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Ulka Mahajan

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It is clearly an understatement to say that tribal populations are treated with indifference in India, and Ulka Mahajan would certainly not disagree.

A post-graduate from Nirmala Niketan in Mumbai, Ulka Mahajan has since 1990 been dedicating her life to the struggle of tribal populations, primarily to the primitive Katkaris. To address the local and most pressing issues facing them, Ulka Mahajan formed Sarvahara Jan Andolan (SJA) in the Raigad district, Maharashtra. The main question addressed by SJA is related to land – land misallocation and displacement of populations. In a region that highlights the contrast between urban development and rural crisis, numerous inequalities fuel Ulka’s struggle. Indeed, although the average literacy level of the district – 76% – is well above the national average, most of the dalit and tribal villagers are illiterate.

Furthermore, they lack proper health facilities, and feel their rights are trampled by the bicephalous association of governments and private corporations. Industries are in fact developing along the national highway, and rural populations feel they are losing control of their natural livelihood resources – namely forests. At the core of Ulka Mahajan’s struggle is the flip-flopping of the government regarding the allocation of Special Economic Zones (SEZ) to corporations such as Reliance or Jai Corp, which obviously outspend local farmers and landowners in this territorial feud. In 2011, the government decided to return the land to the locals, after having previously allowed corporations to set up their projects. It remains today a very tense situation, at the confluence of geopolitical, social and economic interests.

Involving tribal groups in the democratic process is one of the greatest challenges facing the Indian nation, and Ulka Mahajan has made it a point to hold power structures accountable for the people treading on the margins of society.


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