tribes.10 In a judgment handed down in 2011 the Supreme Court of India notes that they are among the country’s 4 See David Hardiman, The Coming of the Devi: Adivasi Assertion in Western India (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1987) at 13. 5 See Constitution of India, 1950, arts. 366(25) and 342. 6 These views were expressed several times during the debates of the Constituent Assembly. See Parmar supra n. 3. 7 Ibid. See also Ajay Skaria, Hybrid Histories: Forests, Frontiers and Wildness in Western India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1999) at xii. Skaria notes that “[t]the wildness of the tribe epitomized Indian backwardness, [which] had to be overcome for the nation to become modern, or simply for the nation to become.” See also Nandini Sundar, Subalterns and Sovereigns: An Anthropological History of Bastar, 1854-2006, 2d ed. (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2007). 8 See Constitution of India, supra n. 5, arts. 46, 244, 244A, 330, 332, 335, 338A, 339, and Fifth and Sixth Schedules. 9 See Scheduled Caste & Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989; and The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006. 10 Government of India, Census of India 2001, online: <http://www.censusindia.gov.in/Census_Data_2001/India_at_glance/scst.aspx>. 6 “most marginalized and vulnerable communities,” with the everyday realities of their lives marked by a “high level of poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, disease, and landlessness.”11 This is confirmed by the latest available statistics compiled by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs as well: more children belonging to Scheduled Tribes die than any other social group in the country; a large percentage of men, women and children suffer from “high nutritional deficiency” and are anemic; the literacy rates among the communities are much lower and school drop-out rates much higher than the national averages.12 The phrase ‘Scheduled Tribe’ had replaced the word ‘aboriginal’ in India’s draft Constitution despite objections from Jaipal Singh, an Adivasi representative in the Constituent Assembly.13 This “invented” phrase was preferred by the drafters of the Constitution, over the word ‘Adivasi’ that was favored by the Adivasi representative, because it was understood to provide a more “precise definition” of who the Adivasis were.14 The word ‘Adivasi’, it was said at the time, lacked legal specificity.15 Consequently, the word ‘Adivasi’ has no legal recognition today. More significantly, this change serves to eclipse the histories of dispossession that Singh wanted to be acknowledged even as the legal foundations of the post-colonial nation-state were being laid.16 Unlike ‘Scheduled Tribe’, ‘tribal’ and ‘Adivasi’, the English word ‘indigenous’ was, with the exception of one lawyer, not used to refer to the Adivasi protestors by any 11 Kailas & Ors v State of Maharashtra,  1 SCR 94 at para 4. 12 Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Statistical Profile of Scheduled Tribes in India (Government of India, 2010), online: <www.tribal.nic.in> at 9, 11, 15, 18, 21 & 25. 13 See Parmar (2012), supra n. 3. 14 Debates of the Constituent Assembly of India, vol VII (2 December 1948) at 782. 15 See ibid. 16 See Parmar (2012), supra n. 3. 7 one I spoke with. Not only is the English word not commonly used in everyday conversations in India, the “idea of ‘indigenous peoples’” is highly contested in the country.17 While scholars continue to debate the applicability and relevance of the term ‘indigenous peoples’ in India, raising several important questions of epistemology, history and politics in the process,18 the position of the permanent Indian delegation at the United Nations is that no “category of people in India can be singled out” as indigenous peoples.19 Noting the long use of the word Adivasi to refer to particular communities in India, Xaxa associates the more recent critical examination and opposition to the term indigenous, which is basically an English equivalent of the Indian word, to the “internationationalisation of the rights and privileges associated with” the term indigenous.20 Despite questions over the identity of the original inhabitants of any particular region in the country, the word ‘Adivasi’ is widely used by “politicians, social workers, administrators and social scientists” in India today.21 It is also a term preferred by 17 Virginius Xaxa, “Tribes as Indigenous Peoples of India”, (Dec 18-24, 1999) 34:51 Economic and Political Weekly 3589 at 3589. 18 Scholars cite several reasons for caution in relation to the term. There are concerns over a lack of attention to particular histories of the region that include the complex history of migrations into and within the subcontinent, as well as concerns over distinguishing with certainty ‘tribes’ from other castes and communities classified by the colonial administration. Other reasons for caution include the long history of interactions and cultural exchange between various communities in the region, a questioning of colonial knowledge production and categorization, and the perceived imposition of a Western concept of ‘Indigenous peoples.’ See generally Bengt G Karlsson & T B Subba, eds., Indigeneity in India (London: Kegan Paul, 2006); Sumit Guha, Environment and Ethnicity in India, 1200-1991 (London: Cambridge University Press, 1999); Irfan Habib, “The Formation of India: Notes on the History of an Idea” (1997) 25 Social Scientist 3; Virginius Xaxa, “Transformation of Tribes in India: Terms of Discourse” Economic & Political Weekly 34:24 (12 June 1999) 1519. For more nuanced histories of the relations between Adivasis and non-Adivasis in particular regions of India and the ways in which colonial law and policies changed the balance of power between people categorized as ‘tribes’ and others, see Sundar (2007), supra n. 7 and Skaria (1999), supra n. 7. 19 Bengt G Karlsson, “Anthropology and the ‘Indigenous Slot’: Claims to and Debates about Indigenous Peoples’ Status in India” in Karlsson & Subba, ibid at 56. 20 Xaxa (1999), supra n. 17 at 3590. 21 Virginius Xaxa, State, Society, and Tribes: Issues in Post-Colonial India (New Delhi: Pearson Longman, 2008) at 10. 8 Adivasis for it signals “historical experiences and social consciousness [that] are markedly different from those” of other historically oppressed groups such as dalits.22 As such, it is not only a marker of a distinct identity, but also an important political tool for articulating demands for empowerment and justice.23 The fact of such claim-making and of actual references to certain peoples as ‘Adivasi’ in particular locations like Plachimada, also make its use a ‘social fact.’24 In addition to the fact that the term is preferred by Adivasis themselves, I choose to use it because it allows recognition of a particular history. That is the history of “subjugation during the nineteenth century of a wide variety of communities which before the colonial period had remained free, or at least relatively free, from the controls of outside states.”25 Extending beyond the connotations of “autochthonicity” conveyed by its literal meaning, the articulation of ‘being Adivasi’ in contemporary India is also “about shared experiences of the loss of the forests, the alienation of land, repeated displacements since independence in the name of ‘development projects’, and much more.”26 Understood thus, the term also refers to “a distinctive way of being outside the narratives of the Indian nation state.”27 It is a call to imagine the nation differently.28 As I have learned from my conversations with Adivasis in Kerala, claims to being an ‘original inhabitant’ arise in particular contexts, in moments in time when experiences 22 Xaxa, ibid at 5. The word dalit translates as ‘oppressed’. Like the word Adivasi, it invokes a particular history of oppression and subjugation of peoples once referred to as ‘untouchable’ or the ‘lower castes’ within the Hindu caste system. 23 See Virginius Xaxa, “Tribes as Indigenous peoples: Discourse and Adivasi Consciousness” in Xaxa (2008), supra n. 21 at 28-40. 24 Amita Baviskar, “The Politics of Being ‘Indigenous’” in Karlsson & Subba, eds, supra n. 18 at 36. 25 Hardiman, supra n. 4 at 15. 26 Skaria, supra n. 7 at 281. See also Xaxa (1999) supra n. 17 at 3595. 27 Skaria, ibid. 28 See Parmar (2012), supra n. 3. Sundar has also suggested that struggles articulated as those over the choice between ‘backwardness’ and ‘development’ or ‘tradition’ and ‘modern civilization’ are better understood as struggles over different visions of democracy. Sundar (2007), supra n. 7, front flap and at 190. 9 of having been wronged in a particular way in the past take on certain meanings in the face of inequalities of the present.29 These claims and the injustices they seek to draw attention to can only be understood by paying attention to the complex relations rooted in layered histories of ‘original inhabitants’, ‘settlers’ and ‘outsiders’ in particular locations like Plachimada. 1.3 Legal Pluralism Most simply, legal pluralism is the recognition of the simultaneous co-existence of multiple normative worlds, with the state being only one among other creators of legal meaning.30 These worlds “of right and wrong, of lawful and unlawful, of valid and void” are “constantly create[d] and maintain[ed]” by those who inhabit them through common understandings, rituals, language, myths, strong interpersonal obligations and 29 For insightful reflections on translation of experiences into grievances, claims, and finally disputes, see William L.F. Felstiner, Richard L. Abel and Austin Sarat, “The Emergence and Transformation of Disputes: Naming, Blaming, Claiming . . .” (1980-1981) 15:2-3 Law & Society Rev. 631. 30 There is a vast body of literature on legal pluralism. Robert Cover’s work has been an important influence on my own understanding. See Robert Cover, “Nomos and Narrative” (1983-84) 97 Harv. L. Rev. 4; Robert Cover, “Folktales of Justice: Tales of Jurisdiction” (1984-85) 14 Cap. U. L. Rev. 179; Robert Cover, “Obligation: A Jewish Jurisprudence of the Social Order” (1987) 5 J. L. & Religion 65; and Robert Cover, “Violence and the Word” (1986) 95:8 Yale L. J. 1601. As with any approach to law, there are numerous debates regarding the possibilities and limitations of legal pluralism. Some important work that helped me understand the early influences on the development of the concept, as well as appreciate its possibilities and limitations is: Lon Fuller, “Human Interaction and the Law” (1969) 14 Am. J. Juris 1; Clifford Geertz, “Local Knowledge: Fact and Law in Comparative Perspective” in Local Knowledge: Further Essays in Interpretive Anthropology (New York: Basic Books, 1983); Marc Galanter, “Justice in Many Rooms: Courts, Private Ordering & Indigenous Law” (1981) 19 J. Legal Pluralism 1; Jeremy Webber, “Legal Pluralism and Human Agency” (2006) 44 Osgoode Hall L. J. 167; Martha-Marie Kleinhans & Roderick A. MacDonald, “What is Critical Legal Pluralism?” (1997) 12 Can. J.L. & Soc. 25; Emmanuel Mellisaris, “The More the Merrier?’ A New Take on Legal Pluralism” (2004) 13:1 Social & Legal Studies 57; Gunther Teubner, “The Two Faces of Janus: Rethinking Legal Pluralism” (1991-92) 13 Cardozo L. Rev. 1443; Lauren Benton, “Beyond Legal Pluralism: Towards a New Approach To Law in the Informal Sector” (1994) 3 Social Legal Studies 223-242; Boaventura DeSousa Santos, “The Heterogenous State and Legal Pluralism in Mozambique” (2006) 40 Law & Soc'y Rev. 39; Mitra Sharafi, “Justice in Many Rooms Since Galanter: De-Romanticizing Legal Pluralism through the Cultural Defense” (2008) 71 Law & Contemporary Problems 139. For the plurality of state made law itself, especially in post-colonial contexts, see Sally E. Merry, “Legal Pluralism” (1988) 22 Law & Soc’y Rev. 869; and Shalini Randeria, “The State of Globalization: Legal Plurality, Over-lapping Sovereignties and Ambiguous Alliance between Civil Society & the Cunning State in India” (2007) 24:1 Theory, Culture & Society 1. 10 commitments.31 Histories and other common narratives are as much a part of a normative world as the formal rules and institutions of law.32 In fact, within a normative universe, “law and narrative are inseparably related.”33 Narratives locate and give meaning to law within legal worlds.34 Claims arise in particular legal cultures and are articulated in the languages of those specific cultures.35 It is this understanding of inseparability of law from language and narratives that informs my understanding of the dispute in Plachimada. In order to understand the nature of injustice experienced by those who began the protests against the operation of the Coca-Cola plant and, more critically, to understand how to meaningfully ‘right’ those ‘wrongs’, we have to begin by taking seriously what the protestors say, and attempt to make sense of it within all of that which comprises their normative world, including their accounts of their past, present and future. These narratives have many forms: accounts of old and new unequal social relations, of everyday experiences of injustice, stories about humans and non-humans, personal life histories as well as oral histories of a community. All of these narratives are relevant for understanding the normative universe of the Adivasi protestors, their claims, the meanings of their protests against Coca-Cola, and consequently, for arriving at a more meaningful resolution of the dispute for those who began it, and have lost the most. 31 Cover (1984), ibid at 4, 7, 9, 11 & 12. According to Cover, it is “the force of interpretive commitments” that not only holds together a normative universe, but also “determine[s] what law means and what law shall be.” Cover (1984) at 7 & 44-60. 32 Cover (1984) ibid at 4, 5 & 19. See also Cover, supra n. 30. 33 Cover (1984), ibid at 5. 34 Ibid. 35 In his essay “Obligation: A Jewish Jurisprudence of the Social Order”, supra n. 30 at 65, Cover suggested that every “legal culture has its fundamental words” that are used to tell stories of law and justice. The example he used was of the word ‘rights.’ Cover suggested that when we use the word ‘rights’, we basically locate ourselves within a particular normative universe. 11 In situating this dispute in its broader social context and viewing it within the layered history of the place,36 I have attempted to show that the stories that Adivasis tell about Coca-Cola cannot be separated from all the other stories they tell about the place, and about their relationships with others in the place. My attempt here is to demonstrate that narratives such as those that were shared with me have to be taken seriously in order to adequately understand the dispute. They are worthy of attention and respect because they offer insights into the normative world of the protestors, and enable us to see the different visions of future that give meaning to their claims. While the focus of my research is this one dispute that began in a village in Kerala, the directions it has since taken and the insights it offers are relevant to other similar disputes in other places. An acknowledgment of a multiplicity of normative orders inevitably leads to questions about the manner in which these different legal orders interact, communicate, or collide.37 My attempts to understand the dispute in Plachimada have also led me to look more closely at the interactions between normative worlds or traditions that offer multiple and alternative visions of a just future. These are the worlds of Adivasi protestors, and their many supporters including activists, religious and social organizations, and legal professionals. I should clarify here at the outset that even as I reflect on how the perspectives of each of these have come to bear on their telling of the dispute in Plachimada, I do not treat any of these groups or the spaces they inhabit as bounded, homogenous, or unchanging, but rather as socially and historically constructed communities that are held together by common narratives and commitments at any given 36 See Michel Foucault, “The Subject and Power” (1982) 8:4 Critical Inquiry 777 on the significance of an historical awareness of the present and the need to examine particular context or “type of reality” in critical thought. 37 See Teubner, Webber, Merry, Benton, Santos, Randeria, & Cover, all supra n. 30. 12 point of time.38 Any consensus on commitments to particular norms within distinct communities is also always a result of contestation, a continuous ongoing process in any place.39 We are all familiar with the scenario where norms generated by different communities (including the state) compete for validation by courts – the formal institutional sites of such contestation and norm generation. Courts, as we know, choose certain narratives over others. This suppression of certain visions of law and the worlds it can create by courts led Cover to describe courts of the state as “jurispathic” even as he acknowledged that the “exiled narratives” – the ones that are not chosen – continue to “provide the normative bases” for distinct legal interpretations.40 While moments of collision between multiple legal worlds in courts or other fora are certainly worthy of careful attention for understanding law, there are others that are equally important. These are the moments of communication between inhabitants of the various normative worlds – moments of strategizing, framing and naming claims – that precede the presentation of the various narratives for validation.41 This requires us to examine closely narratives of not only the Adivasis who began the protests, and the courts that have so far handed down their decisions on the dispute, but also those of the many supporters and representatives of the Adivasi protestors. These narratives drew my attention to the processes and practices of speaking, telling, listening and re-telling by inhabitants of 38 See Akhil Gupta and James Ferguson, “Beyond “Culture”: Space, Identity and the Politics of Difference” (1992) 7:1 Cultural Anthropology 6; Nicholas K. Blomley, Law, Space, and the Geographies of Power (New York: Guildford Press, 1994); Susan G. Drummond, Mapping Marriage Law in Spanish Gitano Communities (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2006), and Galanter, supra n. 30 at 22. 39 See for e.g. Webber, supra n. 30 at 182. Webber describes the process as one of “narrowing down of normative options”. 40 Cover (1984), supra n. 30 at 40. 41 For the importance of paying attention to the emergence and transformation of disputes, see Felstiner, Abel and Sarat, supra n. 29. 13 different normative worlds that shape and precede that final presentation of narratives. These are the processes and practices of translation that take place prior to, in anticipation of, or in preparation for that final presentation to those from whom a response is sought – a court of law, a state, an international forum or community. 1.4 Translation The concept of translation is a useful one to understand the practices and processes that enable both the creation as well as the destruction of meanings as people inhabiting one normative universe receive, interpret, re-order and re-present claims that arise in and are informed by legal cultures different than their own. It is a concept that offers a better understanding of how and why the most important elements of the dispute in Plachimada from the perspective of Adivasis are eclipsed as their various supporters continue to represent them. Presented with a different focus and emphasis, their stories and experiences of having been wronged are transformed into claims that hold little meaning for them.42 Translations – both literal and conceptual – facilitate communications across difference. Translation is not, however, a simple transference of information from one language to another, but rather, an attempt to bridge difference.43 In a world of unequal languages, it is also often a ‘process of power’.44 While translation of a particular experience into a recognized category of violation or ‘rights-talk’ can sometimes be 42 See Homi Bhabha, “The Voice of the Dom: Retrieving the Experience of the Once-Colonized’, (August 8, 1997) TLS 14. In this brief review Bhabha specifically mentions the fate of ‘the Dom’ in an account by H.P. Foster as follows: “The Dom is left both culturally untranslated and legally unrepresented; he becomes voiceless in the very process in which he is supposedly spoken for, struck dumb by the State’s claim to represent him.” The Dom’s “right to representation is literally lost in the practice of translation”. 43 Naoki Sakai, “Translation” (2006) 23 Theory Culture Society 71. 44 Talal Asad, “The Concept of Cultural Translation in British Social Anthropology” in James Clifford & George E. Marcus, eds., Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography (Berkeley: Univ of California Press, 1986) 141 at 148. 14 enabling,45 when practiced as decontextualization, translation can also be an experience of loss.46 The inequality in the power of languages and knowledges often enables the dominant languages to name violations, and in the process, appropriate and reorder narratives.47 It is this difference in languages that belong to different normative worlds, the inequalities in the authority to speak and name, and the relationship of all of this to questions of justice and injustice, that the multiple stories I present here draw attention to. It is in this context that I focus on the role of translators, especially that of committed social activists who continue to work tirelessly to ensure the dispute is not 45 See Sally Engle Merry & Rachel E. Stern, “The Female Inheritance Movement in Hong Kong: Theorizing the Local/Global Interface” (June 2005) 46:3 Current Anthropology 387. 46 For the loss of meaning and intent of an original text in a translation that fails to pay attention to the former’s specifities, see Gayatri Spivak, “Politics of Translation” in Lawrence Venuti, ed., The Translation Studies Reader (London: Routledge, 2000) 397. See also Gayatri Spivak, “Can the Subaltern Speak?” in Cary Nelson & Lawrence Grossberg, eds., Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture (Chicago: Univ of Illinois Press, 1987) 271. For the loss in meaning as social conflicts are translated into legal disputes through processes of legal abstraction and decontextualization see Elizabeth Mertz, The Language of the Law School: Learning to “Think Like a Lawyer” (Oxford: OUP, 2007) and Elizabeth Mertz, “Teaching Lawyers The language of Law: Legal and Anthropological Translations” (2000-2001) 34 J. Marshall L. Rev. 91-117. See also Zenon Bankowski and Geoff Mungham, Images of Law (London: Routledge Direct Editions, 1976); Maureen Cain, “The General Practice Lawyer and the Client: Towards a Radical Conception” (1979) 7 Int’l J. of Soc. of L. 335; Maureen Cain, “The Symbol Traders” in Maureen Cain & Christine B. Harrington, eds., Lawyers in a Postmodern World: Translation and Transgression (Buckingham: Open University Press, 1994) 15-48; Christine B. Harrington, “Outlining a Theory of Legal Practice” in Maureen Cain & Christine B. Harrington, eds., Lawyers in a Postmodern World: Translation and Transgression (Buckingham: Open University Press, 1994) 49-69. 47 See Jacques Derrida, Monolingualism of the Other or The Prethesis of Origin (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1996) at 30; Asad (1986), supra n. 44; Masamichi Inoue, “Comments” in Sally Engle Merry & Rachel E. Stern, “The Female Inheritance Movement in Hong Kong: Theorizing the Local/Global Interface” (2005) 46:3 Current Anthropology 387-409; Maria Tymoczko, “Translation in Oral Tradition as a Touchstone for Translation Theory and Practice” in Susan Bassnett & Andre Lefevere, eds., Translation, History and Culture (London: Pinter Publishers, 1990) 46-55; Couze Venn, “Translation: Politics and Ethics” (2006) 23 Theory Culture Society 82-84; Susan Bassnett & Andre Lefevere, “Introduction” in Translation, History and Culture (London: Pinter Publishers, 1990); Piotr Kuhiwczac, “Translation as Appropriation: The Case of Milan Kundera’s ‘The Joke’” in Susan Bassnett & Andre Lefevere, eds., Translation, History and Culture (London: Pinter Publishers, 1990); Michael Quigley, “Language of Conquest, Language of Survival” (1982 ) 52: 723 The Canadian Forum 14-15; Spivak (2000), ibid. For reordering of narratives through and by the language of formal state law, see Mertz (2007), ibid. For the violence of this ‘transformation’ of a narrative of ‘real historical experience’ into a narrative of ‘abstract legality’ see Ranajit Guha, “Chandra’s Death” in Ranajit Guha, ed., Subaltern Studies V: Writings on South Asian History and Society (Delhi: OUP, 1987) 135-165. See also Shahid Amin, “Approver’s Testimony, Judicial Disourse: The case of Chauri-Chaura” in Ranajit Guha, ed., Subaltern Studies V: Writings on South Asian History and Society (Delhi: OUP, 1987) 166-202; 15 forgotten, and the lawyers who are working to secure a just outcome in the litigation.48 These are the people who have in many ways shaped the popular and legal accounts of the dispute. The stories they tell are framed in languages that are familiar to them, and more critically, are languages they often share with, and know will be acceptable to, their target audiences or those who will hear and decide the claims.49 Their strategic decisions and practices here are no different from translators of literary texts who strive to meet the expectations or the requirements of the ‘target culture/ language’.50 Such are the practices of translation that I draw attention to. My interest in and concerns over translation are, however, more personal than what may be evident from what I have said about it so far, and it is to my own role as a translator that I now turn. This is important for several reasons: my successes and failures in translating inform what I have written in this dissertation; the fact of my translation will inform your reading of this dissertation; and most crucially, all that I have learned in learning to translate and re-present has helped me think about justice in particular ways. 48 For the role of activists as translators see Merry & Stern, supra n. 45. For a particularly harsh view of the role of activists as “epistemic brokers” see Ronald J. Herring, Epistemic Brokers, Authoratative Knowledges, and a Diffusion of Opposition to Biotechnology (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ Press, 2010) and Ronald J. Herring, “Persistent Narratives: Why is the “Failure of Bt Cotton in India” Story Still with Us?” (2009) 12(1) AgBioForum 14-22. For lawyers as translators see Maureen Cain (1994), supra n. 46; Harrington, supra n. 46. See also James B. White, Justice as Translation: An Essay in Cultural and Legal Criticism (Chicago: Univ of Chicago Press, 1990) at 261. 49 See Cain (1979), supra n. 46 at 335, 343. Cain describes lawyers (and judges) as both translators, as well as the “creators of the langauge into which they translate.” They do not, however, translate into any language, but into “a meta-language in terms of which a binding solution can be found”, a translation into the language of formal state law. 50 References to ‘source’ and ‘target’ cultures and languages are common in the body of scholarship referred to as Translation Studies. See for e.g. Bassnett & Lefevere, supra n. 47. For reference to reinterpretation of ‘source terms’ so as to make them compatible with the ‘target discourse’, see Derek Boothman, “Critique and Semantic Modification in Gramsci’s Approach to Paradigmatic Translation” (2006-2007) 24-25 Italian Culture 113 at 118. For translators’ attempts to meet the ‘expectations of the receptor culture’, see Tymoczo, supra n. 47. For ‘translation as appropriation’ in order to meet the demands of the culture and language into which narrative is translated see Kuhiwzak, supra n. 47. 16 1.5 Telling Other People’s Stories From the time I first conceived of this project as a multi-method ethnography involving long interviews with protestors and others connected to the dispute, I was concerned about issues that might arise in translation of Adivasi accounts that are central to this project. I do not speak any of the languages of Adivasi and other residents of the area, and they do not speak any of mine.51 The interviews in the village had to be (and were) conducted through an interpreter. What added to my concern was that most ethnographic accounts I studied to prepare for this research did not offer any advice in this regard.52 In fact for a long time I believed that researchers, especially anthropologists, never went into ‘the field’ without learning local languages.53 I was convinced about the importance of speaking with the protestors in order to better understand the dispute, but agonized over my inability to converse with them directly. I may have given up had it not been for the support of my doctoral committee, and some very helpful conversations with others.54 In Kerala I heard about interpreters who had assisted other researchers during visits to Plachimada, but I had some concerns about working with them given the 51 The residents of Plachimada and neighbouring hamlets speak Malayalam and Tamil. Adivasis also speak what appears to be a mix of the two, but contains words that do not belong to either. They refer to this language as their own. 52 The one account I read that helped me understand the difference made by the identity and location of an interpreter vis-à-vis the community that comprises a researcher’s ‘field’ was published in 1962. See Gerrald D. Berreman, Behind Many Masks: Ethnography and Impression Management in a Himalayan Village (New York: Society for Applied Anthropology, 1962). For an early debate on the necessity of learning the ‘native language’ see Margaret Mead, “Native Languages as Fieldwork Tools” (1939) 41:2 American Anthropologist 189 and Robert H. Lowie, “Native Languages as Ethnographic Tools” (1940) 42:1 American Anthropologist 81. I am grateful to Lawrence Rosen and Graham M Jones for bringing these two references to my notice. 53 The fact that anthropologists in fact do work with interpreters, but do not often write about their experiences was recently acknowledged in Axel Borchgrevink, “Silencing Language: Of Anthropologists and Interpreters” (2003) 4(1) Ethnography 95–121. 54 I am especially thankful to Lawrence Rosen and Laurie Patton for sharing their research experiences with me during their visits to UBC. 17 different focus and approach of other projects. I also wanted to avoid working with anyone who had a fixed idea about what the dispute in Plachimada is about. That, I realized quickly, was not going to be easy, as most people I met in Kerala ‘knew’ what ‘Plachimada’ was all about, even though opinions varied. As I considered my options, I met Shiny while visiting a friend. Even before I knew she was fluent in both Malayalam and Tamil, loved to travel, and would never complain about long bone-rattling bus rides, I knew I wanted to work with her because she had many questions about my project and about Plachimada. I was thrilled when she agreed to work with me. Like me, Shiny too brought to our conversations her prior knowledge, beliefs, ways of thinking about the world, and about people and events. But she was also open to listening, being questioned, and revising her opinions. That was most helpful as we constantly discussed our conversations and experiences in the hamlets, and transcribed the interviews together. While the transcription took much longer because of this, it allowed me to understand not only what was said, but also why she translated certain words and phrases differently at different times. It was during one of these conversations that I learned that she translated the word ‘samaram’ as ‘struggle’ during our first few conversations in the hamlets because I had been using the word. She had believed that was how my research required it to be translated. Had she not heard me use the word repeatedly, she would have also translated the word as ‘strike’ or ‘protest’, which were more suitable translations in some contexts. This and other such insights into the practices of translation thus became an unexpected reward for the many long hours we spent transcribing the interviews. 18 In order to further minimize the loss of meaning, and attain a deeper understanding, I have also tried to combine care in translation and transcription of narratives with attention to particular stories people choose to tell, the words they use to narrate their experiences and articulate their claims, the willingness to share certain fears and hopes, and decisions to not speak about certain things.55 Translation of unfamiliar stories narrated in unfamiliar languages into a familiar language does not, however, automatically lead to comprehension of life-worlds. Speech, as Piya, a character in Amitav Ghosh’s novel The Hungry Tide, observes, “was only a bag of tricks that fooled you into believing that you could see through the eyes of another being.”56 Humans, Ghosh tells us through his characters, have to make an effort to communicate in “our translated world.”57 Here Ghosh’s reference is not simply to barriers posed by the existence of multiple languages in the human world, but our inability to see and experience the world as does another human being, living a different life. Ghosh’s story, is however, not merely about barriers to communication, but also about communications that are possible between humans, and between humans and non- humans, despite the limitations of language, translation and understanding. Acutely aware of my linguistic limitations, I also tried to be attentive to non- verbal modes of communication – a smile, a twinkle in the eyes, a shrug, a straightening of the back, a frown, a cautious glance in a particular direction, lowering of voices, and the silences. When understood in the context of all these, translated words can convey a lot more. But sometimes, we don’t actually need words to communicate. I had an 55 See Marjorie DeVault, Liberating Method: Feminism and Social Research (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1999) at 91 for listening “around and beyond words.” 56 Amitav Ghosh, The Hungry Tide (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006) at 132. 57 Ibid at 172. 19 opportunity to reflect on this on a quiet afternoon in the samara pandal (protest hut) when Maya,58 a young Adivasi woman suddenly asked me if I had spoken to my daughter the night before. She asked if my daughter cries when I call. On another afternoon, as I watched some toddlers playing nearby, she asked to see again a picture of my daughter she had seen before. It was passed around to other women present and many remarks were made and questions asked. Both times I had in fact been thinking about my daughter when Maya mentioned her. I was stunned because I had not said anything. How could Maya have known that I was missing my child at that moment? Her response to the question in my eyes was a smile. I could have spoken out the question, but I didn’t. At the time that communication had seemed enough to me. I have often wondered if she knew because perhaps she too thought about her two little children on quiet afternoons when they were away at school. It may not always be possible to ‘see’ the world as the other does, or to re-present accurately what one does manage to see. But it is always possible to try. Sometimes communication across difference is also made possible by honest commitments to translate. An ethical translation according to Spivak is an “act of hearing-to-respond”.59 It involves “listening with care and patience.”60 What we need therefore are “thick translations”, attentive to reasons, motives and histories of speakers and translators, and to the contexts of translation.61 It is in this spirit of ‘trying to be faithful to the original’ 58 All names have been changed. While several people I spoke with in relation to this research gave me permission to mention their names, I have decided to protect identities in light of certain events described later on. 59 Gayatri Spivak, “Translation as Culture” (2000) 6:1 Parallax 13-24 at 22. 60 Ibid at 22. Spivak also mentions the “impatience of human rights interventions” as an example of failure of translation (at 16). 61 See Kwame Anthony Appiah, “Thick Translation” in Lawrence Venuti, ed., Translation Studies Reader (Florence: Routledge, 1999) 417-429 at 432. See also Sakai, supra n. 43; Bassnett & Lefevre (1990), supra n. 47 at 11. 20 that I listened intently to all that was shared with me.62 I have also reminded myself repeatedly of my own role as a translator even as I wrote about similar roles of others. 1.6 Translation and Justice Anyone who speaks two or more languages must know that translation is never perfect.63 There is always that particular expression that defies translation, an idea or a joke that is so rooted in a particular place, time, context, and history that its meaning and essence cannot be fully conveyed to those unfamiliar with those places, times, contexts and histories even though it is possible to find in the language of translation words that have the same or similar meanings as the words in the source language. Much has been written about the difficulties of literal, conceptual and cultural translations.64 The difficulties of translation, however, are not only the difficulties of transferring meaning, but also the trouble we have in accepting the process of translation for what it is: imprecise, imperfect, and provisional, and our impatience with the imprecision and imperfection.65 The problem with translation is our refusal to acknowledge that we don’t all speak the same language, and that in trying to translate, i.e., communicate across difference, we often want to forget that we are in fact translating and that our language may not be able to represent fully what is expressed in a different language. 62 See Spivak (2000), supra n. 59 at 14 where Spivak notes that ‘Fidelity to the original’ in any translation is something she believes in, “not because it is possible, but because one must try,” pointing thereby to the significance of ethics in the practice of translation. 63 For difficulties in translation and for the significance of context in translation, see Jacques Derrida, “Force of Law: The Mystical Foudation of Authority” (1989-1990) 11 Cardozo L. Rev. 920-1046 at 925. Derrida notes that a translation “necessarily remains a translation”, that is, “an always possible but always imperfect compromise between two idioms.” See also Jacques Derrida “Letter to a Japanese Friend” in David Wood & Robert Bernasconi, eds., Derrida and Difference (Warwick: Parousia Press, 1985) 1-5. 64 Walter Benjamin, “Task of the Translator: An Introduction to the Translation of Baudelaire’s Tableux Parisiens” (trans. Harry Zohn) in Lawrence Venuti, ed., Translation Studies Reader (Florence: Routledge, 1999) 75; Spivak, supra n. 46; Spivak (2000) supra n. 59. Derrida, ibid. Asad, supra n. 44; Sakai, supra n. 43. 65 See Benjamin, ibid at 17, 19. See also Tymoczko, supra n 46. Tymoczo suggests that the desire for ‘exactitude’ and ‘objectivity’ in translation is recent in human history and correlates with the general movement away from oral to text-based standards. 21 What does all of this have to do with justice? In thinking about the dispute in Plachimada and its various accounts shared with me, my thoughts invariably turned to translation and justice. These chains of thought, separate at first, converged at some point on the realization that both, in different ways, involved a coming to terms with incommensurability of difference and a simultaneous desire to overcome that difference. A meaningful understanding of both requires accepting the fact that both processes are imperfect, imprecise, context-driven and contingent even as we strive for perfection, precision and certainty. All possibility of justice, according to Derrida, lies in being able to ‘address oneself to the other in the language of the other’.66 The very fact of the otherness of the ‘other’ however, requires us to think about translation. In Justice as Translation, James White suggested that justice, like translation, is a “form of talk”, and that both acquired meaning in the context of specific communications and in the relations – connections as well as discontinuities – between languages and communities.67 He saw much in the practice and process of translation that could in fact serve as “a model of law and justice”.68 The failure we experience in an attempt to translate, according to him, is a ‘necessary and instructive experience’ because it is in trying to translate that we learn to recognize and respect the ‘other’, even as we often “assert ourselves and our own languages” in relation to the other.69 This failure can, however, only be instructive if it is acknowledged. 66 Derrida (1989-90), supra n. 63. 67 White (1990), supra n. 48 at xiv, 229. 68 Ibid at 230. 69 Ibid at xvii. This is similar to Derrida’s description of translation as an “experience of the impossible,” and the connection he makes between translation and justice. See Derrida, supra n. 66 at . He noted that all possibility of justice lies in “addres[sing] oneself to the other in the language of the other.” But that is in fact not possible, because as he further points out we “cannot speak the language of the other”. 22 Just like desire for objective, timeless and perfect translations of literary texts requires the invisibility of the translator, focus on objectivity and abstraction in legal processes diverts our attention from the roles of the authors of legal texts. It is indeed the invisibility of the translator that gives these texts their authority. Translation of human conflicts into legal disputes is a useful process that allows a court to recognize and respond to a claim. But this also leads to a belief that the translated story represents the entirety of the conflict. It leads to an unexamined assumption that the language of translation is fully able to represent all that was expressed in the source language. It is only by accepting the limitations of one’s own language to represent fully experiences and violations that originate in a language that belongs to and is informed by a different worldview, however, can we experience the impossibility that is a precondition for the recognizing and respecting the ‘other’. This is an experience of failure that, in its “potential to release us momentarily from the prison of our own ways of thinking and being”,70 opens up the possibility of expanding our language as we try to understand and respond to other people’s stories. It is only such moments of freedom from our “everyday habits of thought” that allow us to comprehend the multiplicity of life-worlds that are “irreducibly not-one.”71 It is with a similar hope that I draw attention to the practices of speaking, telling, listening and re-telling that have shaped the various accounts of the dispute in Plachimada. When examined closely these often overlooked critical moments of translation can be deeply unsettling for what they reveal – not only about the stories told and untold – but also about the translators. They often expose an inability to listen, an 70 White, supra n 48 at 257. 71 See Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference (Princeton: Princeton Univ Press, 2000) at 249. 23 arrogant unquestioned belief in some knowledges, the inadequacy of some languages, and many unexamined habits of thought. 1.7 Some Notes on Research Methodology and Methods In placing the accounts of those who started the protests against Coca-Cola at the centre of my understanding of the dispute, I have followed the approach of those who seek to privilege experiences that have traditionally been marginalized within studies of societies, histories and law. My attempts to learn ‘from below’ are influenced by my readings in Subaltern Studies, social history, indigenous scholarship, feminism, and Third World Approaches to International Law.72 Not everyone may, however, be convinced of the usefulness of this approach. One question that I have been asked several times during the course of this research at conferences and other places by lawyers, officers of courts, some activists, law students, concerned friends, and others is about what specific ‘law’ I meant to study or propose in my dissertation. My response at times has led to further questions: how is it that a PhD in Law could be completed without analyses of ‘law’? Why did I choose to do a PhD in Law? Two social activists I interviewed were clearly disappointed that despite my legal training, I did not plan to use this opportunity to propose a new law. 72 E.P. Thompson, Customs in Common: Studies in Traditional Popular Culture (New York: The New Press, 1993); E.P. Thompson, Whigs and Hunters: The Origin of the Black Act (New York: Pantheon Books, 1975); Ramachandra Guha, The Unquiet Woods: Ecological Change and Peasant Resistance in the Himalaya, in The Ramachandra Guha Omnibus (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2005); Spivak, supra n. 46; Guha, supra n. 47; Amin, supra n. 47; Upendra Baxi, The Future of Human Rights 2nd Ed. (New Delhi: Oxford Univ Press, 2006); Karin Mickelson, “Rhetoric and Rage: Third World Voices in International Legal Discourse” (1997-1998) 16 Wisconsin Int'l L. J. 353; John Borrows, Recovering Canada: The Resurgence of Indigenous Law (Toronto: U of T Press, 2002); Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples (Dunedin: University of Otago Press, 1999); Marjorie DeVault, Liberating Method: Feminism and Social Research (Temple University Press, 1999). For how ‘starting thought’ from the lives of marginalized peoples might “generate illuminating critical questions that do not arise in thought that begins from dominant group lives” see Sandra Harding, “Rethinking Standpoint Epistemology: What is strong objectivity?” in Sharlene N. Hesse-Biber and Michelle Yaiser, eds., Feminist Perspectives on Social Research (New York: Oxford, 2004) at 45 . 24 Such questions are based on a narrow positivistic understanding of law and its separateness from other fields of knowledge. That they should continue to be raised both by those who are ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ law, despite the existence of substantial work that challenges these borders,73 only points to the critical continuing importance of scholarship that attempts to understand law and legal processes in a broader context. One conversation that I was most bothered and inspired by took place after I had presented my work in a law school. Three bright students of law, involved in the ‘law and society’ group in their law school, and clearly committed to social justice (and much to my delight, also familiar with the events in Plachimada), remained unconvinced about the necessity of speaking to ‘villagers’. Their position was not different from others who had advised me to put my training to better use and focus on what was really important: how existing law can be better interpreted, or which new law was needed. They were confident that ‘we’ know what the dispute is about. In order to ensure justice for those who have suffered, we need to look at ‘the law’, and how it can be made better. That is undoubtedly a very important exercise. I failed, however, to convince them of the importance of a prior question that I was pursuing: do we know what the dispute is about? I hope the stories I present here show the importance of paying attention to how we know, and in what ways in failing to doubt our knowledge, we limit our abilities to 73 See especially Margaret Davies, Asking the Law Question (Sydney: Law Book Co., 1994) for a critical questioning of the inside and outside of law. See also Margaret Davies, “The Ethos of Pluralism” (2005) 27 Sydney L. Rev. 87 at 89 for a suggestion that a pluralistic approach to law leads to better understanding of the “nature and limits of law in its conventional sense” as well as how law relates to “the social, political and moral spheres of life.” See further Boaventura DeSousa Santos, Towards a New Legal Common Sense: Law Globalization and Emancipation, 2nd ed., (London: Butterworths, 2002); Robert M. Rich, “Sociological Paradigms and the Sociology of Law: An Overview” in Charles E. Reasons & Robert M. Rich, ed., The Sociology of Law: A Conflict Perspective (Toronto: Butterworths, 1978). For the ways in which crirtical legal studies and feminist legal theory have challenged the separation of the political and the social, see Hillary Charlesworth, “The New Jurisprudences” in K.K. Ruthven, ed., Beyond the Disciplines: The New Humanities (Canberra: Aust. Academy of the Humanities, 1992) 121-134. 25 listen and respond. This understanding is essential for understanding both the potential and limits of law and formal legal processes. As mentioned above, this project is designed as a multi-method legal ethnography, which included a combination of qualitative research methods, such as long ethnographic interviews, recording oral histories, stories, observation, and analysis of texts.74 Interviews with those who began the protests and those who support it are central to my understanding of the dispute and the processes of translation involved. Accordingly, most of my time during the six months I spent in Kerala and New Delhi in 2009, was spent speaking with people.75 I had identified some themes and prepared a preliminary list of questions for each group of people I intended to interview, but abandoned my lists soon after the first interview began.76 I realized, first to my frustration, and then to my delight, that not everyone was interested as much in my questions, as in saying what they wanted to say. I also began to see how my questions could limit all that the respondents may want to share, and that their responses often got me interested in questions other than those on my list. Therefore even the conversations recorded as ‘interviews’ were not structured or restricted by my questions, but were open- 74 For the usefulness of long ethnographic interviews when one’s focus is more on “shared meanings rather than individual affective states,” on how long interviews create opportunities for recording and analyzing “the categories and logic” by which the interviewee “sees the world”, and allow us to glimpse the lifeworld of an individual, see Grant McCracken, The Long Interview (New Delhi: Sage Publications, 1988) at 7, 9, & 34. This method is also considered suitable for projects like mine, where the researcher is not in a position to commit to “intimate, repeated, and prolonged involvement in the life and community” of the participants. For the usefulness of participant observation in ethnographic interviewing see James P. Spradley, The Ethnographic Interview (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1979). On ways in which life histories offer a deeper understanding of how individuals are “situated within networks concerning kinship, family, and community,” all of which shapes the context in which people articulate particular claims, see Anne Griffiths, “Doing Ethnography: Living Law, Life Histories, and Narratives from Botswana,” in June Starr and Mark Goodale, eds., Practicing Ethnography in Law: New Dialogues, Enduring Methods (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002) 160-181 at 163. 75 See Appendix A for a summary of research methods. 76 See Appendix B for questions and themes for interviews I had carefully prepared. While I continued to be interested in and sought the information I had considered important at the time of preparing my questions, the interviews were also guided by the interests of my respondents. 26 ended. The lengths of these conversations varied from half an hour to several hours over days and months. Of the eighteen residents of Plachimada and nearby hamlets who agreed to be interviewed for this project, fourteen identified as Adivasi, one as a member of a Scheduled Caste, two as members of a Hindu community included in the category Other Backward Class in Kerala, and one as Muslim.77 I also interviewed two teachers who teach in government run pre-schools (known as anganwadis) in the hamlets.78 These interviews were, in many cases, followed by many more conversations over the three months during which I lived in Palakkad town and visited the hamlets near Coca-Cola plant almost every weekday, a few weekends and holidays. I also interviewed six activists, six lawyers, two judges, two politicians, two government officers, and one former member of the local panchayat (village council). Conversations with some other lawyers, a judge, few other officers of courts and public officials in Kerala and New Delhi, also added to my understanding of the dispute and proceedings. While many of those who agreed to be interviewed gave me permission to publish their names, I have decided to change all names in order to protect the identities and interests of several who may have to face, at the very least, the ire of those who disagree with what was shared with me. Some of my experiences in and around Plachimada that I 77 Other Backward Classes are groups of people classified as such by the government of India based on certain socio-economic criteria. For more information, see the Backward Classes Bureau under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, online: <http://socialjustice.nic.in/aboutdivision4.php>; the National Commission for Backward Classes, online: < http://www.ncbc.nic.in/>; and the National Backward Classes Finance & Development Corporation <http://www.nbcfdc.org.in/main.html>. 78 Derived from the Hindi word ‘angan’, which means courtyard, anganwadi is translated as ‘courtyard shelter’. Set up under the Integrated Child Development Services Scheme in India, Anganwadi centres provide basic health care to young children, offer advice on nutrition and function as pre-schools. The teachers and their helpers in Anganwadis maintain records of births and deaths in the area and keep track of vaccination and other health requirements of young children. In addition to lunch and a snack provided to children who attend these pre-schools, specially packaged nutrition balanced foods for new mothers and toddlers are also distributed free at these centres. 27 have related in subsequent chapters indicate, however, that for some the consequences could even be more serious than the disapproval of their peers. Due to the extensive media coverage of the dispute, especially in Kerala, identities of some individuals I have mentioned or quoted cannot be concealed effectively. I have however made an attempt to ensure anonymity to the extent possible. While in Kerala I also attended four public events. The first of these was a rally organized on August 25, 2009 outside the offices of the district administration (referred to as the Collectorate) in Palakkad town. A prominent local activist connected with the agitation in Plachimada spoke at this rally where numerous demands were presented on behalf of members of Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes in Kerala. Two that were repeated numerous times and were also on placards were that prescribed spots in government aided private educational institutions be reserved for members of these communities, and for certain loans to be forgiven. The second was a meeting held on September 25, 2009 in Vanditavalam near Plachimada. This meeting was attended by Adivasi and a few non-Adivasi residents (mainly women). The meeting was addressed by an officer of the local groundwater department and a visiting member of a government- appointed committee. The third was a gram sabha (village assembly) meeting in Vijaynagar on October 7 that was attended by many Adivasi and non-Adivasi residents. At the meeting names of successful applicants for various government loans were announced. The fourth event was a large public meeting on October 9, 2009 near the office of the Perumatty Panchayat (village council) called by the High Power Committee constituted by the government of Kerala to examine the issue of compensation for those affected by the operations of the Coca-Cola plant. Adivasi and non-Adivasi residents of 28 the area, as well as many activists, journalists, officers in the local administration, and members of several non-governmental organizations attended this meeting. I learned much from the speeches and silences at these events. Texts related to the struggle in Plachimada also offered me a significant opportunity to understand the processes of translation. Some of these were archival records in the state archives in Kerala and New Delhi. Accessing court records of the litigation related to this dispute was more of a challenge than I had originally anticipated. While my request for access was denied in the High Court of Kerala, I was allowed to look at some files in the Supreme Court of India on the condition that I not publish the contents. I therefore used that opportunity to primarily note some important dates and names. The lawyers and activists provided most of the information about petitions and proceedings before courts. Records available in the office of Perumatty Panchayat and some government offices in Thiruvananthapuram were also an invaluable source. I also studied a large number of media reports on events in Plachimada. While a lot of these are available in the on-line English editions of national newspapers, I also collected important reports and analyses published in Malayalam. This material, and my conversations with those who translated them for me, also offered many insights that I would otherwise have missed. I also read several reports published by various government and non-governmental organizations on the issue. 1.8 Organization of Chapters The following chapters present the available and eclipsed accounts of the dispute in Plachimada and the contexts and histories that are crucial for a fuller understanding of the dispute. The themes of plurality of norms, impossibilities and potential of translation, 29 questions of epistemology, the realities of ‘being Adivasi’ in contemporary India, and the significance of all this to justice, will emerge as the stories unfold. Before I present the multiple accounts of the dispute, I begin with an introduction of the place, its people and the dispute in Chapter Two. Some official histories of the place are also presented here. This is followed by the popular account of the dispute as a ‘people’s movement’ and the principal actors who have shaped its stories. Chapter Four presents the official legal narrative or the account of the dispute that emerges from the proceedings and decisions in courts of law. These two accounts are followed by Adivasi accounts of the dispute in Chapter Five. The following chapter presents some written histories of Adivasi dispossession in Kerala juxtaposed with and contested by some Adivasi oral histories. Chapter Seven offers some concluding remarks. 1.9 “Just Write it as I’m Telling it. You Will Understand” That was eighty six year old Adivasi woman Maariamma’s advice to me the first, and only, time I interrupted her for a clarification while she narrated a story she had heard from her elders. Neither writing, nor understanding, has been easy for me. These words have therefore haunted me as I struggled to do both. What I have learned in the process is that understanding and writing all the stories I recorded is going to be a long, and perhaps always an incomplete process.79 This lesson has been the hardest to learn, even as I continue to search for meanings in my many conversations. My inability to tie all the loose ends and smoothen the rough edges; all the experiences that I don’t know how to translate into a dissertation bother me. 79 Donna Haraway “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspectives” In Simians, Cyborgs, and Women (New York: Routledge, 1991). 30 If I could write a novel instead, it would be about people on journeys, traveling on paths that sometimes intersect allowing them to see each other, offering a chance to acknowledge the journeys of the other in their sameness and across all the differences. If I could write a song, it would certainly be an unfinished one about incompleteness; a song of undefined incomplete connections with strangers, and incomplete inexplicable estrangement from what we imagine as ours. A song about our desires to know more even as we learn to recognize the limits of what can be known. This dissertation is neither a song, nor a novel, but it is an honest attempt to tell complex stories as best as I can. As the following chapters reveal, it is the complexity that is often eclipsed in the dominant narratives of this struggle against Coca-Cola. On some days I like to believe that is what Maariamma wanted a researcher who had so many questions to understand. 31 Fig. 1: Location of Palakkad 32 Fig. 2: Location of the Coca-Cola Beverage Plant, the Samara Pandal, Plachimada and other hamlets 33 2 Locating A Dispute In this chapter I introduce the place where the dispute began, situating it within the layered history of the region. I then briefly introduce the people who live in the area, followed by an account of how the dispute began, and a brief overview of major developments and events. Other histories of the place, relationships of its people with the place and with each other, connections with other places and people, as well as detailed accounts of specific aspects of the dispute will continue to emerge in the following chapters. 2.1 Places 2.1.1 Plachimada Plachimada, the hamlet that has become synonymous with the dispute over operations of the Coca-Cola plant, is located in Moolathara village in Chittur, which is one of the five taluks80 in Palakkad district of Kerala. The Moolathara village is also part of Perumatty Grama Panchayat, which is one of ninety-one such elected village self- governance bodies in Palakkad district.81 It is in Moolathara that Coca-Cola decided to set up its beverage bottling plant. This decision, as it will become clear later, was a crucial one since it is Moolathara’s location within the Perumatty Panchayat area that led 80 A taluk is an administrative sub-division in a district. Rural areas in each taluk or sub-district are further divided into panchayats and villages for administration and revenue purposes. 81 Panchayat literally means an assembly of five. Panchayats in India traditionally comprised of elders who convened to resolve disputes in their village. While these traditional panchayats still exist in some parts of the country, there is a separate contemporary constitutionally mandated system of local self-governance system referred to as the ‘panchayati raj’ that was established in the country pursuant to the 73rd amendment to the Indian Constitution. These village panchayats, like the Perumatty Grama Panchayat, comprise of elected members with a proportion of seats reserved for women, and members of the Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes. See Article 40 and Part IX of the Constitution of India for the basic legal framework for constitution and composition of panchayats. Within this framework, state legislatures have enacted statutes that govern the functioning of panchayats within individual states. The statute enacted in Kerala is the Kerala Panchayat Raj Act of 1994. For more information on statutes enacted by various states in the country, statistics, and plans, see the official website of the Ministry of Panchayati Raj, Government of India, online: <www.panchayat.gov.in>. 34 to the Panchayat’s involvement in the dispute. As set out in Chapter Five, a different location, a different panchayat, or a different president of the Perumatty Panchayat, could have made a difference in how the litigation related to the dispute evolved, and the directions it has taken. The road that goes from Palakkad town to Plachimada runs through miles of paddy fields, and bamboo, coconut and palm trees. It passes through busy small towns and villages, rows of modest homes with thatched or tiled roofs, some old large unpretentious homes interspersed with new and larger brightly painted mansions with high boundary walls and imposing gates. A few kilometers shy of the border between the states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu on State Highway 27 are some hamlets where most of the Adivasis who began the protests against Coca-Cola live. The ones that surround the Coca-Cola plant are Plachimada, Vijaynagar, Madhavan Nair Pathy, and Thottichipathy. They are sometimes referred to as ‘ST colonies’ because, as a local panchayat official explained to me, the majority of the residents belong to Scheduled Tribes. Buses carrying passengers from Palakkad town to Meenakshipuram or further in the state of Tamil Nadu stop momentarily, almost reluctantly, near the few shops in Plachimada before they speed off to more important destinations. A few meters before the bus stop is the spot where brightly coloured plastic pots are lined up for the ‘lorry vellum’ or the lorry-water, which is the primary source of water for drinking and cooking in many homes in the area ever since the water in the wells was declared unfit for consumption. These pots are a familiar sight for anyone who has paid attention to the images of the Plachimada struggle available on the Internet.82 What those images of the 82 See for e.g., <http://www.flonnet.com/fl2715/stories/20100730271503300.htm>; and <http://www.flickr.com/photos/csepictures/6725249965/>. Accessed: May 20, 2012 35 bright pink, yellow, green and blue plastic pots lined up for the lorry-water fail to reveal, however, is the absence of any marking on them that indicates that they are made of food grade plastic. The more traditional clay pots, I was told, were not suitable for the new realities of being lined up on roadsides and frequent carrying. Not only did they break more often, but also led to arguments because they looked the same. On the other side of the small shops, to the north of State Highway 27, is the imposing gate to the Coca-Cola premises that has clearly seen better times. The beverage facility itself has been locked since 2004 when operations were suspended due to the ongoing agitation. Across the road from here is a small structure made of bamboo, matted palm leaves and a thatched roof known as the samara pandal.83 It is the place where two elder Adivasi women sit in protest against the Coca-Cola plant every day. The space between the large gate of the Coca-Cola premises and the samara pandal has been the site for numerous protest marches and sit-ins. A few meters further along the highway, adjacent to the eastern wall of the beverage plant, is another cluster of thatched huts and a few concrete houses, named Vijaynagar. This place too has a designated spot where plastic pots await lorry-water. A large locked gate, a protest shed, and rows of plastic pots are the popular symbols of a story that has been unfolding in Plachimada over almost a decade. This is not, however, how the story was supposed to turn out, at least not to many who viewed the setting up of a Coca-Cola plant as a sign of the arrival of much delayed ‘development’ in Palakkad. 83 Samara pandal is translated most often as ‘vigil hut’ or ‘struggle hut’, however, as discussed later, samara can also mean protest, movement or strike. 36 2.1.2 Chittur As mentioned above, Plachimada lies in Chittur taluk of Palakkad district. Unlike other areas of Palakkad, however, it was not part of British ruled Malabar (a district in the Madras Presidency) before independence, but rather a part of Cochin State. Before its merger, first with the state of Travancore and subsequently with Malabar, to form the present day state of Kerala, Cochin State was made up of two disconnected parts.84 The smaller of these was Chittur, which was ceded to the rulers of Cochin by the king of Palghat (Palakkad) in recognition of the former’s help in driving back the ‘Ganga’ or ‘Kongu’ army that had invaded the territory of the latter in 917 A.D.85 According to the Cochin State Manual published in 1911, at the time, Chittur taluk covered an area of 105 square miles and was “entirely encircled by British territory.”86 The taluk was further made up of two separated parts, with the eastern part lying in the centre of the Palghat Gap. There is said to have been, at one time, a “magnificent teak forest” in this area that was entirely “assigned” for cultivation in the second half of the nineteenth century.87 By 1911 there were several coffee and rubber plantation estates owned by Europeans and ‘natives’ in some parts of the taluk.88 Unlike in the rest of Cochin, at the time, many people in Chittur spoke Tamil, Telugu and Canarese in addition to Malayalam, which was the official language of 84 The Imperial Gazetteer of India (Clarendon Press: Oxford, 1908) vol. X at 340. 85 C. Achyuta Menon, The Cochin State Manual (Kerala Gazetteers Department: Thiruvanantapuram, 1911) at 55 and 472. 86 Ibid at 1. 87 Ibid at 471. Interestingly, according to a popular belief, Palakkad is named for the forest of Pala trees that is said to have existed in the region. Kkad or kkadu is often translated as forest, but several elders in Plachimada and Vijaynagar use the word for any land that is not cultivated, giving credence to another legend that the name ‘Palakkad’ is derived from the word ‘palai’, translated as dry, barren or desert land. 88 Ibid at 475. 37 Cochin State.89 In 1911, of the 89,549 residents of the taluk, 75,939 were reported to be ‘Hindus’, 7,201 ‘Muhammadans’, 4,337 ‘Christians’, and 2,072 ‘animists’.90 Despite the majority of Hindus in the taluk, there were reportedly “no Hindu temples of note” in the area.91 ‘Tamil Brahmans’ and Nayars are named as the predominant Hindu castes in the taluk. The administrative headquarter of the taluk was (and still is) based in Chittur town. The Cochin State Manual also mentions ‘Mulattara’, a village fourteen miles southeast of Chittur town. This, as far as I have been able to determine based on geographical location, and the fact that both words are pronounced the same, is the present Moolathara village where Plachimada colony and the Coca-Cola plant are located. The manual describes the village as “feverish”, and suggests that it “would probably have remained uninhabited but for the irrigation works.”92 The population of the village in 1911 was reported to be “1,540, mostly Hindus.”93 The Moolathara village is presently home to 9,405 people,94 even as it remains ‘feverish’ in more than one sense of the word. Because of Chittur’s location near a natural pass or gap in the Western Ghats mountain range, it does not rain here as much as it does in other parts of Kerala. While there is considerable greenery, the air and soil are much drier than in other parts of Kerala. It was in fact often referred to as the driest region of the state. Since it does not 89 Ibid at 239. 90 Ibid at 472. 91 Ibid. 92 Ibid at 474-475. 93 Ibid at 475. 94 Government of India, Office of Registrar General and Census Commissioner, Census Data 2001. Online: <www.censusindia.gov.in> 38 receive as much rain, groundwater is the most significant source of water in the area.95 Given repeated references to the area as dry and less green than other parts of Kerala, I was at first surprised to see miles of farmlands devoted to rice cultivation in the region.96 Any deficit due to less rainfall is, however, made up by a vast irrigation network. The need for an alternate source of water for irrigation was recognized early in the region. The process seems to have begun in 1849 with the construction of an ‘anicut’ in ‘Mulattara’, which, appears to be a reference to the existing Moolathara Dam in Chittur, not far from Plachimada.97 The Coca-Cola plant is situated very close to two other reservoirs of water in the area: the Kambalthara reservoir beyond Vijaynagar to its east, and the Meenakkara dam reservoir that is about three kilometers to its south. The Moolathara canal that flows from the Kambalthara reservoir at a distance of a few meters from the plant’s northern boundary wall ensures a sufficient supply of water for irrigation to the surrounding farmlands. It is in the middle of these farmlands that Coca-Cola bought thirty-two acres of agricultural land some time during 1998-99. Some residents and activists believe the company chose this location, instead of the industrial area of Kanjikode (where incidentally a beverage plant owned by Pepsi is located), primarily because of the existence of a groundwater aquifer in the Plachimada area, which it could use for no cost other than what it spent on extracting the water. This aquifer, it is believed, has 95 This fact has been noted in various reports. See for e.g. The Report of the High Power Committee, 22 March 2010 at 18-19. Online: < http://www.scribd.com/doc/80063693/Plachimada-High-Power- Committee-Report-PDF> 96 Rice accounts for sixty percent of the total food crops grown in the district. See Department of Information and Public Relations, Government of Kerala, District Handbooks of Kerala: Palakkad (KSAVRC Press: Thiruvananthapuram, 2003) at 18. 97 Menon (1911), supra n. 85 at 314. 39 replenished the numerous shallow wells in the area that have been the only source of water for drinking, cooking and other domestic chores in the area for centuries. 2.1.3 Cochin State Cochin (Kochhi in some older records) was named after a port town with the same name that was at one time the capital of Cochin State.98 The port is said to have been given the name Kochhi after the formation of a harbour in 1341.99 In about 1500 the Portuguese set up a factory and then a port in the place, before being “driven out” by the Dutch in or around 1663.100 The latter too began to lose their hold in the region after being defeated in a famous battle in 1741 by the ruler of Travancore (a kingdom to the south of Cochin).101 While the Dutch lost most of their territory after that, the port town of Cochin was their possession until 1795, when the East India Company took it over.102 While Cochin State (except for the port town of Cochin), remained independent as a Native State until its merger with independent India, as was the case with many other such states in the subcontinent at the time, it was not really free. The government in neighbouring British-ruled Madras Presidency was involved in administrative and political matters of Cochin. Described in one source as a “petty State,” Cochin reportedly ‘saved’ over two hundred thousand rupees from its annual revenue in 1844 and ‘invested’ the same in the East India Company’s securities.103 98 The Imperial Gazetteer, supra n. 84 at 340. 99 See Menon (1911), supra n. 85 at 2-3. 100 Memorandum prepared by T.A. Anantaramier, Government Advocate and Law Officer seeking legal opinion related to a dispute over the exact area comprising British Cochin (undated), Cochin, Kerala State Archives (M-35). 101 Kesavan Veluthat, The Early Medieval in South India (New Delhi: OUP, 2009) at 268. 102 Memorandum, supra n. 100. 103 Menon (1911), supra n. 85 at 215. 40 As the British gained “military and political supremacy” in the region during the nineteenth century, the political order established by the rulers of Cochin in the eighteenth century collapsed.104 Driven by the interests and ideologies of the British Empire, the early part of the nineteenth century saw widespread legal, administrative, educational and social changes or reforms in Cochin. Several new laws were introduced in the state that covered matters like extension of the jurisdiction of civil and criminal courts, “imposition of stamp duty on documents evidencing sale, mortgage, etc.”, “protection of Sirkar [government] monopolies” and “cattle trespass”.105 Regulation of forests was strengthened, with laws enacted for preventing “indiscriminate clearing for fugitive cultivation,” hunting, fishing, and manure-gathering, among other activities.106 “Experiments” were carried out with the view of improving agriculture, and the cultivation of crops like coffee and cotton was introduced and encouraged by the state in various areas including Chittur.107 “European medical treatment” was also introduced in the second decade of the century.108 In 1854, a reported 58,000 “slaves” owned by the “Sirkar” and “private owners” were emancipated following a “protracted discussion” on the matter that had been going on “since the time of Colonel [John] Munro”, the British Resident and later the Diwan or Prime Minister of Cochin and Travancore.109 104 Susan Bayly, “Hindu Kingship and the Origin of Community: Religion, State and Society in Kerala, 1750-1850” (1984) 18:2 Modern Asian Studies 177 at 180. For the manner in which British colonialism ‘disrupted the economic structure’ in the region and changed social relations, see Prema Kurien, “Colonialism and Ethnogenesis: A Study of Kerala, India” (1994) 23:3 Theory and Society 385. 105 Menon (1911), supra n. 85 at 202-203. 106 Ibid at 334. 107 Ibid at 203. 108 Ibid at 368. 109 Ibid at 213. 41 2.1.4 Palakkad Almost everyone I met in Kerala before going to Palakkad referred to it as a ‘backward’ district in the most ‘modern’ state in India. Several people in Palakkad town itself echoed this view. Some explained this anomaly through references to the history of the region. It was pointed out that unlike parts of Kerala that were formerly the independent States of Cochin and Travancore, ruled by progressive local or native rulers concerned with the wellbeing of their subjects,110 several parts of what is today Palakkad had long been ruled by ‘outsiders’. These outsiders were, at first, Hyder Ali and his son Tipu Sultan, the rulers of Mysore who seized the area in mid-eighteenth century and ruled until 1792, thereafter the East India Company, and finally the British Crown.111 In addition to this history, some residents of Palakkad also cited the influence of the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu, which they insisted was nowhere near as ‘progressive’ as Kerala. Despite differences over the reasons for its often-unspecified backwardness, Palakkad (formerly also known as Palghat) evokes a different response than the rest of Kerala when it comes to development. There appeared to be a popular consensus that Palakkad district in Kerala is certainly in need of development. This view appears to have played an important role in the initial enthusiastic reception of the Coca Cola Company in the district by the state and local administration, as well as by many residents. According to some, it was felt at the time that the generation of revenue for the local administration 110 The royal family of Travancore is held particularly in high regard by many people in Thiruvananthapuram for their emphasis on healthcare, education and gender equality. 111 For brief accounts of this history, see Centre for Development Studies, Human Development Report 2005 (Government of Kerala, Thiruvananthapuram, 2005) at 2-12; District Handbooks of Kerala: Palakkad (2003), supra n. 96 at 6-7; Veluthat, supra n. 101. 42 as well as the direct and indirect creation of new jobs would go a long way in achieving both economic and social development in the place. This perception seems to have translated into a welcome environment for Coca-Cola, with speedy clearances from various departments that allowed it to start production. As far as can be determined from available records and my conversations, the fact that the Coca-Cola plant required large amounts of water was not considered at the time. 2.1.5 Kerala While it has been noted that the processes of state formation had begun in what is now known as Kerala as far back as the ninth century,112 until the 1740s, the region was “a patchwork quilt of shifting chiefdoms and principalities,” and it was only in the eighteenth century that the kingdoms of Cochin and Travancore emerged, much like in other parts of India.113 In 1956 Travancore, Cochin and the Malabar district merged to form the present state of Kerala. A coastal state in south India, Kerala is celebrated for what is widely referred to as the ‘Kerala model’ of development.114 Even as it is increasingly criticized for its inadequate focus on industrial development,115 the state stands apart from all others in India for its significant achievements in several areas of life that are commonly regarded as indicators of ‘human’ or ‘social development’: highest 112 Veluthat, supra n. 101 at 249-276. 113 Bayly, supra n. 104 at 181. 114 See Govindan Parayil, “The ‘Kerala Model’ of Development: Development and Sustainability in the Third World” (1996) 17:5 Third World Quarterly 941; Govindan Payaril & T.T. Sreekumar, “Kerala’s Experience of Development and Change” (2003) 33:4 Journal of Contemporary Asia 465; Human Development Report 2005, supra n. 111; G.K. Leiten, “The Human Development Puzzle in Kerala” (2002) 32:1 Journal of Contemporary Asia 47; Jose Murickan and M.K. George, Development-Induced Displacement: Case of Kerala (New Delhi: Rawat Publications, 2003). 115 Payaril & Sreekumar, ibid. 43 literacy rates in the country, wide access to healthcare, high life expectancy, a healthy gender ratio, low rates of infant mortality and low population growth rates.116 This, however, is only part of the picture. Many residents of Kerala I spoke with expressed concerns over the increasing incidence of suicide and high levels of unemployment in the state. As is often the case, not everyone has benefitted equally from the changes in the state, including those brought about by the extensive land reforms carried out in the state since its formation.117 Dalit groups have criticized the ‘Kerala model’ for its inability to fundamentally change the “upper-caste dominance” in the state.118 A large number of Adivasis have been displaced from forests and other areas that have been acquired for various development projects in the fields of water resource management, forest conservation, wildlife protection, and creation of national parks.119 Despite their willingness to criticize the policies of successive governments in Kerala since its formation, most residents proudly point to the emphasis on education and high levels of political awareness and engagement as the reasons for the state’s success. The state’s commitment to fostering a culture of transparency and accountability in its various public departments was obvious during my visits to some offices in the state capital Thiruvanantapuram as well as in Kochi. For these and other reasons, residents who generally describe Kerala as a ‘modern’ state, are proud of the state’s many achievements, even as they point to many things that can be improved further. 116 See Human Development Report 2005, supra n. 111. 117 See Payaril & Sreekumar, supra n. 114. 118 Gail Omvedt, “Disturbing Aspects of Kerala Society” (1998) 30:3 Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars 31. A senior bureaucrat I spoke with in Thiruvananthapuram also mentioned that ‘untouchability’ is still practiced in at least one area in the state. 119 See Murickan & George (2003), supra n. 114. See also Smitu Kothari, “Whose Nation? The Displaced as Victims of Displacement” (1996) 31:24 EPW 1476; Anjan Chakrabarty & Anup Dhar, Dislocation and Resettlement in Development: From Third World to World of the Third (Oxford: Routledge, 2010). 44 2.2 People 2.2.1 Adivasis The lands surrounding the Coca-Cola plant in Moolathara are home to Adivasis and non-Adivasis. While some of them have lived here for generations, others have moved to the area more recently. As mentioned above, the hamlets near the plant are also referred to as ‘ST colonies’ since a majority of their residents are members of Scheduled Tribes. The rows of homes adjacent to the eastern and western boundary walls of the Coca-Cola plant are known as Plachimada and Vijaynagar respectively. As per information available in the Tribal Extension Office in Chittur, half of the families in Vijaynagar are Adivasi, while in Plachimada the number of Adivasi families is a little over one-third. To the north of the company’s premises, beyond the Moolathara canal and some rice fields, is a coconut grove. Nestled within this is Madhavan Nair Pathy. All the families here self-identified and were described as Adivasi. There are other small and medium sized hamlets nearby: Kocchikkad, Sarkarpathy, Thottichipathy, Kunjemenonpathy, and Nellimedu. Many Adivasis who live here are related by blood or marriage. They often refer to all of these ‘colonies’ collectively as ‘here’ or ‘this place’. Specific place names are offered only when asked for. The administrative divisions of their ‘place’ into colonies, wards, villages and panchayats seem to hold little meaning or use for them, except for when required to be entered in forms for government loans, ration cards, pensions, and so on. A majority of Adivasis in this area belongs to the Eravalan tribe. The rest belong to the Malasar tribe. As stated before, both communities are recognized as Scheduled 45 Tribes in Kerala. Most Adivasis who agreed to speak with me self-identify as Eravalan. The few who identified as Adivasi or ‘ST’ could have been either Eravalan or Malasar. According to oral history shared with me by an Eravalan elder, which is set out in Chapter Six, they arrived in this place when there was no one else here. There is however, no mention of the Eravalan or Malasar people in the list of people that, as per the Cochin State Manual, resided in Moolathara village,120 or other records of the history of the place. In all likelihood, they were included in the category of ‘animists’ that lived in Chittur at the time in accordance with the census policy of the time. They could also be the ‘other classes’ listed in early twentieth century administrative records prepared in Chittur: the ones who were not ‘Europeans’, ‘Eurasians’, ‘Native Christians’, ‘Hindus’ or ‘Mohamadans’. Their presence (and that of other communities that lived in the forests and hills in the region) can also at times be sensed on pages in old records that describe the need for increased state control over forests, as the unnamed people who were no longer allowed to clear lands for cultivation, or to fish, hunt or gather forest produce as the state increased its control over forests. 2.2.2 Eravalans and Malasars Among the few written records of Eravalans and Malasars I was able to locate, is Iyer’s Cochin Tribes and Castes, which according to its author, “deals with all the Malayali and animistic castes, the members of which pollute the high-caste men at various distances, and cannot approach the outer walls of the temples of the higher castes.”121 Passages from Iyer’s description of ‘Eravallens’ were also reproduced in 120 See supra n. 93. 121 L. K. Ananthakrishna Iyer, Cochin Tribes and Castes (Madras, 1909) at viii-ix. 46 Edgar Thurston’s Castes and Tribes of Southern India.122 Eravalans, also referred to as “villu vedans” or “hunters using bow and arrows”, are described by Iyer as “a wild and inoffensive jungle tribe found in Chittur Taluk of the Cochin State.”123 Their language is reported to be Tamil, although it is noted that some spoke Malayalam. They are described as “very poor” with “no titles among them”.124 Further, they were seen as “rude timid primitive people like the other jungle tribes of the State [with] no knowledge of their origin.”125 Their status is reported to have improved “under the civilizing influence of their masters.”126 They lived in villages called ‘pathies’ (a sufix that follows names of several ‘ST colonies’ in the area today), and addressed their elders as “Muthans (elderly men) and Pattans (grand-fathers).”127 The rest of the entry describes their clothes, jewellery, customs, and ceremonies including those for marriage, pregnancy, child-birth, and death. Customary rules of marriage, divorce, and inheritance are also mentioned. The record also mentions that there was no “tribal assembly” and disputes “seldom occur[ed].”128 It is indicated that they followed the rules of “pollution” prevalent in the regions at the time, and while they “bathed when touched by” members of certain castes, they also “recognize[d] their social inferiority to the Brahmans and Nairs, and [stood] at a distance from them to avoid polluting them.”129 122 Edgar Thurston, Castes and Tribes of Southern India, Volume 2 (Government Press: Madras, 1909) at 210. In this volume the name of the tribe is spelt as ‘Eravallars’. 123 Iyer, supra n. 121 at 43. 124 Ibid. 125 Ibid. 126 Ibid. 127 Ibid. 128 Ibid at 47. 129 Ibid at 49. 47 A section titled ‘Religion’ describes ‘Eravallens’ as being “pure animists,” who believe that ‘demons’ reside in trees, rocks, peaks, etc.130 A few ‘gods’ are also mentioned, each belived to protect certain places, or certain aspects of life. “Kannimar (seven maidens)” were among the “family deities” who watched over the welfare of the tribe.131 Kannimari, a place next to Plachimada where an inter-state sales tax check-post is situated today, appears to be named after this deity. Another deity ‘Kali’ is said to have been “adored” by the Eravalans in order “to obtain her protection for themselves and their families while living in the forest.”132 Eravalans were recognized as skilled hunters who knew the forests well.133 They hunted porcupines, hare, wild hogs and birds, with “the game equally divided.”134 Their main occupation at the time was, however, agriculture dominated by cultivation of grains (that several Adivasis told me are not grown anymore). They were reported to be “attached to farmers” for whom they worked for daily wages paid in measures of paddy.135 At times they borrowed money from the farmers “to improve their condition,” and those who were unable to repay the loans reportedly “willingly mortgage[d] themselves to their masters or to some other person.”136 The author notes, however, that “[w]omen never surrender themselves to work in a state of bondage, but are independent day labourers.”137 The section on ‘Eravallens’ ends with a note that they are “certified by 130 Ibid at 47. 131 Ibid. 132 Ibid. 133 During one of our conversations, Maariamma mentioned the fact that their ancestors used to hunt in the hills. She explained that this was the reason why bows and arrows are still an important part of their rituals and ceremonies including those performed during weddings. 134 Iyer, supra n. 121 at 48. 135 Ibid at 49. 136 Ibid at 49-50. 137 Ibid at 50. 48 their masters to be always truthful, honest, and faithful” and, unlike members of another tribe, they never “ungratefully run away from their employers.”138 As mentioned before, Malasar is the other tribe whose members reside in and around Plachimada. The earliest available record of this tribe appears to be an account by Buchanan that dates back to 1807.139 Buchanan’s description of Malasars is reproduced in a volume of Edgar Thurston’s Castes and Tribes of Southern India.140 The volume also includes information from the Madras Census Report of 1901. Malasars are described as a “rude tribe” that lived in the forests in Coimbatore district and Cochin State, and spoke a “mixture of the Tamul and Malayala languages.”141 To Buchanan, the ‘Malasirs’ seemed “better looking than the slaves,” but also “ill-clothed, nasty, and apparently ill- fed.”142 Like the Eravalans, Malasars too lived in “pathis” that were essentially small clusters of huts “situated in the skirts of the woods on the hills of Daraporam, Ani- malaya, and Pali-ghat.”143 To their observers, Malasars appeared to prefer to live in their “rude huts” and seemed to have “an objection to well-built houses.”144 A “Malasar forester”, it was reported, preferred the “rude huts” to “Government quarters.”145 The elders in Plachimada and Vijaynagar still prefer the thatched roofs to brick and cement structures, which according to them are not properly ventilated. 138 Ibid at 50. 139 Francis Buchanan, A Journey from Madras through the countries of Mysore, Canara, and Malabar (London: T. Cadell and W. Davies, 1807). 140 Edgar Thurston, Castes and Tribes of Southern India, Vol. 4 (Government Press: Madras, 1909) 141 Ibid at 394. 142 Ibid. 143 Ibid. 144 Ibid at 396. 145 Ibid. 49 Their god, according to Buchanan was represented by a “rude idol” that was a stone “that is encircled by a wall, which serves for a temple.”146 There is a deity represented in a small black stone in Vijaynagar very close to a boundary wall of Coca- Cola. According to Adivasi residents, it guards the boundary of their place. An elaborate annual Adivasi ceremony involving this deity was described to me by the Anganwadi teacher in Vijaynagar and mentioned by some other non-Adivasis, but Adivasis were reluctant to speak about it. An account in the Madras Census Report that came about a hundred years after Buchanan’s account, also mentions Kali and Mariamman as the gods worshipped by Malasars along with their “special deity”.147 While Kali, also mentioned to be an Eravalan goddess above, is today widely regarded as a Hindu deity across India, Mariamma seems to be a local deity. She is generally regarded as a goddess of smallpox in the area (and in some other parts of rural Kerala) by many Hindu communities as well. An Adivasi elder in one of the hamlets also mentioned both of them, while suggesting that there was some tension between those who wished to build a temple to one goddess and those who would rather have one built for the other. It is unclear, however, whether Buchanan, who only referred to the ‘rude stone idol’, had missed some ‘gods’ or whether the community had acquired (or were seen to have acquired) additional ‘gods’ over the hundred years after which the second available record was produced. According to Buchanan the ‘puddies’ and its inhabitants were “considered the property of some landlord,” who farmed out their labour and all they collected from the forests to traders.148 The traders had the “exclusive right” to purchase anything the Malasars collected and gave them, in return, “a subsistence” and supplied “salt and other 146 Ibid at 395. 147 Ibid. 148 Ibid at 394. 50 necessaries.”149 He also notes, however, that Malasars practiced a form of slash and burn cultivation “in the woods” for themselves and their neighbouring farmers.150 In the latter case they were paid for the labour. The Madras Census Report of 1901 also records the chief occupation of most Malasars to have been “hill cultivation and day labour”,151 but unlike a century ago when Buchanan passed through the region, they were now seen to be growing food-crops for themselves on land “given” to them “free of rent” by “landlords”.152 In return, they worked for the ‘landlords’ who exercised “absolute control over them.”153 Instead of gathering herbs, food and other items from the forests, they were now employed for ‘game-tracking’ and taming wild elephants. Several of them were now also engaged as “baggage coolies.”154 They were also, however, according to the Report “proverbially lazy,” and spending a large proportion of their wages on alcohol.155 They were reportedly “not to be depended on in any way,” as they were said to “desert en masse on the smallest excuse.”156 Several Malasar communities were also by now feared for committing “dacoities” near roads on the foot of hills.157 The fact that these ‘forest tribes’ were two among many such peoples who were being, and would continue to be dispossessed of the lands they lived and worked on as a result of social, political and economic changes that had been going on for several 149 Ibid. 150 Ibid. 151 Ibid at 395. 152 Ibid at 396-397. 153 Ibid at 397. 154 Ibid at 396. 155 Ibid at 397. 156 Ibid at 396. 157 Ibid. The word ‘dacoit’ is used for bandits in India and is the anglicized version of the Hindi word ‘daku’. 51 centuries, is not acknowledged in any of these written historical records.158 These records are not, however, the entire or only histories of the Eravalans or Malasars. In fact, as will become clear from the oral histories presented in Chapter Six, this is not exactly or entirely how they remember and narrate their pasts. 2.2.3 Settlers and Others Among other residents of the two hamlets are members of the Scheduled Castes,159 as well as some Muslim and Ezhava families. The last two are included in the category of Other Backward Classes (OBC) in Kerala.160 Most of these non-Adivasis are referred to as ‘settlers’ by Adivasis. Most recent settlers have built homes on small pieces of land allotted by the state government under various schemes introduced in furtherance of its ‘land to landless’ policy. While some residents are the original allottees, others have bought lands sold by allottees. Some moved here a couple of decades ago, while others only a couple of years ago. Different communities among the ‘settlers’ who have arrived over the last few decades are sometimes referred to as ‘malayali’, or ‘mappila’. The word ‘malayali’ 158 See Darley J. Kjosavik & N. Shanmugam, “Property Rights Dynamics and Indigenous Communities in Highland Kerala, South India: An Institutional-Historical Perspective” (2007) 41:6 Modern Asian Studies 1183–1260, where the authors offer a brief overview of the manner in which Adivasi dispossession in certain regions of Kerala began with land being brought under the control of temples between the sixth and fifteenth centuries, and how it continued under the landlord-chieftain regime (1400-1766), the Mysore regime (1766-1792), the colonial period (1792-1947) and in post-colonial India. 159 Scheduled Caste is defined in the Indian Constitution as “such castes, races or tribes or parts of or groups within such castes, races or tribes as are deemed under article 341 to be Scheduled Castes for the purposes of this Constitution.” See Constitution of India, Article 366 (24). Several groups included in this administrative category that identifies target groups for affirmative action belong to castes formerly referred to as ‘lower castes’ or ‘untouchables.’ Many such groups, however, self-identify as dalit, translated as oppressed or broken. 160 The category of Other Backward Classes identifies groups and communities for affirmative action within individual states in the country. As in the case of Scheduled Tribe and Scheduled Caste, a group or community may be classified as an OBC in one state but not in another. 52 generally denotes the linguistic identity of people who speak the Malayalam language.161 In Plachimada it is used mostly while referring to non-Adivasi Hindu settlers. Occasionally it was used to refer to Muslim settlers in the area. Otherwise, the word ‘mappila’ is used to refer to Muslims in the area.162 Many settlers have or are in the process of building brick walls for their homes, although most have thatched roofs. A couple of settlers, who have recently bought land or started small businesses around the plant, live in modest concrete homes. Unlike the ‘settlers’, the other group of non-Adivasis who live in the area are the wealthy landowners who have been in the area for generations. The Hindu landowners with ‘upper caste’ last names common in Kerala are referred to either by their individual names, or as jenmi.163 Muslim landowners are also referred to either by individual names or as ‘Rauther’,164 or Pattanis’.165 More recent Hindu landowners of Tamil origin are 161 In the rest of the country, especially in north India, the word ‘Malayali’ is generally used to refer to a person who belongs to the state of Kerala. The Adivasis, at least in these hamlets, do not refer to themselves as Malayalis, even though the hamlets are in Kerala, and most of them can converse in Malayalam. Similarly, Adivasis who speak primarily Tamil do not refer to themselves as Tamil. 162 The words ‘mappila’ or ‘mopla’ are frequently used in Kerala. A Gazetteer published in 1908 describes ‘moplas’ as a “race of converts to Islam” that lived in the Malabar. Edward Thornton, A Gazetteer of the Territories Under the Government of the Viceroy of India 1799-1875, Revised and edited by Roper Lethbridge & Arthur N. Wollaston (London: Allen & Co., 1886) at 557. 163 Jenmi or janmi is a reference to one of the stakeholders in land or one of the persons who had hereditary authority over land under the traditional system in regions now known as Kerala. In addition to these “upper caste” landholders, other stakeholders were the intermediaries who managed the lands, the actual cultivators, and finally adiyars or bonded labourers considered to have been attached to the lands they worked on. The privileges and rights exercised by jenmis as well as the obligations of other stakeholders were governed by local custom in each area or village, with no standardized form across what is now known as Kerala. Jenmis were not absolute owners of land to the exclusion of other stakeholders to begin with, especially before the 19th century when the British colonial administrators misinterpreted the land tenure system in the region. See K. N. Ganesh, “Ownership and Control of Land in Medieval Kerala: Janmam-Kanam Relations During the 16th -18th Centuries” (1991) 28 Indian Economic Social History Review 299. See also B.A. Prakash, “Agricultural Development in Kerala from 1800 AD to 1980 AD: A Survey of Studies” (June 1987) Working Paper No. 220 Centre for Development Studies, Trivandrum at 8, 16. 164 Rauther was generally used to refer to Muslims who speak Tamil and follow Tamil cultural practices. 165 As per a local legend the word ‘pattani’ is a derivative of the word ‘pathan,’ which in turn refers to the Pashto-speaking Pashtun people of what are now parts of northern Pakistan and Afghanistan. A young woman I met near Plachimada traced the ancestry of her family to ‘pathans’ with a sense of pride. Some ‘evidence’ in support of this that was pointed out to me by her and others is the extremely light skin tones 53 referred to as ‘Gounder’ or ‘Goundon’. A large concrete house with brightly painted exteriors located almost at the edge of Plachimada colony belongs to a family that is said to own substantial farmlands in the area. They were described as ‘upper caste’ Hindus. The men in the family are simply referred to as ‘Gounder’ by the residents of the colonies.166 Some of these landowning groups have their own histories that go back a century or more in the area. For example, the Muslim ‘Pattani’ landowners, as per local legend, arrived in this area in the early to mid-eighteenth century when the area was ruled by Hyder Ali, the emperor of Mysore, and later his son, Tipu Sultan. None of these groups of non-Adivasis in the area are referred to as ‘outsiders’. That word is used for non-residents such as researchers like me, activists, news reporters, and various other kinds of visitors who have made their way to Plachimada over the past decade. The relations between all these groups of people – Adivasis, settlers, jenmis, Gounders – are inevitably complex and dynamic. Class, caste, religion – all constitute multiple combinations of ‘us’ and ‘them’ here, as they do elsewhere. Marriages between members of different castes, and between Adivasis and Hindu and Muslim ‘settlers’ are not common, but do take place. One fact that emerged from my many conversations in the area is, however, that many non-Adivasis here (as in other parts of the country) believe that Adivasis need to change in order to become like everyone else. Several Adivasis too think they have to ‘learn’ from the ‘malayalis’ and the settlers. The accounts in the following chapters reveal more about the past and present relations between these of pattanis as compared to others in the area, and their traditional skills as horsemen. Pattanis have a significant presence in parts of Palakkad and Chittur. 166 ‘Gounder’ or ‘Koundan’ was described to me as a caste title. Gounders are said to belong to a Tamil community. In this region they are mostly landowning farmers. 54 groups of people, as well as the interesting ways in which the protests against Coca-Cola has brought all of them together on a common platform. 2.3 Change Every Adivasi elder and a very large proportion of the younger members of the community I met in the various colonies either works or has worked on the farms in the area. Their relationship to these lands and their understanding of their work and that of their ancestors is a more complex story recounted in Chapter Six. Now they receive daily wages for working in the farms, but many remember the time when they received a measure of grains every week that more often than not, did not last a week. Several non- Adivasi ‘settlers’ in the colonies also either work on farms in the area or find work on construction sites in nearby towns. A few work in what was referred to as a ‘thread factory’ not far from the place, while some have found jobs as drivers or are engaged in other similar temporary work. For many of these residents, the rumours of a ‘factory’ being set up in the area had held the promise of permanent and better-paying jobs close to home. While Coca-Cola obtained the necessary administrative approvals, certificates and clearances under an expedited Single Window Clearance process introduced in Kerala in 1999,167 none of the residents of Plachimada or Vijaynagar were consulted or even informed of the proposed plans to set up a beverage plant right next to their homes, on land many had lived and worked on for as long as they remembered. Some residents heard that ‘a company’ had bought the land. Some recall rumours of a ‘big company’ 167 The Kerala State Single Window Clearance Boards and Industrial Township Area Development Act of 1999 mandated that Boards set up for the purpose at state and district levels provide necessary clearances to industries within a period of 45 days. This expedited and simplified process is aimed at attracting industry to the state. See the website of the Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation: <http://www.ksidc.org/>. 55 being set up in the area. No one, however, had any idea about what the company produced at the time. A man who sold a small part of the total land bought by Coca-Cola mentioned that an agent negotiated the sale, and that he learned who the buyer was only at the time of registration of the sale.168 According to him, at the time he and the other small landowners were given to understand (it is not clear by whom) that the company would employ those who sell their land. He now feels cheated, as this did not happen. Some Adivasis in the area who were also approached refused to sell the very small pieces of land on which they live. That appears to be the reason Coca-Cola ended up with an irregular eastern boundary wall that goes some way around the Adivasi homes in Vijaynagar. Kecharan, an Adivasi man told me that they refused to sell their land simply because “[t]his is the place where [they] have been living.”169 He said that money offered by the company did not matter as they “cannot go and live in another place.”170 Even with regard to the situation today, he says that while they cannot leave this place, the company can easily buy land elsewhere. Several other Adivasis echoed the same sentiments. These repeated references to living and dying ‘here’ were an early indication to me about the significance of questions of land and displacement in the protests against Coca-Cola. As will be clearer in Chapters Five and Six, this insistence on not leaving by the Adivasis relates to who they are and how they understand their lives as an inseparable part of the place and everything else that belongs here, including the land, water and trees. Maariamma belongs to one of the Adivasi families who had been working on the lands bought by Coca-Cola since what she describes as “the time of our fathers”, a 168 Interview with Ramesh. 169 Interview with Kecharan. 170 Ibid. 56 general reference to their ancestors.171 Work on the land was the only source of income for most members of these families – men, women, elders, and until some time ago, children. They were therefore concerned about losing their livelihoods. The former owner, who according to Maariamma had to sell the land because the family needed money reassured them before he moved his family to their “family home” in a nearby town.172 He had said they would continue to live with the company as they had been living with him. Some others in the hamlets recall being told that the company would even pay more wages. None of them however knew anything about what those jobs would be or even when they would be available. After the lands were sold, some Adivasi men went to other places to find work temporarily. Some men and women found work on nearby lands. Meanwhile the work on what was now the ‘company land’ began with clearing and leveling. Maariamma recalls that the “tamarind trees were cut down from their place” and “big rocks removed”.173 And then, she recalls: “[t]hey brought in [a vehicle] and made the paddy fields and the kkad174 as one.”175 Kkad here refers to the land not under paddy cultivation. She had earlier explained that groundnuts were grown on some of the land, while a small part of it was also covered with shrubs. To a woman who has worked on this land all her life, it clearly was not just a piece of land, or any piece of land. It was a place with trees and rocks she lived around; it was a place where she and others in her family, as their ancestors before them, had sown and harvested crops. Despite being enclosed by walls 171 Interview with Maariamma. 172 Ibid. 173 Ibid. 174 The word kkad, as I have explained before, is often translated as forest, but it was also translated as uncultivated land, barren land where only dry shrubs grow, and even used to describe a grove. 175 Supra n. 171. 57 now, the company’s land was a part of, and connected to the same place as the small plots of land on which the Adivasis live. It was part of the same place where their wells are. It is clear from my many conversations in the hamlets that in those early days no one expected things to go wrong as they ultimately did. Maariamma’s face lit up when she spoke about the bright lights on the company’s premises. Her expression conveyed the excitement of that time. “We were very happy”, she declared, “when all these lights were put up.”176 After all, as she explained, there were no lights there “for all these years”.177 For others, especially the young men in the hamlets, the prospects of working in a company held out new possibilities for their future. In the words of Ottukan, an Adivasi man, “[p]eople thought that they will be respected when they go to work in the company.”178 He further explained that ‘society’ values people working in a company more than it values people who work on farms. Jobs in a company were regarded as more prestigious. At the time, many Adivasis were “willing to go there for work”, just like the non- Adivasi residents of the area.179 Initially a few of them found temporary employment on daily wages while the plant was being constructed. But they quickly learnt that there would be no jobs for those who had no or little formal education. Some say the company was only willing to hire those who had passed grade ten. This basically meant that a majority of the Adivasis, who had dropped out of school at an early age to work on the farms in order to help their families make ends meet, were ineligible. 176 Ibid. 177 Ibid. 178 Interview with Ottukan. 179 Interview with Maariamma. 58 Some non-Adivasis who did find employment in the company, however, say that jobs were available and not just for people with formal education. They, as most other ‘settlers’ in the two colonies, were initially opposed to any action against Coca-Cola. Some readily acknowledge this fact, even as now almost everyone in the area is ‘with’ the struggle against the company. Many of the non-Adivasi residents were initially happy with the company and what came with it, namely, a more prestigious and possibly permanent ‘company job’, electricity and televisions. All however confirmed that this was before their water turned bad. Every Adivasi I spoke with insisted there were no jobs for them. Attukaran, a young Adivasi man, recalls that initially there was talk of some jobs for residents of the hamlets, but after about six months it was clear that the company was hiring only those with a ‘degree’ or ‘qualification.’180 The following words of Rajan, a sixty-five year old Adivasi man, essentially echo what most others said: I didn’t know that the company was offering jobs at first. Later I learned that there are no jobs for our people since we have no proper education. We were told that only people with proper education would get jobs. People who have gone to school.181 The manner in which several Adivasis spoke about this exclusion suggests a sense of betrayal and injustice. They had, after all, expected to live ‘with’ the company, as they had lived with the farmers who sold the land to Coca-Cola. Most of them, who had been born on that land and had been working on it for as long as they could remember, found it hard to understand how they could be separated from it. The meaning of ‘living with’ for Adivasis will become clearer in the context of Adivasi lives and histories in this area 180 Interview with Attukaran. 181 Interview with Rajan. 59 presented in the following chapters. I mention it here to indicate the early sense of betrayal they experienced. Since they did not have a real choice in the matter of their formal education (or the lack thereof), and no say in the change of the land use from agricultural to industrial, they naturally see the denial of jobs as unfair. Having lived and worked on these lands for generations, their lives are inseparably connected to the place. Being forced to look for work farther away from their homes, especially work for which they often do not have the skills, has had serious consequences for the community. A few younger men have been forced to move to other places, leaving behind aging parents who are unable to find any employment in the area. Others, who cannot imagine a life away from this place, try to find daily wage work in nearby fields or construction sites. Many women with young children, who could earlier carry their children with them as they worked on farms all around their homes, are now unable to find work. Elders, who were also working on the land earlier, now find it extremely difficult to find suitable work. Despite the sense of betrayal, however, there appears to have been no anger or resentment against the company over the denial of jobs initially. As with the other things the ‘outside world’ (an expression the Adivasis use often) seems to be telling them – about their clothes, rituals, beliefs, attitudes – they seem to have decided to accept this exclusion from job opportunities, at the time, as another thing that indicated that they are responsible for what is perceived as their ‘lack’. Several said to me that they are trying to learn the ways of the settlers, and repeatedly referred to the community’s commitment to formal education for their children. 60 Formal education, however, cannot be separated from their lives. It appears that an education that does not respect their past, their beliefs, and their vision for the future would hold little meaning for many of them. To continue to live together as a community is very important for them, as some Adivasi elders and leaders emphasized. Kothandan, an elder in Madhavan Nair Padhy said: “[a]long with education, community living – living with others – makes a difference.”182 His meaning becomes clearer with what he said next: “[p]eople in the company are selfish.”183 Formal education, no matter how ‘proper’ it may be considered by the rest of the world, becomes meaningless when it fails to teach people to live together. Unlike the Adivasis who thought they could live ‘with’ the company, Coca-Cola, despite all the formal education acquired by those who run it, did not come here to live with anyone. It came here for the land and for their water. This is not the kind of education the Adivasi elders wish for their children when they say: “[t]he coming [next] generation should get a better life. This samaram is not for us.”184 2.4 How it all Started Sudha, a teacher at one of the local anganwadi pre-schools in the area remembers the day several parents came to the school accusing her assistant of feeding undercooked meals to their children. They said that many children had been sick because the lunch served in school was not cooked well. Some parents even shouted at the teaching assistant. That’s when Mylamma, a well-respected Adivasi woman, described by Sudha as one who “people listened to”, intervened.185 In the course of the discussion that 182 Interview with Kothandan. 183 Ibid. 184 Interview with Otukan. 185 Interview with Sudha. 61 followed, everyone acknowledged that lately the food did not cook well in their homes either. That is how, Sudha recalls, it all started. Attukaran, an Adivasi resident of Vijaynagar says: “[a]t first we didn’t feel anything. After some time, there were small changes in the water.”186 Several people describe the same changes that residents had begun to notice. At first, it was the food. Rice took much longer to cook, and unlike before, rice cooked in the morning spoiled by afternoon. They also started noticing a white residue on the insides of the cooking pots. And then the water in their wells began to look, feel and taste different. Wells are the traditional source of water in this region. There is a common ‘panchayat well’ in Vijaynagar,187 but many of the Adivasi homes have shallow open wells beside them. Most of these wells are described to be only about “two-men” deep,188 but they have been a perennial source of water for drinking, cooking, washing, bathing, and other domestic purposes. Madhavan Nair Padhy, the cluster of huts to the north of the Company land, also has a well. There are some wells near Plachimada as well. People living closer to the highway used to walk to a well near the Kannimari check-post to fetch water. Those who live further away from the State Highway, mostly Adivasis, have been drawing water from nearby wells. The canal that passes by the fields, to the north of Plachimada, Coca-Cola and Vijaynagar, is used primarily for irrigation. On some days young women and children can be seen bathing in the canal as well – a welcome break, no doubt, from the heat. The ‘canal-water’ is however, not used for drinking or cooking by the Adivasis. For those purposes, they only trust the ‘well-water’. Some said this was because one could not be sure of what might be in water that comes from another place. 186 Interview with Attukaran. 187 This is the deepest well in the hamlet, and is maintained by the Perumatty Grama Panchayat. 188 Interview with Attukaran. 62 Every person I spoke with in the hamlets said water in their wells (some of which are located a few meters from the boundary wall of the Coca-Cola plant), was affected some time after the company started functioning. Everyone – Adivasis and non-Adivasis, those who worked for the company at the time and those who did not, people who decided to do something about it, and others who were against any action, the ones who blame the company and want it out of the place, and the very few who choose not to ascribe responsibility – everyone agrees that their water changed some time after the company started functioning. Amma, an Adivasi elder woman whose niece lives near the Coca-Cola plant, recounted how at first they thought that the bitter taste of the water from the well next to her niece’s home was due to the leaves of a neem tree beside the well. They cut off the overhanging branches of that tree to prevent any leaves from falling into the well. Since that didn’t change anything, they started discussing the matter with others in the hamlet. That is when it was realized that it was not just the water in that one well that had turned bitter. Everyone else felt the water tasted different as well. Not only was it not sweet as before, it also felt different. The water now made the hair on their heads “stick together”.189 Soon even adults began to complain of stomachaches. Some even began to notice rashes on their skins. A man whose wife watered plants in the Coca-Cola premises for some time, mentioned how her hands and feet were infected in places that came in contact with that water. He says everywhere the water came in contact with her skin it caused discoloration and itching. He also remembers a foul smell from the water he saw being filtered inside the premises. Several others talk about the unfamiliar smell in the area generally, while 189 Interview with Amma. 63 many describe the increasing frequency of rashes. There also appeared in the area at the time some “big leeches” or leech-like creatures that no one had seen before.190 And then, the levels of water in their open wells reduced drastically. No one remembers the water level falling to that extent ever in the past. After a while, in the words of Amma, an Adivasi elder, “[t]here was a situation like even though water is there but nobody can drink it.”191 There were many signs that indicated that their water had changed. This is how Amma explained some of the changes: If water is there, there will be fish in it. If fish is there, there will be frogs. There will be all living things that live in water. The fish in the water was dying. Frogs dying.192 What they had now was water that they could not drink. She added that it was “just like dead water.”193 2.5 Water Water sustains life – a fact known to everyone. It is repeated like a mantra countless times at conferences addressing the ‘global water crisis’. The fact is emphasized in innumerable articles and books on water. Water is described as pure, or polluted, potable or not. It is possible to figure out the exact quantity of impurities and specify at which point it becomes unsafe for consumption. Water can be a torrential rain or a picturesque waterfall. I know, like everyone else, that water gives life, and that it also takes life. But never had I thought of water as a live or dead member of a place, in the manner described by Amma. Her meaning becomes clear not only in the words she used, 190 Interviews with Sudha and Rajan. 191 Interview with Amma. 192 Ibid. 193 Ibid. 64 but in the manner she spoke as well. She spoke of water as if she were talking about a person, not a thing. This became even clearer as the interview with her was being transcribed. Listening to the interview later on, it emerged that although Amma had used the words ‘dead water’, these words were interpreted at the time of the interview as ‘dead body’. It seemed, at the time, that she was speaking about a person, leading to a significant mistranslation during the interview. When Amma says “a nadu cannot survive without water”,194 she understands, as does anyone who knows about the interconnectedness of life on earth, that water is essential for life. But her understanding differs in a significant way. That water is essential as it sustains life, and water is a living member of a place, are two different ways of relating to water. In understanding water as a live member of a place Amma believes it should ‘live’ for that reason too. Making water “just like dead water”195 is not simply violence to the humans and animals who need it to live, but more crucially, for Amma, it appears to be a violence to water itself. This understanding is significant in order to appreciate why water is not simply water here. It holds meanings that are connected to lives in ways that are not always clear, unless one listens carefully. It took me a while to notice that while I spoke about water, people I was speaking with always referred to particular waters. It is not water as such that they spoke about, but well-water, lorry-water, canal-water, dam-water, tap- water, and of course, the company-water. Each of these has a distinct meaning and significance. These waters could not be treated at par, as if they were all just water. 194 Interview with Amma. 195 Ibid. 65 These distinctions, never clearly articulated, but always present in responses to particular questions, explain a lot about Adivasis in this place and their responses to the changes in the place after Coca-Cola’s arrival. It adds another dimension to the reasons why many Adivasis here dislike the lorry-water now being provided to residents by the government. The ways in which their reliance on the lorry that brings potable water to the hamlets has disrupted their lives is obvious. Unlike the time when they could draw water from their wells whenever they needed it, they now have to wait for the lorry to arrive in the afternoons, and then collect enough water to last a couple of days. More often than not, it is women who are responsible for collecting water for their families, and therefore, have to forego work and wages. Since most residents are daily wageworkers, it is not hard to imagine the hardship this inability to work every day causes. Moreover, now they also have to buy more pots to store the water. As mentioned before, since the pots have to be constantly carried back and forth from the place where the lorry stops, everyone in Plachimada and Vijaynagar now prefers the lighter plastic pots to the traditional clay ones that break easily and have to be replaced more often. Metal pots, the only other option, are heavier and unaffordable for most. While these are significant reasons that explain why the Adivasis here dislike the lorry-water, they don’t tell the whole story. As several Adivasis point out, they don’t know where the lorry-water comes from. The source of that water is not in front of them to see, and that makes it hard for them to trust it. They worry about giving such water to their children. That is also the reason they will not use the canal water for drinking or cooking. Their unease emerges in many ways – some say there might be dead animals or other such things in the water that comes from far away. It cannot be trusted for that 66 reason. Some do not wish to give any reasons, and simply say they will never take lorry- water. The significance of this sense of disconnection from the source of water also offers a way to understand why Adivasis in the hamlets rejected the company-water, i.e. water that Coca-Cola brought in lorries for a while after the protests began. At one point during the proceedings in the Kerala High Court, the company had offered to supply drinking water in the hamlets. The High Court had also incorporated a direction to this effect in its order while allowing the company to continue to function.196 Adivasis had however refused to take this company-water, which even though also brought in lorries, was not simply lorry-water. It was company-water, and they preferred to walk longer distances to fetch well-water. Company-water evoked a different response than lorry or canal water. It appears to have been unacceptable because it was connected to the company, which they have learnt is selfish, unwilling and incapable of living with others. Instead of becoming a part of their place, it turned their land into a desert. When the Adivasis say they need and want water, they don’t want just any water. What they are saying is that they want the water in their wells. The well-water is significant because it is connected to, and connects them to the land. As Kothandan, an Adivasi elder emphasized, they don’t want lorry water or water pumped from rivers and supplied through pipes. In his words: “That water, we don’t want. Our water, the water in our compound [is what] we want to take and drink. That is what we want.”197 To make it easier for those of us who may still not understand, he has this to say: “We want water 196 See Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Pvt. Ltd. v. Perumatty Grama Panchayat, 2005(2) KLT 554, para 54. 197 Interview with Kothandan. 67 from this place. This water, don’t take”.198 This is clearly not how Coca-Cola understands water as apparent from the fact that it continued to extract millions of litres of water from the place every day even as the wells around its plant were drying up. Coca-Cola has all along denied any responsibility for the depletion of groundwater in the area. It has relied on scientific reports with data on rainfall, water tables and so on to refute other reports and other data that indicate that pollution and depletion of water were caused due to the company’s operations. Something that none of these reports has determined is what Coca-Cola’s presence in the place has done to the Adivasis’ relationship with water. This is so perhaps because this cannot be determined only by testing the water, but rather by listening to what people say and why. I was struck by how many of them repeated an expression over and over again – water was right there, but you could not drink it. It was perhaps something they had never imagined possible, and could not relate to. Water that comes from another place (like canal-water) can be suspect, but not water in your own well. This was clearly a new, unfamiliar and discomforting way of being with or living with their wells. The water was there but not the same. Just as the land was there but not the same. In a place where everything is seen as connected with each element sustaining all the others, these were significant changes. What I want to draw attention to here is an experience of injustice that has not been articulated so far in any of the many stories told of the Adivasi protests in Plachimada. Coca-Cola’s presence in the place has separated those who live in the place from all that was familiar to them. The land they have lived and worked on is there, but in significant ways it is not the same land anymore. Walls now enclose the only source of livelihood for many of them. Similarly, their water is also still there but they cannot 198 Ibid. 68 drink it anymore. These separations are significant for people who see themselves as part of a whole, for people who have their own ways of relating to the place, and of living in the place. Can this separation from a familiar way of life ever be compensated for? The answer to this question is often easy for most people who have never had to give up their homes to make way for a factory or other similar symbol of ‘development’.199 Displacement, it is believed, is a cost that must be paid by some. Often this displacement is even perceived as a path to better lives for the displaced.200 The answer to this question is not as easy for those who stand to lose the most and yet rarely get to voice their opinions. In Plachimada, the response to the issue of compensation is not only in what the Adivasis say about compensation, but also in the pauses and the search for words that often precede their responses. It is in the stories they tell about themselves, others and the place. 2.6 Protest As the residents of the area around the Coca-Cola plant struggled to understand the changes in their water, and the rapidly increasing health problems, they also watched all the lorries carrying beverages out of the plant. They started talking about the number of bore wells on the ‘company land,’ and of their water being sent to other places. There was a strong feeling in the community that the company was responsible for the changes they had all been noticing. Some of them approached the company. They had expected to 199 For critiques of ‘development’ understood primarily as catching up with the developed West see Wolfgang Sachs, ed., The Development Dictionary: A Guide to Knowledge as Power (New York and London: Zed Books, 1992). See also Arturo Escobar, “The Making and Unmaking of the Third World Through Development” in Majid Rehnema and Victoria Bawtree, eds., The Post-Development Reader (London: Zed Books,1997); Balakrishnan Rajagopal, “Counter-hegemonic International Law: Rethinking Human Rights and Development as a Third World Strategy” (2006) 27:5 Third World Quarterly 767; Parmar (2008), supra n. 2. 200 See Narmada Bachao Andolan v. Union of India, 2000 INSC 518; AIR 2000 SC 3751. 69 resolve the issue as they resolve other matters within the community by sitting together and talking to each other.201 Kannan, an Adivasi leader, recalls that the company’s ‘manager’ agreed that the scarcity of water was a result of the functioning of the company. In fact, according to Kannan, the manager they spoke with even said that it was natural for such a company to affect the water within the radius of 2-3 kilometers around its premises. He also told them that the company usually provides employment to locals in order to compensate for this, but they were not bound to do that here. Most significantly, Kannan recalls the manager saying that “[t]here is no relation between public and the company” and that they must not go to it with their problems.202 By now, it was clear to them that contrary to what they had been told, the company was not there to live with them. It was felt at the time that something had to be done, but the decision to protest was not made easily. Maariamma remembers clearly the evening Kannan and some other young Adivasi men visited her home to seek her permission and support. She recalls the anxieties and the discussion at the time about taking on a big company with “land enclosed by walls”.203 In the end they decided to go ahead, mainly because they were by then convinced that Coca-Cola was responsible for both the depletion of water in their wells and for all the other changes. As Amma explained, “a nadu cannot survive without water”.204 They felt that something had to be done before their land turned into a desert, and they were forced to move. They had to ensure that the company leaves, because, as many of them repeat, over and over again, they will not leave. 201 Interviews with Maariamma, Kothandan, Kannan. 202 Interview with Kannan. 203 Interview with Maariamma. 204 Interview with Amma. The word ‘nadu’ is translated as territory, country, land, and also as a place including all that is connected to it and to each other. 70 According to some Adivasi leaders, it was around this time that they asked Subramaniam, who self-identifies as a social activist and is from a nearby village, to join them. He has lived and worked in the area for many years and knew about the water scarcity. He had accompanied many of them to the nearby medical clinics and to the hospital in Palakkad, and was aware of the ill effects of the polluted water on their health. As it later turned out, he was also able to garner the support of non-Adivasis in the area. Once a decision to do something was made, they first approached the Perumatty Grama Panchayat, which is the elected local village council of the area. It is the Panchayat that had granted Coca-Cola the license to operate in the area. At the time the Panchayat refused to take any action against the company. A couple of local politicians intervened following a token one-day strike, after which the company agreed to provide drinking water to the residents of the hamlets. Some residents believe that only those who worked for the company could take the company-water. As mentioned before, the company-water was not acceptable to many Adivasis. Moreover, they were convinced by that time that the company had to leave. It could not stay in that place any longer because it had “made [their] land a desert.”205 The Adivasi leaders decided to begin sustained protests against the company. An Adivasi Samara Samiti (translated as Adivasi Struggle/Strike/Protest Committee) was formed for this purpose.206 Mylamma, a grandmother, and respected elder was selected as the leader. Several Adivasis actively involved in a local Adivasi organization called Adivasi Samrakshana Sankham (Adivasi Protection Council), a group that according to 205 Interview with Maariamma. 206 The word samara or samaram is translated as struggle, protest, movement, and even strike. Sometimes the word was translated differently in the same sentence by different people, indicating that both the context and the translator’s understanding of the context play a role in the meaning that emerges. 71 one of its leaders came together to find answers, were in the forefront of the protests. Subramaniam, who was described as a patron of the organization at the time, was to provide advice and help in garnering support. Initially many non-Adivasi residents of the hamlets were opposed to the Adivasi protests, even as everyone agrees that the depletion of water was a cause for concern for everyone. Most residents of the area do not wish to speak about the early reactions to Adivasi protests now. There appear to have been a range of reasons for the initial reluctance. Some, like the Adivasis themselves had been, were not sure about taking on a big company. The few who were employed by the company must naturally have worried about losing their jobs. To some who had moved here recently from other places or were more familiar with the functioning of industrial units the situation had not, however, appeared to be any different from many others. Amma spoke about the insults hurled at them by some non-Adivasis in Plachimada and Vijaynagar as they went around asking for support. Others also mentioned that they had to initially face ridicule and contempt from their neighbours. This was, however, before the Adivasi protests turned into a janakeeyam samaram or a people’s struggle. While not representative of how every non-Adivasi may have felt, an encounter on my first day in Plachimada offers some clues to the initial reactions to the Adivasi decision to protest. An elderly woman stopped to enquire if Shiny and I were from the census department. Upon learning about my research, she blamed the Adivasis for creating trouble. Even before I knew what she was talking about, I was taken aback by the look of contempt on her face. She mentioned that her community had been happy with the company. It even gave them water, she added. 72 Almost every one I spoke with in the hamlets, including members of the old woman’s community, confirmed their support for the Plachimada struggle. Many of them decided to join in once the Adivasi Samara Samithi was renamed as Coca-Cola Viruddha Samara Samati or Anti-Coca-Cola Struggle Committee. This change was necessary because many did not wish to support an Adivasi struggle. In the words of Ramesh, owner of a small local business, who now supports the struggle: “If the struggle was done in the name of Adivasis we cannot join them.”207 He did not explain further, but his words become significant when seen in the context of the fact that the words ‘Adivasi struggle’ are generally associated with the longstanding demands by Adivasis in Kerala for restoration of their lands that are currently occupied by non-Adivasi settlers.208 An ‘Adivasi struggle’ would understandably be a cause for concern for the settlers. While not always articulated, the anxiety that mention of alienated Adivasi lands produces is visible in many ways. Almost always, the responses by non-Adivasis to my questions about Adivasi struggle for lands in Kerala were preceded by one or more of the following: frowns, narrowing of eyes, shifting in chairs, tightening of face muscles, or silence on the other end of a phone line. I was often asked why this issue was relevant for my research. Opposition from the non-Adivasi residents was not the only challenge the early protestors had to face. Before the Panchayat came on board, the local administration and police too appeared to be on the company’s side. Those who sit in the samara pandal often point to a picture that hangs there while speaking about the time when, from their perspective, the police had protected the company. The picture is a shot of a large posse 207 Interview with Ramesh. 208 The Adivasi struggle for alienated land in Kerala is discussed in detail in Chapter Seven. 73 of policemen in front of the Coca-Cola entrance. The policemen are facing the camera and the samara pandal, and do appear to be protecting the company’s premises behind them. While speaking about the police, Adivasi men and women also describe how they were once beaten, rounded up and taken to the police station in Chittur.209 Women speak about their saris being pulled and blouses ripped as the police attempted to disperse the protestors gathered in front of the company premises. While most of the men and women taken to the police station were allowed to leave without being formally charged after some time, a few were charged for obstructing traffic and other related offences. As these cases continue to drag on in the local court, every time the accused are required to attend proceedings, they have to lose work and wages for a day. Despite all the challenges, the Adivasi protestors persisted. They continued to sit outside the plant demanding that Coca-Cola leave their place. As it began to get more and more difficult to ignore the depletion and other unwelcome changes to the water, other residents joined the protestors under the banner of the Plachimada Anti-Coca-Cola Struggle Committee. As the protests continued, the Perumatty Panchayat too stepped in and passed a unanimous resolution to not renew the company’s license. Coca-Cola decided to temporarily suspend operations in early 2004. Its plant has been closed since then, a fact widely celebrated as a significant success for the people’s movement in Plachimada. 209 See “Anti-Coca-Cola Agitators Arrested, Released Later” (9 June 2005) The Hindu, online: < http://www.thehindu.com/2005/06/09/stories/2005060903050700.htm>, accessed: September 20, 2010; and “500 Arrested in Rally Against Coca-Cola in India” (9 June 2005) India Resource Centre, online: < http://www.indiaresource.org/>, accessed: November 30, 2005. 74 Today the Plachimada Struggle has the support of individuals from many parts of the world, as well as scores of local, national and international organizations that subscribe to a range of ideologies. As set out in detail in the following chapter the dispute has brought together religious organizations, scientists, writers, nationalists, and anti- globalization activists, who have all found common cause in demanding the ouster of Coca-Cola. The basic issue as framed through social and political action is that of the violation of a community’s right to its water by a powerful multinational corporation. 2.7 State Response to the Resistance Movement The sustained social action and relentless media coverage ultimately left the government of Kerala no option but to take the protests seriously. Not only is it an active participant in the litigation related to the dispute today, in May 2009 it also constituted a High Power Committee headed by a senior officer of the state administration to investigate the nature and extent of damage caused by the Coca-Cola plant in Plachimada. On March 22, 2010 this Committee submitted its report that indicates that the cola company had caused damages amounting to Rs. 216.26 crores [$ 48 million] and was liable to pay compensation to those affected.210 This report is based on the evaluation of various earlier reports, and consultations with scientists, lawyers, and others with expertise in environment, health and water. The members of the Committee held a public hearing in the area in that I attended. The Committee also asked for submissions of claims by those who had been affected. While I was in the village, volunteer students from a local college along with their teacher had helped the villagers fill out the claim forms. The Committee acknowledges in its report 210 Report of the High Power Committee presented by its Chairman K. Jayakumar to the Government of Kerala, March 22, 2010. 75 that “no amount of money can be true compensation for the damages incurred” by those affected, but emphasizes that compensation could be seen as an acknowledgment that “people have been wronged”.211 The Report also recommends the setting up of a separate tribunal or another statutory authority for adjudicating individual claims.212 Coca-Cola had at the very outset challenged the constitution, legality and jurisdiction of this HP Committee,213 and predictably, it has also repudiated its findings.214 Despite some support for the company from the Commerce and Industries department of Kerala,215 the Kerala State Cabinet accepted the report of the High Power Committee on June 30, 2010.216 The state proposes to set up a special tribunal to determine individual claims for compensation, and to this end the state legislative assembly passed the Plachimada Coca Cola Victims Relief and Compensation Claims Tribunal Bill in February 2011. The Bill is currently awaiting the President’s assent. Despite these differences between departments of the government (partly a consequence of coalition politics in Kerala, and partly a reflection of the internal ideological dilemmas that have plagued the Communist Party of India), the position taken 211 Ibid at 5. 212 Ibid. 213 Ibid at 4. 214 Narayan Laxman, “Coca-Cola's response disappoints Plachimada activists” (23 April 2010) The Hindu, online: < http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/article408788.ece>; P. N. Venugopal, “End of Plachimada battle. Or is it?” (30 April 2010) India Together, online: <http://www.indiatogether.org/2010/apr/env-plachmada.htm>. 215 The Principal Secretary of the Industries department in Kerala submitted a detailed note to the Cabinet raising questions about the findings of the HP Committee’s report. In his note he is reported to have recommended that the unit be allowed to reopen, and that any violation of specific laws by the company be dealt with by “initiating action under those laws.” An adverse impact on the flow of private investment into the state, and the “overall prosperity” of the state, are some of the reasons he has cited against any attempts to hold the company liable for damages. C. Gauridasan Nair, “Industries Department slams Plachimada report” (29 June 2010) The Hindu, online: < http://www.thehindu.com/2010/06/29/stories /2010062954230400.htm>. He has also publicly expressed regret over the fact that the “Coca-Cola unit could not be saved.” The Chief Minister of Kerala, however, clarified later on that those were not the views of the government. See “Chief Secretary to look into official's controversial statement on Coca-Cola” (26 May 2010) The Hindu, online: < http://www.thehindu.com/news/states/kerala/article438655.ece>. 216 “Tribunal to adjudicate compensation to people affected by Coca-Cola plant” (30 June 2010) The Hindu, online: < http://thehindu.com/news/cities/Thiruvananthapuram/article493750.ece>. 76 by the state suggests that the overall current environment in Kerala might make it harder for the plant to reopen. As one of the activists involved pointed out to me, unlike before when the state was considered to be supporting the company, now on “[o]ne side [is] the Coca-Cola Company, and [on] the other side, the state, community, Anti-Coca-Cola Struggle Committee, Plachimada Solidarity Committee, Pollution Control Board, Groundwater [authority], and other state apparatus, are together.”217 2.8 The Litigation Coca-Cola has denied any wrongdoing or liability all along. When the Perumatty Panchayat refused to renew its license to operate in Plachimada, the company initiated legal proceedings against it. The many administrative and legal proceedings that followed are described in detail in Chapter Four. In brief, in 2003 a judge of the Kerala High Court ruled in favour of the Panchayat. Coca-Cola successfully appealed this decision. The Panchayat, the Kerala State Pollution Control Board and Coca-Cola have all gone in appeal against this decision to the Supreme Court of India where all the appeals are currently pending adjudication. The legal battle over the dispute in Plachimada is primarily between the Perumatty Grama Panchayat and the Coca-Cola. This is often described as a battle of the small against the big: the story of a small village council with very few resources fighting a multinational giant that reports a net income of millions of dollars.218 This story of a 217 Interview with Vasu. 218 In the year 2010 the company reported a net income of USD 11,809 million. See The Coca-Cola Company, ‘2010 Annual Review: Advancing Our Global Momentum’ online: < http://www.thecoca- colacompany.com/investors/annual_review_2010.html> Accessed: August 2, 2011. See also C. Surendranath, “Coca-Cola: Continuing Battle in Kerala” (10 Juky 2003) India Resource Center, online: <http://www.indiaresource.org/campaigns/coke/2003/continuingbattle.html>, accessed: July 3, 2012, where the author notes that the “Coca Cola story in Plachimada is reminiscent of David versus the mighty Goliath.” 77 local body that did not have enough funds to meet the expense of litigation launched by Coca-Cola is a significant one. The litigation raises important issues related to rights and powers of a village panchayat, which is the foundation of the self-governance model of the Panchayat system in India. A decision from the Supreme Court on this matter is likely to have a significant impact on the future of decentralized system of governance in the country. Many residents of the hamlets surrounding the Coca-Cola plant did not say much about the litigation. The straightening of backs and clearing of throats that followed any mention of ‘court’ during my conversations with some men in the area indicated a discomfort and perhaps an unwillingness to comment. Those who offered a comment regard the litigation to be a matter between the Panchayat and the Company. Kannan, a prominent leader remarked “there was no case now.”219 Given that concerns that are fundamental to why they want the company to leave have not been articulated in the litigation, it is not difficult to understand why an Adivasi would feel there is now ‘no case’. Some residents do believe that the Panchayat is fighting for them too. However, none of the Adivasis, some who are even named as respondents in some of the petitions, have ever been to the High Court of Kerala in Ernakulam or to the Supreme Court of India in New Delhi. The ways in which the courts and their proceedings are far from the lives of the Adivasi protestors will become clear from the accounts presented in the following chapters. 2.9 The Samara Pandal As described above, the samara pandal faces the large gate to the Coca-Cola premises from across the state highway. In English language reports it has also been 219 Interview with Kannan. 78 described as the ‘vigil hut’. As the word pandal suggests, the samara pandal was meant to be a temporary structure,220 but it has now been standing in the same spot for ten years. During the numerous hours I spent in the samara pandal I learned about the range of meanings the structure has acquired over the last several years both for those who built it and those who visit it. These meanings are connected to many stories: of Adivasi women who sit there everyday; of women and men who stop by the samara pandal as they go about their everyday lives; of other pandals that have been built and taken down; of Adivasis who refuse to sit here any more. Other meanings also emerge from stories that ‘outsiders’ tell of the Plachimada struggle. Many of these meanings will emerge more fully as the stories unfold in the following chapters. Maariamma and Keyi are two elder women who sit in the samara pandal everyday. At times they are joined by other women – Adivasi and non-Adivasi – who stop by for anywhere between fifteen minutes and several hours during the day. Sometimes men too stop by to enquire about Maariamma’s health or to chat for a few minutes. Keyi joins in the conversations occasionally, but on most days she prefers to listen to the conversations. Maariamma, on the other hand, never seems to tire of talking. She also loves to pose riddles, mostly short verses that are extremely difficult to figure out, but almost always have simple answers connected to everyday lives of people here. To me these were constant reminders, as such things are, of my outsiderness. Maariamma believes, as she said on many occasions, that humour and laughter are signs of life – of being alive; a fact that her person represents more than her words. Of the many moods of 220 The word pandal usually refers to a temporary structure like a shed built for a specific purpose. It has been described as a “[t]hatched shed put up for temporary purposes” in T.K. Velu Pillai, The Travancore State Manual, vol. 4 (Travancore: Government of Travancore, 1940) at 810. Temporary canvas sheds erected by protestors or those ‘on strike’ are a common sight throughout Kerala. 79 Maariamma I witnessed, her wide smile and joyful, almost soundless, laughter are what comes to mind every time I think of her. Maariamma has been sitting in the pandal from morning until late evening for over six years. On days that she is sick or tired she lies down on the worn-out mat or the bare wooden cot. The rest of the time she just sits there, on the mud floor that is plastered every alternate day, sometimes looking out on to the road, or at the Coca-Cola gate. At other times she sits with her back to the road and to the Coca-Cola plant. Sometimes she looks at the pictures hung on the walls, remembering, re-living those moments when famous people stopped by to lend their support. The samara pandal is where all the people with questions about the famous Plachimada struggle stop by. She tells them stories she has repeated more times than she can remember. Many visitors in the past, she recalls, brought their cameras. Some asked her to walk in front of the Company’s gates, while others asked her to pose with one arm raised. It was awkward in the beginning, before she got used to, and then tired of, all the cameras and all the questions about the Company. On quiet days when not many people stop by the pandal, Maariamma admits she is fed up of sitting here, and tired of re-telling the story. Tired also, she says, of waiting for the company to leave. But she is proud of her role as a leader of the community and takes her responsibilities as a leader very seriously. The pride shows on her face when she talks about the evening when Kannan and other Adivasi young men approached her to talk about the protests. Even today she remains committed to their demands for removal of the Coca-Cola plant from their place. It is not easy for her to sit in the pandal all day every day. This eighty-six year old woman would rather work in the fields than 80 rely on others for food and her other few requirements. But despite all this, she remains committed because, she says, once they decided to take action, they have to stay together in this fight. This is why she wishes for the return of those who left the pandal. 2.10 A Separation In August 2006, four years after the protests against extraction of water by Coca- Cola were formally launched, some Adivasi leaders decided to part ways or, as it is often described, separated. All the Adivasis who ‘left’ the samara pandal had been at the forefront of the protests against the company. They were the ones who had been strongly in favour of initiating action against the company, when many were worried about the consequences of taking on the big company that had enclosed land with walls. Mylamma, the woman who had spearheaded the agitations, helped build the pandal, and travelled across the state and beyond to speak about issues that mattered to her community and to garner ‘outsider’ support, was the one who led those who had eventually left. Every Adivasi in the area today remains committed to the expulsion of Coca-Cola from the place, but those who separated refuse to sit in the samara pandal. In this close- knit community, this separation, as many Adivasis refer to it, has caused immense pain. This pain showed in the eyes of Maariamma and other elders much before any of them decided to speak about the separation. It was in the silence or the tears that often followed the mention of some names. Sometimes it was in the worried expression on Maariamma’s face as she looked in a certain direction, the significance of which I was unaware of at the time. The story of the separation, set out more fully in Chapter Five, is a complicated one. Defying a neat narrative, it is not a story with a well-defined beginning, middle and 81 end. It is instead an assortment of events that offer a deeper understanding of the Adivasi protests. It is also an illustration of the extent to which Coca-Cola’s presence in Plachimada has disrupted the lives of its residents, and of the fact that not everything that has been destroyed in Plachimada can be made whole again; that it would require more than monetary compensation to put together all that appears to have fallen apart in the place. The events and narratives surrounding the separation have been the hardest for me to write about, but it is through my struggles with them that I have begun to understand the motives of many who have chosen to exclude the separation stories while speaking or writing about Plachimada. I have chosen to include it because I gave my word to several Adivasis who shared so much about their lives with me and asked for nothing other than that I write their stories. I promised to write them as best as I understood them. The accounts of separation are an inseparable part of the other stories unfolding in and around Plachimada, and necessary for a fuller understanding of the dispute. 2.11 Water, Protests and Meanings What the protests in Plachimada mean to those who started them is what I had set out to discover through this project. Meanings of the protests against Coca-Cola for Adivasis and their many supporters emerged over long conversations with many of them. They emerged not only from what the respondents said about water or about Coca-Cola, but from all the other things they spoke about, or were hesitant to speak about. One thing that I hope the multiple accounts presented here will show is that such disputes over 82 water are misconstrued if they are understood as events in themselves, unconnected with past struggles and events.221 The Adivasi protests are for water, but also for land, education, jobs, respect, and inclusion in decision-making. All of this they desire to find ‘here’, in the place they have lived and worked in since the time there was no one else here. The protests are therefore also about not having to leave. That, however, is not possible unless the Company leaves. As Kothandan, the elder from Madhavan Nair Pathy said after a long conversation, as if to ensure I did not miss what was most important: “We are here. We are not going to go anywhere. The company should be taken away. The company should be taken away. That is all about the samaram.”222 221 See Amita Baviskar, ed., Waterscapes: The Cultural Politics of a Natural Resource (New Delhi: Permanent Black, 2007). This is a collection of studies that indicate that such struggles are “simultaneously struggles for power over symbolic representations and material resources.” See at 1. In this volume, see especially David Mosse, “Ecology, Uncertainty and Memory: Imagining a pre-colonial irrigated landscape in South India” in which Mosse uses ‘oral histories of water and rule’ to note the symbolic or representational nature of such struggles; and Lyla Mehta & Anand Punja, “Water and Well-being: Explaining the gap in understandings of water” where experiences of displacement of Adivasi groups in Gujarat are presented to suggest that struggles over water are not just about access, but are also struggles of meaning (at 209). The position that struggles have situated meanings that are at times lost in legal accounts has also been convincingly illustrated in Thomson, supra n. 72. 222 Interview with Kothandan. 83 3 A People’s Movement 3.1 Plachimada: A Peoples’ Resistance Movement In this chapter I present the popular accounts of what has come to be known as the Plachimada Movement or Plachimada Struggle. In drawing attention to these accounts, my purpose is two-fold: to highlight the concerns and commitments that underlie the immense support received by the protestors in Plachimada over the years, and to indicate how the commitments and strategies of various translators have shaped the popular understanding of the dispute.223 The fact that not only the initially reluctant, and some even hostile, non-Adivasis in the area, but also numerous organizations at the district, state, national and international level, support the demand to oust Coca-Cola from Plachimada today, is an indication of the success of the committed people who self-identify as ‘social activists’, ‘human rights activists’, ‘anti-globalization activists’, ‘health activists,’ ‘environmental rights activists’ and ‘peace activists’. Like the Adivasis who began the protests, they too want Coca-Cola to leave, and many of them continue to work tirelessly towards that end. It is difficult to say at this stage – a decade after the fact – what course the Adivasi protests against Coca-Cola in Plachimada would have taken without this support and advocacy. What can be said is that the commitment of these self-identified activists and other supporters to what they generally refer to as the Plachimada Struggle or the Plachimada Resistance Movement is impressive, noteworthy and inspiring. 223 For the role of activists as translators who reinterpret global ideas into local terms as well as render local stories into more politically persuasive terms, see Merry & Stern, supra n. 45. See also Herring, supra n. 48 for a particularly harsh view of activists and advocacy networks. See also Alpa Shah, In the shadows of the state: indigenous politics, environmentalism, and insurgency in Jharkhand, India (Duke University Press, 2010) where Shah, while pointing to the “dark side of indigeneity” (at 12), critiques the role of activists who adopt global discourses of indigeneity to speak for Adivasis. 84 The individuals and organizations I mention here have been instrumental in drawing attention to the issues in Plachimada, garnering national and international support and ensuring a response from the government of Kerala.224 While doing so, they have also played a crucial role in shaping the popular conception of the meaning and significance of the dispute in Plachimada. In looking more closely at this material my purpose is to shed light on the processes and practices of translation to gain a better understanding of why and how meanings change as many concerned individuals translate local events and issues into a language of rights and resistance. These stories are therefore an important constituent of the larger theme of loss and gains of meanings as complex issues are shaped into abstract claims that appeal to a wider audience. The stories in this chapter, like all others in this dissertation, are framed by fundamental ideas about right and wrong that inhabit the normative universe of their principal actors and presented in languages that they often share with their audiences. These stories represent the personal, professional, individual and collective commitments of many people who have supported the protests against Coca-Cola over the last decade. Unlike the Adivasi stories presented later, the ones in this chapter are the well-recognized popular accounts of the dispute in Plachimada. But this is not the only crucial difference. Unlike the Adivasi stories that are of people in search of answers, the ones in this chapter are essentially of those who believe they have the answers. Many of them are about rights over and to water, an idea that frames the beliefs, responses, choices and actions of many activists, politicians, authors, religious leaders, and reporters. These are stories about ‘rights of’ – local people, local communities, citizens, local bodies; about ‘rights to’ – 224 See K. Ravi Raman, “Transverse Solidarity: Water, Power, and Resistance” (2010) 42:2 Review of Radical Political Economics, 251. 85 water, life, environment, common property resources, local self-governance and regulation and management of resources. They are also stories about the range of at times over-lapping legal rights available today – democratic rights, constitutional rights, statutory rights, international human rights – revealing in their invocation the sources that endow these rights with authority and legitimacy. Other ideas that feature prominently in these popular stories are those of resistance, capitalism, globalization, and corporate control over water and resources. All these words and concepts represent the dispute in particular and important ways. Conspicuous by their absence are the more complex themes that recur in Adivasi stories presented in Chapters Six and Seven: relationships of belonging, the injustice of past displacements, fear of losing homes, familiar ways of life and livelihood, fear of losing children and families, and of continuing social and political exclusion. It is these elements, central to the Adivasi accounts of the dispute that have been eclipsed in the popular, well-documented and well-meaning accounts by their translators. As will be clear later, this reframing of their concerns, and denial of opportunity to present their stories in their own terms, has contributed to the sense of betrayal experienced by Adivasis who left the samara pandal. In the following section, I begin with stories of those who have led and actively supported the protests in Plachimada within and outside Kerala. These are individuals and organizations who got involved at the time of or soon after the decision to commence sit-in protests outside the Coca-Cola premises was made, and continue to extend their support for many reasons and in many ways. The third section offers an account of the wider support received by the protestors and the global ideas that are connected to 86 Plachimada. I then present accounts of the dispute that emerge from what has been written about it. Here I take a closer look at the manner and extent to which the protests have been reported locally, nationally and internationally, often by groups and individuals sympathetic to demands of closure of the Coca-Cola plant. In the fifth section of this chapter I draw attention to some practices of translation before offering some concluding thoughts in the last section. The accounts presented in this chapter are based mainly on interviews and a study of various published texts. Of the six interviews with those who identified as activists, three were conducted in English, two in Malayalam, and one in both Malayalam and English. Of the two interviews with local politicians, one was conducted in English, and the other in Malayalam. A large proportion of the media reports and other activist literature are available in the English language. In addition to these, I also collected and read translations of many articles, news reports, campaign posters and notices published in Malayalam. 3.2 Activists and Organizations in Kerala A large number of organizations have supported the Plachimada Struggle over the last decade. The Plachimada Coca-Cola Virudha Janakeeya Samara Samithi (Plachimada Anti-Coca-Cola Peoples Struggle Committee), also often referred to as the Coca-Cola Virudha Samara Samithi (Anti-Coca-Cola Struggle Committee), has been at the forefront of the agitations ever since it was formed in May 2002.225 This committee is comprised of a group of people who live in the area, mostly Adivasis, but also others, who came together to do something about the hardships caused by the Coca-Cola plant in 225 “Anti Coca-Cola Agitation – Plachimada: 1000 Historical Days” Compiled by Haritha Bhumi, (Jan 2005) 1:7 Keraleeyam 29-40 [trans. Praveen Hariharan]. 87 Plachimada and have been actively involved in the agitations against the company. While earlier reports mention Kannan, an Adivasi leader, as the convener of this committee, it is Subramaniam, a non-Adivasi activist, described as the patron of this committee, who is considered by most as the one involved in all decision-making.226 Another name that often appears in the media, public notices, and court records is that of the Plachimada Solidarity Committee. Its convener describes it as support group. It is an informal coalition of “many mass organizations, people’s movements, civil society movements, youth organizations, [and] political parties” that work together, in a “democratic” manner, in support of the agitators under the “umbrella” of Plachimada Solidarity Committee.227 This group has indeed played a very significant role in keeping the issue alive outside Palakkad, especially in the state’s capital. By some accounts there are a hundred or more large and small organizations that have supported the agitations in many ways in the last ten years. A remarkable aspect of the anti-Coca-Cola struggle is in fact that organizations and individuals ascribing to many different, at times even conflicting ideologies and faiths have sustained the protests for several years without an organizational/institutional base, or any regular funding arrangements. Water, more specifically strong reactions to denial of water – described by many as the source of life – seems to have played a significant role in bringing all these people together. Many of these organizations continue to actively participate in the agitation, while a few have parted ways with it. The Plachimada Solidarity Committee and Plachimada 226 Subramaniam has also been described as the chairman of the Plachimada Samara Samithi (Plachimada Struggle/Agitation Committee), which I was told is the same as the Plachimada Anti-Coca-Cola Struggle Committee. 227 Interview with Vasu. 88 Anti-Coca-Cola Agitation Committee continue to coordinate the support of several of these organizations. But there are many that have come forward on their own to express solidarity by either visiting the samara pandal or through independent press statements or actions. Some names I came across during my research (listed in alphabetical order) are: Adivasi Gothra Mahasabha [Adivasi Grand Assembly], All India Kisan Sabha [All India Farmers Assembly], All India Peoples Resistance Forum, All India Youth Federation, All India Bank Officers Association, Centre for Folklore Studies, Democratic Youth Federation of India, Greenpeace, Farmers Protection Committee, Gandhi Yuva Mandalam [Youth organization] State Committee, Jamait-e-Islami Kerala, Jananeethi: Peoples’ Initiative for Human Rights, Kerala Anti-Liquor Committee, Kerala Council of Churches, Kerala Sasthra Sahitya Parishad [Kerala Forum for Science and Literature], National Alliance of People’s Movements, National Peoples’ Rights Committee, People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Revolutionary Youth Front, Solidarity, Vanditavalam Developmental Youth Society, Vikas Adhyayan Kendra, Youth Congress Working Committee, Viplava Streevadi Prasthanam [Revolutionary Feminist Movement], Yuvajana Vedi – the youth wing of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist). While this is not an exhaustive list, it is representative of the range of organizations involved. As the names suggest, some are religious organizations, while others are affiliated to a national or local political party. Several are non-governmental organizations committed to human rights generally, or to particular social causes or political ideologies. The nature and extent of the involvement of these organizations varies greatly. Some have issued statements in solidarity with the protestors, or provided logistic support, while others have visited Plachimada and organized protest marches. Some groups have 89 chosen their own independent ways of expressing their support. For example, organizations and institutions involved in research have conducted studies and published reports, while literary societies have staged street plays and other events to raise public awareness and garner support for the agitation. There are also many individuals who are not associated with any specific organization, but have volunteered, helped raise funds, or participated in protest marches and sit-ins in Plachimada. Several have spoken and written about it, working tirelessly to raise awareness about the issue, and garner public support. Some activists have organized events, like those held on each anniversary of the day the agitation was officially launched. They have spent time meeting with public authorities and lawyers. They have questioned decisions taken by the State government and have demanded that it take action. A few have contributed their personal savings as and when required to support protest marches or other events. During the early phase of the agitations, some activists were also arrested and charged along with Adivasi protestors. Some activists have supported the Plachimada struggle even in the face of threats to their personal safety. Subramaniam is one of them. He describes himself as a “human rights activist” who has been participating in “the struggles of the people” in Kerala for over three decades.228 He has been associated with the Peoples Union for Civil Liberties for a long time, and has also served as the General Secretary of the organization’s Kerala unit. His tireless efforts in local environment protection and anti-liquor movements are recognized and commended at events that he is regularly invited to speak at. He also supports local agitations against what he describes as “cultural deterioration”.229 But his 228 Interview with Subramaniam. 229 Ibid. 90 commitment to social justice runs much deeper than supporting public protests. It shows in the things he does every day. For the past several years Subramaniam has been helping residents of the hamlets in the area deal with crises of various kinds, and it is therefore hardly surprising that he was with them when the water crisis began. His work in the area involves such things like accompanying a farm labourer’s family to the police station to ensure their complaint against those who abducted their nine year old daughter is registered, helping to get a sick Adivasi man to a hospital in the nearest town and making sure that man gets treated; arranging a vehicle to take an old woman to the land records office, helping those who do not read or write to fill out forms so they can apply for pensions and other things, and submitting those forms to appropriate authorities. The significance of such service for those who seem to have been forgotten in a nation’s pursuit of a stronger global presence is obvious to anyone who spends even a few days in the area. And it is this service that has endeared Subramaniam to the Adivasis and many other communities in this and neighbouring areas. Many address him as ‘elder brother’, and regard him as family. As mentioned before, Subramaniam is the chairman of the Plachimada Struggle Committee. Other activists, media reports and legal documents, also identify him as the patron of the Coca-Cola Viruddha Samara Samithi (Anti-Coca-Cola Struggle Committee). He has been in the forefront of many protests and events organized in Plachimada, and continues to work tirelessly to garner support for the struggle. In fact some other non-Adivasi activists I met decided to join in the early days of the protests only because of their faith in Subramaniam’s long commitment to various causes in the 91 area. It is not surprising, therefore, that many believe that he started it all. Several Adivasis also regard his early and continuing support as invaluable. After decades of working and living among marginalized communities, it is perhaps not surprising that Subramaniam does not have too many expectations of the political parties, or the state administration. He is also not sure about what to expect from the formal legal processes. Judges, according to him, “don’t know anything about the local people.”230 But he has tremendous faith in “people’s power”.231 He sees this as a “democratic struggle” that, despite the “illiteracy and backwardness of the area,” will win against an influential “multinational corporate giant.”232 People’s power, he feels, will ensure that Coca-Cola leaves not only the village, but also “the nation”.233 Subramaniam was not among those who celebrated the setting up of the Coca- Cola plant in the area as a sign of ‘development’. This is not surprising given his ongoing every day battles with inequalities that continue to be overlooked. He had doubts about the promise of jobs, elimination of poverty, and the general prosperity for the area that Coca-Cola held for many. The company, as it turned out, proved him right. He had always had doubts about the promise of prosperity, but did not know that the wells would also dry up. According to him, it was only after the water around the factory became unfit for drinking and began to cause “different diseases” that the “local peoples” realized that he had been right.234 He recalls that they first formed an “action committee.”235 Initially 230 Ibid. 231 Ibid. 232 “Peoples Fight for Justice”, trans. Jiss Verkey. This interview was published in Malayamam. I have not included the complete reference to the source in order to protect his identity
UBC Theses and Dissertations
Claims, histories, meanings : indigeneity and legal pluralism in India Parmar, Pooja 2012
Notice for Google Chrome users:
If you are having trouble viewing or searching the PDF with Google Chrome, please download it here instead.
If you are having trouble viewing or searching the PDF with Google Chrome, please download it here instead.
- 24-ubc_2013_spring_parmar_pooja.pdf [ 2.45MB ]
- JSON: 24-1.0073483.json
- JSON-LD: 24-1.0073483-ld.json
- RDF/XML (Pretty): 24-1.0073483-rdf.xml
- RDF/JSON: 24-1.0073483-rdf.json
- Turtle: 24-1.0073483-turtle.txt
- N-Triples: 24-1.0073483-rdf-ntriples.txt
- Original Record: 24-1.0073483-source.json
- Full Text