Adivasis at the cross roads

Adivasis at the cross roads

The main objective is to acknowledge the significant place that indigenous cultures occupy in the world’s cultural landscape, and the important contribution they make to our rich cultural diversity. This decade is also the second international decade for indigenous people to highlight and strengthen international cooperation to solve the problems faced by indigenous people in such areas as culture, education, human rights, the environment, and social and economic development.

In India indigenous people are known as ‘adivasis’, the people who are the original inhabitants of the land. They constitute about 8 per cent of the Indian population -- 85 million, living in 15 per cent of geographical area. They are categorized as ‘adivasis’ or tribals. Mostly they live in the forest regions of central, eastern and northeastern part of India.

The stock taking of the policies that affect the indigenous people India shows that rather than solving the problems faced by them, there is increased conflict over natural resources in the tribal areas. This has led to a civil war-like situation, in which the extremists under the banner of naxalites are fighting a pitched battle with the forces of local government.

Amidst the negative polices of the government some positive initiatives stand out as proactive towards tribal communities. In the North Eastern region, the case of Apa Tani tribes in Aruncahal Pradesh living in Ziro Valley is a unique example. They have been allowed self governance with minimal interventions, and protecting them from outside exploitation. This approach has led to flowering of independent, self-confident community who excel in many fields. Without losing their tribal values, they have assimilated into the globalised world.

Proactive policy

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 the Chinese. This proactive policy has paid rich dividends, which has been repeated in Sikkim. Nevertheless, in other parts of North East, especially in Nagaland and now in Tripura the central government has deliberately followed a policy of antagonising the people through fake democratic processes and setting up of 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 centre passed the FRA, under which the tribal’s are supposed to get the rights over the land they were cultivating.

These positive initiatives fade into thin air as we look into the appalling conditions of tribals in central and eastern part of India. They have been at the receiving end in Orissa, Jharkhand and Chhatisgarh. The FRA is rarely put into practice, as the tardy implementation by state government shows their inertia. 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 dispossession at an unprecedented scale in central and eastern parts of the country.”

This is further reinforced by the Supreme Court, which stated that the state-sponsored counter insurgency of ‘Salwa Judum’ in Bastar, Chhattisgarh is against human rights and in violation of the constitution. The apex court also indicted the neo liberal development paradigm that resulted in appropriation of the natural resources by corporates for creating wealth at the cost of tribal communities.

The ongoing development and the 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 every possibility that the adivasis will meet the same fate as those of red Indian tribes in Unites States, eroding their tribal values and pushed into their ‘reserves’ to be kept as museum pieces.

While celebrating the World Indigenous People’s Day, our politicians and policy makers would speak in favour of them, assuring all possible help to resurrect their dignity. But people living in remote regions are well aware of these hollow assurances. They have been pushed to the end of the cliff, on which one side they face the extremist naxalites and on the other the onslaught of development.

Ironically, the world’s largest democracy is not keen to give them a third choice, an alterative to practice their own way of life of self-governance.

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