Lost Decade

Defining Dignity of Indigenous People


The International ‘Decade for Dignity’ of the indigenous people ends with the year 2015. The UN declared in 1994 that 9th August should be observed as the day of indigenous people. Later, the UN gave a call to observe the decade from 1995 to 2004 as International Decade of World Indigenous People. The UN termed the next decade as the ‘Decade for Dignity’. Initially, the Indian government sent reports to UN that India has indigenous people. But later, in the backdrop of surrendering vast mineral wealth of the adivasi areas to corporate powers, the Government of India reported to the UN that there are no indigenous people in India.

The 5th and 6th schedules of Indian Constitution deal with indigenous people of India. The 5th Schedule deals with indigenous people of 10 states and the 6th Schedule with North-East tribal population. A separate schedule was created for the North-East to dilute their struggles ever since they began movements for self-determination, including their right to secession. The tribal people are spread in hills and forests in 27 states and Union territories, that accounts for around 20% of country’s geographical area. Though the government does not recognise the existence of indigenous people in India this populace is spread over from Thane of Maharashtra to Tegnoupal of Manipur. The statistics reveal that indigenous people constitute 8% of the country’s total population. Thus, the government’s refusal of recognise the existence of indigenous people is a terrible joke.

Even after 67 years of ‘Independence’ the ruling classes failed to define the scheduled tribes. The Article 342 of Indian Constitution, thus spake : Whomever the President of India designates as scheduled tribes, are given the status as STs. The government is completely rejecting the fact that the words ‘indigenous people’ and ‘tribal people’ are inter-changeable. The Brahminical Hindu fascist forces, abondoing these two words that are in common parlance of sociological and anthropological studies, have coined a vague and amorphous word—‘Vanavasis’.

The ruling elites have serious policy objections in identifying the indigenous populace. According to 2011 census, Hindus constitute 79.8%, Muslims 14.2%, Christians 2.3%, Sikhs 1.7% and Jains 0.7% of the country’s total population. Where do the 8.6% of adivasis (10 crore population) come under this religious categorisation? Why there is no mention of adivasis at all? The truth is that the tribals were not to be found as separate categorisation but were carpeted under Hindus by successive governments. Did Constitution ever recognise the tribal languages? So far nothing is done to develop them. Moreover, the rulers are intentionally suppressing the growth of their languages. The laws that are meant for the amelioration of STs—like, the Scheduled Tribes Act and PESA (Panchayat Raj Extension Act of Scheduled Areas)—are not being implemented.

Last year, the Gadcheroli (Maharashtra) adivasis planned to commemorate the World Indigenous People’s Day on 9th August. Police used every means to obstruct the planned celebrations. They refused to give permission to hold meetings. They made arrests and harassed the people. At least, when they allowed to hold the ‘Decade for Dignity’ celebrations, they were permitted but sans adivasis’ traditional dances and musical instruments. The Dandakaranya tribals know how to celebrate, despite government’s sanctions. They evolved their own methods to conduct the planned meetings. In Bhammgarh Taluk, people of 128 villages held rallies and meetings successfully at Bejjur, in spite of prohibitory orders. On May 11th, 2015 the C-60 commandoes (Maharashtra’s Counter Insurgency Special Forces) [the state government spent Rs 75 lakh towards training of each Commando] behaved most inhumanly with a 40-year-old adivasi woman—Maini Pungati. People rallied in thousands protesting. This was on May 19th at Etapally. The indigenous people had to face such hurdles, harassments and humiliations while observing the UN call of ‘Decade for Dignity’.

Many states declared ban on cow slaughter. The Chhattisgarh government went a step ahead. Now cow has been made the state animal. Beef is the most cherished food of adivasi population. Whether it is a marriage celebration or an occassion of funeral rituals, adivasi tradition is to serve beef. If Hindu hegemonistic governments ban the beef, does it not tantamount to ridiculing the dignity of adivasis? Attacks on adivasis on the issue of ‘Ghar Vapasi’ have been on the rise. The media propagated in Chhattisgarh that in October 2014 in Mandhota village of Kondagoan district, 34 adivasi families in two instalments, changed their religion into Hinduism from Christianity. In fact, they were neither Christians nor were they Hindus at any time. They are all indigenous people. This ‘Ghar Vapasi’ just did not happen in Mandhota. Last year, in Sukma and Dantewada districts, the saffron brigade committed horrendous acts. Rulers least care the self-respect of 10 crore adivasis. They ignore the cultural heritage the adivasis carrying on for centuries and the glorious traditions adivasis follow to protect nature’s wealth.

The dignity of adivasi women is being trampled upon every day. Heart rending incidents are happening unrelentingly. The security forces are committing inhuman and heinous acts on women. Whether it is Kashmir, North-East or Maoist areas, the women are facing untold miseries due to the security forces’ atrocities. That is one of the reasons, there is a popular demand to repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFPSA) (protected by the 6th Schedule of the Constitution). Irom Sharmila has been on indefinite fast since over a decade demanding the scrapping of the draconian AFPSA that gives impunity to the perpetrators of state violence. The Vakapalli incident (wherein A P Greyhounds gangraped adivasi women in Visakhapatnam Agency area is an example of this impunity of Khakis and injustice to the Scheduled Castes and Tribes. The anti-people policies of the governments have become a stark challenge to the very existence of the indigenous people.

The UN ‘Decade for Dignity’ has ended. What policies the global forum envisages in near future to protect the rights of the indigenous people and their existence, is to be watched. Meanwhile the fast changing events in Dandakaranya region are causing serious concern. The Maharashtra Finance Minister is in confabulation with the CEOs of Tatas and Essar on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). These are the same corporate powers that sponsored the notorious Salwa Judum, that razed 644 adivasi villages to ashes and killed around 1000 people in Bastar. The horrific atrocities stand as a living testimony to the ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ of the money bags. Bastar is being planned as a ‘beautiful tourist destination’ at the cost of immense destruction and violence on adivasi hearths and homes.

Vol. 48, No. 26, Jan 3 - 9, 2016