Who is Mahesh Raut?

Who is Mahesh Raut?

Mahesh Raut

Mahesh Raut

Nov 2019

By Mumbai Rises to Save Democracy

“Mahesh is highly loved and respected in all these villages and one with the people I visited. They treated him as if he were a member of their own house!”

Hailing from Maharashtra’s Gadchiroli district, Mahesh Raut is a young prominent activist working for the rights of Adivasi communities in his district. Born in Lakhapur, a small village in Maharashtra, Mahesh completed his schooling from Gadchiroli and moved to Nagpur for graduation. He later went on to pursue higher education from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. On completing his education he worked as Prime Minister Rural Development Fellow (PMRDF) in Gadchiroli. He has tirelessly advocated for laws like The Provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act and Forest Rights Act which protect the democratic rights of indigenous communities against unlawful land grabbing by large corporations. Mahesh has consistently worked to protect and promote the rights of the marginalised within a Constitutional framework. On completion of his fellowship, Mahesh decided to continue working with the Adivasi communities in the State.

Mahesh organised and participated in mass movements to abet the cause of social welfare. He was the co-convenor of Visthapan Vidrohi Jan Vikas Andolan (VVJVA) which ghts against the forced displacement of Adivasis and other marginalised people. As a member of VVJVA, Mahesh organised the Tendu leaves workers from Adivasi communities of the region to sell them directly in the market without the involvement of middlemen.

Along with campaigning for the Adivasis of the region, he also joined the Bharat Jan Andolan (BJA), an organisation started by late BD Sharma. Through his work with BJA, Mahesh has been instrumental in organising people for participative decision making in regions a ected by mining projects, including the Surajgarh mining project.

His work against the atrocities of Police and several State authorities led to several cases being led against him. According to a letter drafted by his PMRDF fellows, the State’s crackdown on Mahesh started from 2013 citing his consistent political engagement as one of the reasons for his harassment. His friend and fellow activist Sohini Shoaib, working in Bihar writes about her visit to Gadchiroli, “Mahesh was highly loved and respected in all these villages and one with the people I visited. They treated him as if he were a member of their own house! Some of them even tried to get me to convince him to get married: they thought he worked too hard and did not take care of his health enough. They hoped that nding a partner would help him feel less lonely, help him balance other aspects of life!”

In 2018, Mahesh was picked up by the Pune Police for his alleged involvement in organising the Elgar Parishad and his alleged Maoist links. He was booked under sections of the UAPA and arrested from his residence in Nagpur. Neither was he involved in organising the Elgar Parishad nor did he attend the 31st December events. His arrest is a clear crackdown of the State on Human Rights defenders who are struggling against the State and Corporation nexus. His contributions to promote and uphold Constitutional rights of the marginalised identities have led him to persecution and consequent imprisonment. His incarceration is a standing testament of the State’s repression of Rights’ activists who protect the values of the Constitution which the same State is trampling upon.

Mahesh Raut (left) and Lalsu Narote. Foto credit: Javed Iqbal/ The Wire

Who is Mahesh Raut?

By India Civil Watch

Lalsu Nogoti, an elected district council member from Bhamragad in Maharashtra is speaking about the work of Mahesh Raut:
“He first came to us as a part of the PMRD [Prime Minister’s Rural Development] fellowship in 2013. He would visit every village with other government officials and meticulously note down grievances and parallelly also research on several village and state-level policies that could come to our rescue. His work in the formative years helped us build our struggles in the coming days.”

Four months after Mahesh Raut was arrested, accused by the state of being an ‘urban naxal’, 300 gram sabhas (people’s councils’) from the two districts that Mahesh worked in, issued a resolution in his support. The resolution lists Raut’s work in the area and the challenges the villages have been facing since his arrest, challenges mostly from private mining operations of large corporations such as Lloyd’s Metal and Energy Limited, Corporate Ispat Alloys, Gopani Iron, and Ispat (Jindal Steel Works) – all of them aided by the strongarm tactics of the Indian state and the presence of a very large paramilitary force in this region. Mahesh Raut, a graduate from one of India’s premier and oldest social science universities, the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), had been working with villagers to highlight the grave injustices being done to them with respect to the implementation of the Provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA) and Forest Rights Act (FRA) in the region for the last six years. Both these laws are central Constitutional guarantees for the right to land and livelihood for India’s rural poor especially the most vulnerable indigenous populations – the adivasis.

The Wire reports that senior activists and members of the gram sabha say Raut was involved in a crucial agitation at the time of his arrest:
“At Surjagad, the onslaught of mining companies has increased in the past years. Raut along with other activists from the region was in the process of filing a petition in the Nagpur bench of the Bombay high court on June 7 and he was arrested just a day prior,” said Sainu Gota of Gatta village, an Adivasi leader and now a member of the zila parishad from the region.

Who Is Mahesh Raut?
Born in Lakhapur village in Chandrapur district of Maharashtra’s Vidarbha region, together with his family he had migrated to the neighbouring Gadchiroli district during childhood. He pursued his initial education in Gadchiroli and then moved to Nagpur for higher education. In 2009, he joined TISS in Mumbai to study social work. The two years at the institute and later a PMRD fellowship upon the completion of his master’s degree in 2011 gave him an opportunity to work on forest rights and other issues (such as organizing against exploitative contractors and large companies to get better rates for tendu leaves – the indigenous tobacco leaves harvested by large numbers of adivasi workers in this region) directly impacting adivasis in eastern Maharashtra.

Mahesh Raut’s commitment to social justice and his personal valuation of social welfare above personal gains has always secured him respect and adoration amongst his peers and community. Thus about 80 former fellows of the PMRD as well as former rural development minister (Mr. Jairam Ramesh) have come out in strong support of Mahesh:
“He has been one of the best performing Prime Minister’s Rural Development Fellows (PMRDFs) who served in Gadchiroli district (a conflict area district) for two years in close coordination with the district administration. Raids on his house and detention had become very common for him in last few months because of his tireless work with Bharat Jan Andolan, an organisation started by late B.D Sharma (IAS). Mahesh has been instrumental in mobilizing people for participative decision making in areas affected by mining projects and has been constantly raising voice for the people’s welfare. His work on PESA and FRA has been noteworthy and acclaimed by then District Collectors and State departments under Government of Maharashtra. Moreover, he was actively involved in the process of deepening democracy through strengthening gram sabhas in the tribal areas. How can a person working to deepen democracy be ‘anti-state’ as claimed by state security agencies? Development often means taking sides of people and taking collective action for people’s betterment within the ambit of law and constitution.”

India Civil Watch
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