In October 2019, the most recent conflict over Mumbai's Aarey colony came into national prominence when the city's municipal corporation took advantage of a Bombay High Court order confirming that the area did not fall into the legal category of a forest, to fell trees and clear the area for the construction of a car shed for the city's metro rail.
For many years, this area has been a site of conflict between the city's need to expand and urbanise further, the environmentalists who value Aarey's biodiversity and green cover, and the people who inhabit its 12 villages, including the 27 tribal hamlets in which several adivasi communities live.
Earlier that year, the multilingual and socially conscious hip-hop collective Swadesi had released a music video in collaboration with Prakash Bhoir, an activist and a leader among the adivasis of Aarey. The song was a clarion call to resist the cutting down of trees in the Aarey colony and a critique of India's model of economic development.
"We don't like your fake development, nor do we trust you thieves,
To build a metro you're killing the trees,
How will you breathe when they're gone? The jungle and sky are my home,
You come here, mess with us, and destroy our home,
Nature has lost its worth for man but she gave birth to us."
The song was titled, "The Warli Revolt". The name recalled a series of events in 1945.
Around the beginning of the nineteenth century, like many adivasi and forest-dwelling communities around India, the Warlis of Maharashtra found themselves dispossessed of their traditional communal lands and forest resources, and in conditions of humiliating indebtedness and slavery. But in 1945, not far from Mumbai, they rose up in protest to demand an end to the worst aspects of their enslavement - and they succeeded somewhat.
How did this community, mischaracterised as timid and unsophisticated, organise and articulate their political demands? What are the memories of this resistance that survive in today's adivasi struggles? On this episode of the Nagrik Podcast, we learn more about the political techniques and strategies of the Warlis from Professor Indra Munshi and Professor Archana Prasad.
Professor Munshi led the department of sociology at the University of Mumbai and is the author of several works on India's adivasis. Professor Prasad is at the Centre for Informal Sector and Labour Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, and the author of the book, Red Flag of the Warlis - History of an Ongoing Struggle, which has been published by Left Word Books.
Anadya Singh, "Prakash Bhoir is fighting for the Forest", RoundGlass
"Meet this lover of the Aarey forest, Prakash Bhoir", Sabrang India
The Warli Revolt ft. Prakash Bhoir by Swadesi, Azadi Records
Listen to Swadesi on Audible
Interview with Prakash Bhoir on the Aarey Colony and about the Forest Rights Act, Adivasi Lives Matter
“Home of Warli adivasi revolt, Talasari's loyalty to the left deepens”, Indian Express
Indra Munshi, "Tribal Women in the Warli Revolt 1945-47-Class and Gender in the Left Perspective", Economic and Political Weekly
Godavari Parolekar, "Revolt of the Warlis", All India Kisan Sabha
Archana Prasad, Red Flag of the Warlis: History of an Ongoing Struggle, Left Word Books