The Indigenous people: Rhetoric and Reality

December 26, 2015

by Sadhana

The International ‘Decade for Dignity’ of the indigenous people ends in 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 and termed the next decade as the ‘Decade of Dignity’. Initially the Indian government reported to UN that India has indigenous people. Later, in the backdrop of surrendering vast mineral wealth of the Tribal areas to corporate powers, Indian government backtracked and reported to the UN that there are no indigenous people in India.

The 5th and 6th schedule of Indian constitution deal with indigenous people of ten states and the 6th Schedule with North-East tribal population. A separate schedule was created for the North-East to dilute their struggles for self-determination and 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 recognize existence of indigenous people in our land, this populace is spread from Thane in Maharashtra to Tengnoupal in Manipur. Indigenous people constitute 8% of the total country’s population. Government’s refusal to recognize their existence is a cruel joke.

Even after 67 years of ‘independence’ the ruling classes failed to define the scheduled tribes. Article-342 of Indian Constitution thus spoke: “whomever the President of India designate as Scheduled tribes, are given the status as STs” – thereby completely rejecting the fact that the words ‘indigenous people’ and ‘tribal people’ are interchangeable. The Brahminical Hindu fascist forces, abandoning these two words that are in common parlance of sociological and anthropological studies, have coined a vague and an amorphous word- ‘vanavasis’.

Our rulers 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% (100 million) of tribal population come under this religious categorization? Why there is no mention of tribals at all? The truth is that the tribals were not to be found as separate category but were enumarated as Hindus by successive governments. Did our constitution recognize the tribal languages? So far nothing was done to dvelop them. Moreover, the rulers have intentionally suppressed the growth of tribal languages. The laws that are meant for the amelioration of STs – like the Scheduled Tribes Act and PESA (Panchayatraj Extension Act to Scheduled Areas) – are not being implemented.

This year the Gadcheroli (Maharashtra) tribes 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 people. At last, when tribals were allowed to hold the ‘Decade for Dignity’ celebrations, it came with a ban on adivasis’ traditional dances and use of musical instruments. But the dandakaranya tribals know how to celebrate, despite government’s sanctions. They evolved their own methods to conduct the planned meetings. In Bhamragarh 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) behaved most inhumanly with a 40 year old tribal woman- Maini Pungati. People rallied in thousands protesting this on May 19th at Etapally. It is incredible that the indigenous people had to face such hurdles, harassment and humiliation just to observe UN’s call of ‘Decade for Dignity’.

Many states have banned cow slaughter. The Chhattisgarh government went a step ahead – cow has been made the state animal. Beef is the most favorite food of tribal population. Whether it is a marriage celebration or an occasion of funeral rituals, adivasi tradition is to serve beef. If Hindu hegemonistic governments ban 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 misreported that in October 2014 in Madhota Village of Kondagaon district, 34 Adivasi families, in two installments, converted to Hinduism from Christianity. In fact, they were all indigenous people. This ‘Ghar vapasi’ was nothing but a completely false propaganda. Last year, in Sukma and Dantewada districts, the saffron brigade committed horrendous acts. The rulers do not care for the selfrespect of 100 million Adivasis. The rulers want to destroy glorious tribal traditions that have protected nature’s wealth for centuries.

The dignity of adivasi women is being trampled upon every day. Heart rendering 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 atrocities committed by security forces. There is a popular demand to repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFPSA). Irom Sharmila has been on indefinite fast for over a decade demanding the abrogation of the draconian AFSPA that gives impunity to the perpetrators of state violence. The Vakapalli incident (where in A.P Grey Hounds police gang raped adivasi women in Visakhapatnam agency area on 20th August 2007) is an example of this impunity (Champion of human rights, Dr. Balagopal, made sustained legal struggles to bring the perpetrators to justice). The anti people policies of the governments have become a stark challenge to the very existence of the indigenous people.

The U.N declared that the ‘Decade for Dignity’ is coming to an end. What policies the global forum envisages to protect the rights of the indigenous people and their existence, is not clear. Meanwhile the fast changing events in Dandakaranya region are causing serious concern. It was reported that the Maharashtra finance Minister is consulting with the CEOs of Tatas and Essars on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). These are the same corporate houses that sponsored the notorious Salwa Judum, which razed 644 tribal villages to ashes and killed around 1000 people in Bastar. The horrendous atrocities stand as a living testimony to the ‘corporate social responsibility’ of the moneybags. Bastar is being planned as a “beautiful tourist destination” at the expense of destruction of Adivasi home and livelihood. Adivasis will be facing ruthless juggernaut of devastation by the domestic and foreign financial sharks in this process. These issues are not just concerned to the dignity and existence of the adivasis alone. They are inextricably linked to the existence of vast toiling masses of our country. Hence our fight to achieve true democracy, self-reliance, sovereignty and dignity should continue.

[Translated by Varanasi Subramanyam, a political prisoner. Sadhana is a well known writer from Dandakaranya. Sadhana has written many poems, innumerable essays and a novel ‘Rago’ in Telugu which is also translated in to Hindi. This article is a translation from a piece published in Andhra Jyothi, a Telugu Daily on 24th November 2015.]