INDIA: By the year 2020 there will be no indigenous population in India

August 9 is the international day of the indigenous people.  Several indigenous communities might not be even aware of such a day being celebrated to acknowledge, respect and protect their culture and rights. Indigenous communities across the world and their resources are being exploited by the so-called developed and urban communities and also by various state governments. Any opposition or resistance by members of the indigenous community against the onslaught of urbanization and exploitation of their resources is viewed as anti-state activity.

In Asia, there are several indigenous communities that face extinction. In India, there are a few hundred of them. These communities face a series of threats, including but not limited, to massive exploitation of natural resources, depletion of habitat and violence committed against their own kin.

As of today, natural resources, including habitats of several indigenous communities in India are being senselessly encroached upon by the state and state-sponsored agencies. One example is from the state of Chhattisgarh. The rivers, which have been the source of water and food for several tribal communities in the state, have been sold out to private water corporations by the state government. Once sold, the corporations prevent the indigenous tribes from using the river for any purpose.

A similar onslaught is underway in the name of excavating minerals in Chhattisgarh. Dozens of tribal settlements in Chhattisgarh are forcefully uprooted and people shunted to makeshift camps guarded by the state-sponsored private militia to ensure uninterrupted excavation of natural minerals by private corporations. Those who oppose this are arbitrarily branded as anti-state activists and booked under a draconian law, the Chhattisgarh Special Security Act, 2006.

Indigenous communities in the northeastern states of India are no exception. They also face extermination and forced ‘civilization’. However, this threat has been so severely opposed that now it has spiralled out of control. Excavation of petroleum, mainly to fuel the national economy, was undertaken with complete disregard to the local community, their culture and rights. This approach isolated these communities from the rest of the country. Undeterred repression was launched by the state to silence all resistance put up by the local communities. Several parts of the region are declared as disturbed areas and the enforcement of yet another draconian law, is underway. The implementation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958 mainly used to provide impunity to the armed forces stationed in the Northeast for torturing, raping and killing the members of the local community has resulted in the complete isolation of the Northeast from the rest of India.

In certain other cases, construction of hydropower stations and dams has resulted in a massive exodus of tribal communities from their habitat. The Narmada dam project is just one example that is being held responsible for submerging the settlements of thousands of people and forcing them to relocate to new areas. On this issue even the courts in the country were not with the indigenous communities.

India has constructed about 4000 dams, half of which were constructed between 1971 and 1989. Many of these projects involved mass eviction of the indigenous population. The government only partially rehabilitated a few hundred out of the thousands who were displaced. In practice, the resettlement story (with a few ‘Ideal Village’ exceptions) continues to be one of callousness and broken promises.

Most of these mega projects involved forced evacuation of people, particularly of tribal communities from their natural habitats. India being only next to China and the United States with regard to construction of big dams, it is estimated that the social and human costs of these dams far exceeds the benefits. All these constructions have a chilling and devastating effect upon various tribal communities in India. Even though they are a miniscule 8% of the country’s population, among those adversely affected by the construction of these dams the indigenous community account for a shocking 47%.

Poverty, hunger and death from starvation are common phenomena among the indigenous population in India. It is the direct result of a brutal assault upon the culture, resources and habitat of these communities. The state that is sponsoring abusive exploitation of natural resources has turned a blind eye to the right to food and livelihood of the communities that were affected by such abuse.

Ruthless exploitation of the natural resources not only creates a non-reparable dent upon various indigenous population that depend on these resources, but also makes the land barren and good for nothing else. Such a short-term, profit motivated end game, sounds not only a death knell to the indigenous communities but also for the rest of the inhabitants.

There are several groups and community based organisations in India that combat this indiscriminate onslaught upon the indigenous communities. But the response of the government thus far is to silence these communities by attacking and branding these persons as anti-development or anti-state activists. Give the dog a bad name and hang it, as the saying goes.

There are quite a few whistleblowers in India who have faced and continue to bear the brunt of the wrath of the state for being the spokespersons of the indigenous communities in India. Dr. Binayak Sen of the Chhattisgarh state is the most recent example. Dr. Sen, a pediatrician by profession, is currently in jail allegedly for being an anti-state activist. And all because he had the guts to voice his concern against the atrocities committed by the state sponsored armed militia called Salwa Judum in Chhattisgarh.

Disregard to the indigenous communities by the state is a reflection of the state’s attitude to its own population. The indigenous communities often being a silent sufferer of the atrocities committed against them also reflect the situation of rule of law in a country.

“The Indian State is not a State that has failed.  It is a State that has succeeded impressively in what it set out to do. It has been ruthlessly efficient in the way it has appropriated India’s resources – its land, its water, its forests, its fish, its meat, its eggs, its air – and redistributed it to a favoured few (in return, no doubt, for a few favours).” says Arundhati Roy in ‘the Greater Common Good’.

In India in the past few decades atrocities committed against the indigenous communities are on the rise. This implies that the rule of law in India is also on a downward spiral. India boasts of becoming a developed nation by the year 2020. However, the cost of this development, whether it attains its goal or not, will also have to include the sufferings of the indigenous people in India. In the present scenario, the term indigenous community in India might soon become a misnomer. Since as things stand now the fate of indigenous population in India is quite certain. They will be wiped off.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-185-2007
Countries : India,