Displacement from their age-old habitats is extremely painful for most adivasis
Today, on August 9, the world is celebrating ‘International Day of the World’s Indigenous People’ to acknowledge the important role of tribal cultures and their contribution to cultural and linguistic diversity. This decade is also ‘Second International Decade for Indigenous People’ to highlight and strengthen international cooperation for the solution of problems faced by indigenous people in such areas as culture, education, human rights, environment, and social and economic development.
In India the indigenous people are known as ‘adivasis’, the people who are the original inhabitants of the land. About 20 percent of the Indian population is categorized as ‘adivasis’ or tribals. Mostly they live in the forest regions of central, eastern and northeastern parts of India.
On this occasion it will be appropriate to review the policies that affect the indigenous people in India. The main objective of the National Tribal Policy adopted by the central government in 2008 is to empower tribal communities to promote self governance and self rule and to vest the right on forest land and to stop their alienation.
There is systematic dispossession of the tribal people from land and forest resources, which they have been holding for generations. The present policy of corporate entry in tribal hinterland would lead to mass evictions at an unprecedented scale in central and eastern parts of the country.
There are some pro-active initiatives that stand out for their impact among tribal communities. In North Eastern region, the case of Apa Tani tribes in Aruncahal Pradesh living in Ziro Valley is a unique example. They have been allowed the freedom to take their own decision with minimal interventions, and protecting them from outside exploitation. This approach has led to flowering of independent, self-confident community which excels in many fields. Without losing their traditional values, they have assimilated into the globalised world.
The central government was compelled to follow this policy due to the geo political nature of the region, which is adjacent to China. For strategic reasons, they wanted a friendly community on the border, to check the influence of Chinese. This pro-active policy, also repeated in Sikkim, has paid rich dividends. Nevertheless, in other parts of North East, especially in Nagaland and now in Tripura the central government has deliberately acted as if to antagonize the people through fake democratic process and installing puppet governments. This has escalated the tensions, with a long-standing secessionist struggle.
The enacting of Forest Right Act (FRA) in 2004 is another landmark policy initiative that is aimed towards empowering the tribal population. Alarmed by the increasing influence of Naxalites in central and eastern part of India, the central government passed the FRA, under which the adivasis are supposed to get the rights over the land they were cultivating, especially in the forest areas.
These positive initiatives fade into thin air when we look into the appalling conditions of tribals in central and eastern parts of India. They have been at the receiving end in Orissa, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. In most cases the genuine rights of the tribal communities are denied by the local governments, forcing them to become ecological refugees in their own land.
According to Dr Roy Burman, an anthropologist working on tribal issues, there is systematic dispossession of the tribal people from land and forest resources, which they have been holding for generations. The present policy of corporate entry in tribal hinterland would lead to mass evictions at an unprecedented scale in central and eastern parts of the country.
The fact that the central government established the Ministry of Tribal Affairs only in 1999 shows the neglect meted out to the most vulnerable community in the country.
This is further reinforced by the Supreme Court of India, which observed that the state sponsored counter insurgency of ‘Salwa Judum’ was in violation of constitution and against the human rights of tribals. The Apex court also indicted the neo liberal development paradigm that resulted in appropriation of the natural resources for creating corporate wealth.
The fact that the central government established the Ministry of Tribal Affairs only in 1999 shows the neglect meted out to the most vulnerable community in the country. Even after establishing a separate ministry, the weak position and the least importance being accorded to this is evident in the way it works both at center and state levels. The popular FRA is a classic example which this ministry is supposed to be responsible for implementing. With meager financial outlays, and without any power over forest area, controlled by the powerful policing forest department, the implementation has not only been tardy, but self defeating, making the Forest Rights Act redundant.
With a pittance of budget allocation of Rs. 3206 crore for the Ministry of Tribal Affairs for 2010-11, it is supposed to alleviate the manifold problems faced by the tribal population. Compare this to the allocation for Commonwealth Games, which was Rs. 70000 crore. Obviously, these financial facts speak volumes about the importance accorded to the indigenous communities in India.
The ongoing development craze of ruling elite, with the support of rising middle class, is keen to stake its claim on the tribal hinterland to satisfy its unending appetite for resources. There is a fear that the adivasis might meet the same fate as those of red Indian tribes in Unites States, pushed to the margins, into their “reserves” to be kept as museum pieces.
While celebrating the World Indigenous Day as well as the Decade of Indigenous people, our politicians and policy makers would give speeches, assuring all possible help to resurrect their dignity. Our indigenous people living in the remote regions are very well aware of these hollow claims. They have been pushed to the end of the cliff, on which one side they face the extremist Naxalites and on the other side is the onslaught of corporate driven development. Ironically, in the so-called democratic country we do not want to give them a third choice, an alterative to practice their own way of life.