There was a news day before yesterday that there are seventy dollar billionaires in India with a combined wealth of about 180 billion dollars and among them the top five control about 85 billion dollars. At the same time an analysis of the large sample consumer expenditure survey conducted by the National Sample Survey Organisation in 2010 reveals that the proportion of households unable to purchase enough food and other necessities like clothing, shelter and education for healthy living is as high as 75 per cent. That means that not only are there high levels inequality between the super rich and the poor but that even within the super rich there is a high concentration of wealth. This huge rise in inequality coincides with the high growth rates of the economy achieved since the mid 1980s. Thus, it is evident that the growth that has taken place over the past three decades has been highly unequal.
The Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath began organising the Bhils from the early 1980s and the process picked up strength from about the mid 1980s and so the work of the KMCS has paralleled the high growth phase of the Indian economy. The rights mobilisation by the KMCS has enabled the Bhils to cash in on some of the growth by demanding and getting some of the resources being spent by the State and also being able to get better prices for their agricultural produce and their labour. However, since overall the policies of the State are skewed towards the super rich and the riches flowing to them are also further enhanced by high level corruption, even after doing better than they had earlier, the majority of Bhils remain firmly placed at the bottom of Indian society labouring their guts out as migrant workers in construction sites.
But what is of the highest concern is that the development process over the past three decades or so has deeply stratified a society that was fairly egalitarian before. There are now dollar millionaires among the Bhils who have acquired their wealth through cornering political power and monopolising activities like mining, bootlegging, land sharking, gun running and the like. In the same way as the Dollar billionaires, and especially the top ones among them, are respected and adulated by the mainstream society for having amassed their wealth, regardless of the means they have used to do so, so also the Dollar millionaires among the Bhils are respected by the common Bhils and the aspirations of the youth have now become to acquire wealth by hook or by crook and the traditional communitarian cooperation is being increasingly jettisoned.
The worst sufferers of these changes are the women. Anyway, Bhil society is patriarchal and has a custom of bride price in which the groom's family has to pay the bride's family a certain amount when marriages are solemnised and women are generally treated as objects rather than as persons and subjected to patriarchal oppression. Now with consumerism and monetarism the bride prices have shot through the roof further objectifying and commodifying Bhil women and increasing their oppression. Gender based violence has increased and rapes which were few and far between earlier are increasing. Witch hunting, is also on the increase. This is a retrograde practice wherein women are arbitrarily accused of using black magic to cause harm to the health or economy of a household. Earlier, such practices and disputes would be kept under control by the tradtional Panchayat system but with the monetisation of the society and large inflow of funds, the traditional Panchayat system has been sidelined and now the elected Panchayat system has become more powerful. The aggressive marketing of the idea that concentration of wealth in the hands of those who create wealth, that is the entrepreneurs, is good for the economy and society has gripped the imagination of the poorest of the poor among the Bhils also. Consequently along with wealth creation most of it is getting concentrated in the hands of the crooks who have manipulated governments and society at large to their benefit and the majority are living wretched lives and the environment is degrading at an alarming rate. We need to become independent from this myth of wealth creation which is actually producing illth of all kinds!!!