ADIVASI MAHA RALLY
Tuesday 4th February 2014, Ramlila Maidan, New Delhi.
As the country prepares for electing the 14th Lok Sabha in the upcoming parliamentary elections of 2014, it appears to be the most opportune moment to voice the concerns of tribals or Adivasis of the country. Never in the past, this most marginalized population of the country, have come forward collectively to put across its agenda. As per the findings of the Institute of Human Development Study on the Scheduled Tribes in India couple of years ago, the tribals scored 36% lower in Human Development Index than “All India population”. In southern Odisha, they experienced 92% poverty incidence and constituted “a world within a world” and lived an existence similar to the poorer population of Sub-Saharan Africa. The provisions of Constitution of India with respect to tribals have inherent in them welfarist design. However, such policies were never implemented whole-heartedly. Some of the policies are anti-people and anti-tribal. Some of the judicial interventions went in favour of tribals but these were either ignored by the executive and enforcing agencies or challenged and nullified in due course of time. Presently tribals in the country continue to face human rights violation in relation to their livelihoods, identity, dignity and survival. Hence to voice all these concerns for the first time in the history of Modern India, all the tribals collectively irrespective of their political, social or religious affiliation, would sit together on a common platform to bring forth the issues affecting them and reflect on the possible solutions. It shall also be an opportunity for the political parties of the country to have a feel of what the indigenous people of the country hope for their development. Not to burden the simple thinking with all sorts of issues, an effort would be made to prioritize them and put together in a forceful way. Therefore only three major areas shall be focused –
1. GRANT OF INDIGENOUS STATUS TO SCHEDULED TRIBES OF COUNTRY BY GOVERNMENT OF INDIA
Today, Indigenous People constitute a population of 370 million all over the World. 70 % of them reside in Asia and India has the largest population (8.4% of the total population of the country). Indigenous Peoples are a distinct people, who subscribe to a substantially different development paradigm- “Development with Identity”. They are rights holders, who are increasingly asserting their rights, which historically have been impeded. Indigenous Peoples are among the most impoverished and marginalized-politically, economically, educationally and socially. There are threats to their lands and resources under the pressure of globalization. There are increasing evidences of identity related conflicts often rooted in socio-economic discontent. Focus on Indigenous Peoples can be traced back to the 1950s/1960s. The process of decolonization led to renewed emphasis on people’s right to self-determination creating a larger political space in which new groups could begin to assert claims leading to marginalization of indigenous groups in the “new” political mainstream. Anti-racism and women’s movement in the West, through their defence of diversity paved way for an incipient indigenous movement. In 1977, the First NGO Conference took place on the Discrimination against Indigenous Populations. In 1978, a Special Rapporteur on Discrimination against Indigenous Peoples under United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights came out with a report. In 1982, there was engagement of the UN system through setting up of the “Working Group on Indigenous Populations” (WGIP). The year 1993 was declared as the first International Year of Indigenous Peoples. Again in 1993, the UN World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna recommended the declaration of a Decade for Indigenous Peoples (1995-2004). The goal of the First International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples was “To strengthen international cooperation for the solution of the problem faced by Indigenous Peoples in the areas of human rights, culture, environment, development, education and health”. The theme of the decade was” Indigenous People: Partnership in Action”.
According to the findings of the World Bank Study on ‘ Poverty among Indigenous Peoples in Latin American countries’ during the First Decade of World’s Indigenous Peoples(1995-2004) , the proportion of Indigenous Peoples living in poverty did not change much during the decade. Since the goals of the first Indigenous Peoples Decade could not be realized fully, the UN declared the decade of 2005-2014 as the ‘Second Decade of World’s Indigenous Peoples’ with its main theme ‘Partnership for action and dignity’. Adivasis continue to struggle for existence in this glorious country, India. Identity, which is the most important for many of the Adivasi communities, has always been contesting pre and post-colonial period and so is the perception of people at large. Constitutionally unrecognized as its “ first citizens” or Indigenous Peoples , as the name “Adivasi” suggests, has left the communities much confused , marginalized and deprived them from many achievable milestones. The acceptance of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in the year 2007 by UN General Assembly and signing of this declaration by India stating that all Indians are Indigenous in the country has further made a mockery of the existence of Adivasis , who have been living in the country since ages. Adivasis, as being categorically put under Schedule Tribes is not uniform and applicable to all States and Union Territories, categorical discrimination in terms of constitutional rights has further deprived many of the Adivasi communities in some parts of the country. Hence currently a strong need is felt that Scheduled Tribes be recognized as the Indigenous People of India.
2. ADIVASI MODEL FOR DEVELOPMENT & NEED FOR TRIBAL AUTONOMY
Adivasis have always been the victims of so called ‘development’ in the country; they remain continuously deprived of the basic necessities and their life sustaining resources i.e., land, water and forest. A lot of land has been already taken for mining minerals, building big industries, dams and power projects and to give more is no more possible on their part. It has become clear now the autonomy remains in the name of physical demarcation of an Adivasi state like Jharkhand; otherwise the development agenda of for the state is constantly being set by the ‘outsiders’, elite tribals and ruling establishment which has unwavering faith in the dominant and usual development paradigm which has been wreaking havoc with poor indigenous population everywhere in the country. ‘Development through Industry’ is a common agenda which is being propagated by the corporate through the media, which is also accepted by many middle class who have become a part of the ‘rat race’ completely undermining the existence of a much larger community depending on agriculture throughout the country. The present situation of the Adivasis in India is deteriorating day by day. Poverty in all forms is prevalent in the villages; malnourished children are a common sight; corruption and exploitation are a continuous phenomenon; anomalies in the social security schemes of the government which by now has become inevitable. Migration to urban centres in the form of domestic workers is a common occurrence. The gap between policies and its proper implementation is much evident in all departments of social welfare. Bureaucratic oppression has led to major setback among the Adivasis and other marginalized communities; being treated as less than humans in their own state has tremendously resulted in loss of self-pride among them, denial in the form of opportunities for basic services especially education and health has deteriorated their condition from bad to worse. In addition , the state’s role in facilitating land grabbing for the companies in Jharkhand , Chhattisgarh, Odisha and many parts of North-East India is an effort initiated to alienate Adivasis from their roots thereby threatening their very existence; they are being systematically designed to be deprived from their life sustaining resources (jal, jungal, jammen). Government of India has completely failed to stick to its core obligation to protect, respect and fulfil the basic human rights of Adivasis. Most of its populace depends on agriculture, yet nothing commendable has been initiated in terms of strengthening agriculture development in the regions of Adivasi habitat. For the government, land is merely a material source for profit making and so far has signed huge number of MoU’s with big and small companies for establishment of industries in the states of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and North East. The land which is much sacred having social and cultural significance to the Adivasis has been by all means targeted to be given away for profit making. The branding of ‘Adivasi Corridor’ as the ‘Red Corridor’ has been an easy strategy of the state to eliminate innocent Adivasis in the name of extremist. The laws protecting the Adivasi land like the Chotanagpur Tenancy Act, 1908, Santhal Parghana Tenancy Act, 1949, Fifth and Sixth Schedule of Constitution of India and The Provisions of Panchayat (Extension to Schedule Areas) Act, 1996, and other Supreme Court Judgements (Samata Judgement 1997) and UNDRIP, all of these and many more legal instruments are being systematically ignored and violated for the so called development interest of the country. The Fifth Schedule Areas in the nine states of the country with special provisions under Article 244(1) of the Constitution of India enjoys special status in restoration of land and natural resources of the Adivasi communities. The honourable Governors of States of the Fifth Schedule Areas have an additional responsibility to look after the provisions of the Scheduled Areas which are implemented to the full and also remain accountable to the discrepancies happening in the state despite of such statutory provisions. The landmark PESA Act ,1996 (The Provisions of Panchayat Extension to Schedule Areas Act) passed by the Indian Parliament gives full autonomy to tribal villages in Schedule areas but till date none of the nine states have implemented it. It is perplexing to understand as to why the tribal groups are asserting their self-identity in recent times. Perhaps some assumptions can be made in this regard. The gradual shift from being a part of the mainstream society to assertion of one’s own identity comes from the fact that majority lived in penury with no assistance from the government. They believed that this negligence on the part of the government was because they were distinct from the mainstream people and they were excluded from the developmental processes. Hence today we see the demands of Boroland, Tipraland, Manya Seema in Andhra Pradesh and Autonomous states of Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao of Assam. It has taken over 50 years of wide-scale human suffering for old prejudices to end and the stage to be set for meaningful negotiations between the Government of India and the Naga underground. On the one hand the government’s perceptions about the Naga struggle have undergone a sea-change and it has shown a large degree of flexibility in trying to work out a political settlement; on the other hand those who have been fighting for an independent Nagalim have also become aware of the inherent complexities involved in their struggle and the impossibility of a military solution. The two principal issues that need to be resolved through negotiations are (a) the question of Naga sovereignty/self-determination and (b) the question of a unified Nagalim/Greater Nagalim. The NSCN (I-M) has given no indication of any rethinking on the question of a Greater Nagalim. On the other issue, however, though the official position of the NSCN (I-M) still is that it is committed to a sovereign, independent Nagalim, it is clear that greater autonomy and not sovereignty would be the issue that would have to be hammered out in the coming talks. But the delay of nearly a decade for the outcome of Naga-Government Peace talks is wearing away the patience of tribal people. Today we need to in fact challenge the present/ prevailing form of ‘development’ and talk of ‘people cantered development’ and greater tribal autonomy. Need lies in designing ‘Adivasi model of development’, ensuring good human conditions for all and yet remain sustainable for our future generations. The struggle of the Adivasis in today is therefore a struggle to restore and hold on to their identities and to demand the fulfilment of their constitutional rights. There is a need for social reconstruction and political mobilization of the Adivasis.
3. RECOGNITION OF TRIBALS OUTSIDE SCHEDULE AREAS & FILLING UP OF RESERVED POSTS FOR SCHEDULE TRIBES IN GOVERNMENT JOBS
The Constitution of India has categorized the tribal areas of the country as Fifth Schedule areas and Sixth Schedule areas. The SIXTH SCHEDULE areas are predominantly tribal and are fully autonomous as they have states of their own (Meghalaya, Mizoram, Tripura and tribal district of Assam) whereas FIFTH SCHEDULE areas are contiguous tribal areas with sizable(more than 30% ) tribal population within states(Jharkhand , Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat , Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Himachal Pradesh). These are called Scheduled Areas. The idea behind such arrangement was to devise intensive development plans for these areas and bring them up to the level of rest of the country. However, it is worthy to note that many tribe majority / contiguous areas have been left out in this process of delineation. Thus Anurachal Pradesh, Nagaland , Manipur , West Bengal (Bankura, Purulia , Midnapore, Doars and Terai regions), Karnataka(Kodagu and others), Kerela (Wyanad) , Tamil Nadu(Nilgiri ) and Jammu Kashmir have many tribal majority areas but they are not considered scheduled areas. Furthermore, there is a restriction that goes with scheduling: a tribe not scheduled in a specific area is not recognized as such at all. Thus more that 10 million of Adivasi people who migrated from central tribal belt to tea plantations of Assam are not recognized as Scheduled Tribes. Likewise lakhs of tribals migrated to Andaman & Nicobar Islands years ago are not being given the benefit of Schedule Tribes. So are the lakhs of tribals who have migrated to big cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata and Bengaluru are not recognized as Schedule Tribes. Such unrecognized Adivasis are compelled to find their place within the so called mainstream society, where the place available is nowhere other than the very bottom of dominant society. There is a provision made in Constitution of India for reservation in government jobs and elections to state legislatures and parliament with a view to help the tribals in catching up with rest of the population. As far as matter of filling up government posts by the Schedule Tribes through reservation is concerned, the Government’s own record is dismal. The will to empower them is already poor; filling their posts with ‘others’ under pretext of ‘no suitable candidate’ is common occurrence; discrimination in transfers, postings and promotions is rampant. The need of the hour is at least give the Scheduled Tribes their due by filling up the vacancies in a war footing both in Central and State Government jobs.