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"Do whatever you can do for the empowerment of our people. Surely, you can be a change maker. But will you?"

Interview with Gladson Dungdung, an Adivasi activist from Jharkhand in India


Gladson Dungdung is a Human Rights Activist, Writer and Motivator. He is the author of a book “Ulgulan Ka Sauda”. He comes from the Indigenous community of Jharkhand. His family was displaced during the construction of Kelaghagh Dam situated at Simdega and his parents were brutally murdered in 1990 when he was only 12 years old therefore he had to undergo through a long struggle. Finally, he was able to complete the Post Graduate in Human Rights from IIHR, New Delhi and 18 months Internship Programme in Public Advocacy from the National Centre for Advocacy Studies, Pune. He is associated with the various People’s movements. Presently, He is also the Convener of Jharkhand Indigenous People’s Forum and Founder Secretary of Navjeevan Foundation.

Livio: Johar Gladson, welcome to joharadivasi.org and thank you for sparing your time to be with us… please tell us something about yourself.

Gladson: Thank you Livio. I belong to Kharia Adivasi community. I come from a village called Lathakhamhan situated at a distance of 20 kilometers in south from the district headquarter of Simdega. I have one elder brother and two elder sisters. Our sufferings begin from the ‘Kelaghgh dam’, which is the most beautiful dam constructed on Chhinda river in Simdega district of Jharkhand. A village called Bernibera was my ancestral village situated at a distance of 5 kilometers in the eastern part of Simdega and close to the Dam. We are one of those unfortunate victims of Bernibera village faced displacement while construction of Kelaghagh Dam. My family was well-off as my grand father, Jakarias Kharia had 20 acres of fertile land in the village and he was also working as a teacher in a government primary school. He had also purchased another 10 acres of land in a village called Lathakhamhan, where he used to teach is a school with a dream of making a good life for his two sons by settling them in two different places so that there would be no chances of any conflict between them. But his dream was washed away by the dam. The land of Bernibera village was submerged in the dam and he was given merely Rs. 11,000 as compensation for 20 acre of land.


Finally, we had no option than settling down in Lathakhamhan village, where we had 10 acres of land. The land of Lathakhamhan village was divided between two brothers-my elder father Mangaldas and my father Isaac, which led to a huge division in the family. Though Mangaldas survived because he got the government job as teacher in place of my grand father but we suffered the most as we had no alternative. All these happened when I was just one year old. The conflict in family increased for the property day by day which lead to the brutal killing of my parents in 1990. We all kids left the village and lived with our relatives in different places. As usual they started treating us like servants. I was put in an Adivasi Hostel in Simdege in free of cost. But my batch mates started humiliating. They I left hostel and went back to my village, where I lived with my uncle. Somehow I completed my matriculation but unable to get admission in college due to lack of Rs. 250. Consequently, I lost two valuable years. I migrated to Patna and started serving tea, cleaning office and toilet. I got my first salary Rs. 500 in November 2005. It was really amazing. I got admission in college but never attended as I had no time for it. The survival was my first question to address. Finally, I completed graduation and also had a huge experience of working with social change organization.

Once I was also caught by the People’s War Group and they locked me in a room but after a long discussion they liberated me. In between I learnt typing, computer and project management. In 2002, I was selected for an internship programme on public advocacy in Pune. I was shocked on the first day as the lecture was in English and you hardly get one Hindi book in the library. I though that I may not survive in the institution but knew that this is the only opportunity to change life and the opportunity never comes twice. That night only I decided to do hard work – day and night. I planned well and followed it up. Just after three month, I wrote an article on the issue of discrimination in English “the bird called equality”, which was published by the Indian Currents. There were huge compliments and praise for me from the all corners; I went far ahead from my batch-mates, who had come from the bigwig English medium colleges. I did a research on impact of forest policies on tribal people of Orissa thereafter I got many job offers from the international organizations but I wanted to work for my people in Jharkhand therefore I landed to Ranchi and founded Navjeevan Foundation. I have done 450 fact findings on police atrocities and human rights violation. I have trained 2000 professionals on Human Rights including Police Officers, Lawyers, Journalists, Teachers, Doctors, Psychiatrists, Elected Representatives and Social Activists. I have also written about 200 articles (in Hindi and English) on the issues of Indigenous rights, displacement, Human Rights, land alienation and social change published by various leading dailies, weeklies and web portals.

The Kelaghagh Dam

Livio: You witnessed the construction of Kelaghagh Dam situated at Simdega and were displaced, tell us how or what inspired you to carry on the education.

Gladson: I belong to a well educated family. My grandfather was a teacher and well known social activist as well. Later on, my father’s elder brother also became teacher and my father was selected for the Air Force but my grandmother does not like him to go for it therefore he opted a job in the Block Development office. Since, we had 30 acres of agricultural land in two places (before the construction of Kelaghagh Dam); my father left his job and went for the cultivation as per suggestion made by his elder brother. But unfortunately, the tide turned after the construction of Kelaghagh Dam and the well-off family was washed away. My parents knew that only the education can bring back us in the right track again therefore they suffered a lot to ensure our basic needs till they were alive. They had built up the foundation in our mindset and behaviours. Therefore, I suffered a lot after my parents were brutally killed but my target was to complete my education and I was aware that only education can change my life so I did it.

Livio: Now that you are a Human Rights Activist, tell us something what exactly Human Rights Activist means in simple language?

Gladson: See, the Human Rights was made global on 10th December, 1948 after the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Then, it was decided that all the members’ county must incorporate the UDHR in their constitutions. The basic Human Rights in India are rights to live, right to freedom, right to equality and right to dignity of individual guaranteed by the Constitution of India (in Preamble, the Fundamental Rights and the Directive Principle of the State Policy), embodied in the international covenants (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1976 and International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights 1976) and enforceable in the Courts of India. The people who work for the protection and promotion of Human Rights are called as Human Rights Activists. The one who wants to become a human rights activist, the person must have to be well equipped about the human rights, international standards and domestic laws. It is very challenging because often you have to face the police, the bureaucrats and bigwigs as they are the most human rights violators as well as law enforcement agencies.

Livio: You have written a book “Ulgulan Ka  Sauda”, tell us something about it.

Gladson: This book is all about displacement. The focus is on the steel giant Arcelor Mittal, who has singed a MoU with the Jharkhand government for establishing 12 Mt Steel Plant at Torpa-Kardara region near Ranchi. The company requires 25,000 acres of land and 20,000 Unit water per hour for the plant, which means a Dam will also come up with the steel plant at Koel-Karo, which has witnessed 30 years of people’s struggle, where 8 people had died in police firing. If the steel plant comes up 265 villages will be displaced. Munda, Kharia and Orao Adivasis will pay the price of development but where will they go? What happened in Jamshedpur? It was also an Adivasi dominated area but after establishment of the Tata Steel, the Adivasis disappeared. Where they went? You won’t find them.

The book exposes that how the Arcelor Mittal Company is playing tricks for acquiring the land of Adivasis. The book also talks about why Adivasis are resisting against displacement across the state. It also gives a road map for the development of Jharkhand. My argument is since the land belongs to our ancestors, who are we to sell if. If we are selling our land for the profit means we are also selling our ancestors. How can we do that? Birsa Munda, Talka Manjhi and Sidhu-Kanhu fought to save the land, territory and resources but our so-called Adivasi leaders like Arjun Munda, Babulal Marnadi and Madhu Koda sold the land to the corporate houses merely for the profit. Where are we the Adivasi people heading towards? Is our glorious history of struggle over?

Gladson: I believe, if you are questioning some processes, you should also have options or you should do some practical work to address the issues. We can not just sit idle and question others including the state though it is responsibility of the state to ensure rights of the people. I wanted to do some work for the empowerment of our people. I believe that the present status will not change without people’s empowerment. The educational, social, economic, political and cultural empowerment should go simultaneously. Therefore, I established “Navjeevan Foundation in 2004 with the support of my friends. The Foundation sponsors helpless children for realization of their education and empowerment. We work for the protection and promotion of Human Rights and extend advocacy support to the people’s organizations. We have also started work with the Rickshaw Pullers, Youth and Women. But due to lack of economic support we are unable to take up many issues and go fast. The Foundation is committed to the cause of Children, Adivasis, Dalits, Women and Poor.

Livio: Would you like to share some of your future plans for the development of our tribe.

Gladson: Presently, I have very few resources therefore my focus would be to sponsor more and more children for their education. I’m also planning to start a cooperative for the Rickshaw Pullers at Ranchi and economic programme for women. Apart from these, the perspective building of youth through quarterly youth workshop, strengthening the people’s movement through join action and mobilizing people under the banner of Jharkhand Indigenous People’s Forum. I would continue raise the voices on several issues through my writings, mobilization and advocacy. Later on, I would be working on strengthening of the rural economy based on the development of agriculture, horticulture, livestock, forest produces and traditional art and craft.

Livio: Any message for the joharadivasi.org readers?

Gladson: Let’s rebuild our Adivasi society, which is based on community living, co-existence with the nature, collective decision making, non-profit and equality for all. At the moment, the world is heading towards a critical situation therefore we have to show a road map of inclusive development to the so-called developed people, whose development theories are based on exploitation, injustice and against the nature. Friends, you may have a very good education, an inspiring job, an amazing life partner, a beautiful house and a wonderful car but do you know the most of our Adivasis brothers and sisters can not get good education, their lands are taken away, their houses are broken, they don’t have jobs and they are left to die. Who will think for them? If you don’t bother about your own people, mind you nobody will. They need our support. Do whatever you can do for the empowerment of our people. Surely, you can be a change maker. But will you?

Livio: Thank you Gladson for sparing your precious time to be with us, we wish you all the best for your work and activity that you are doing for the development of our community.

Gladson: It was really a great opportunity to interact with you. Thank you so much.

Source: Adivasi Community Forum, News and Articles

Original article published on July 19th, 2009

About the author

About Gladson Dungdung

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URL of this article on Tlaxcala: http://www.tlaxcala.es/pp.asp?reference=10387&lg=en

TYPHOON ZONE : 26/04/2010