Give tribals their right to live in peace

By Raju Naik

The Indian forest is a land of animals, natural resources and adivasi tribes. It shows the spirit of unity in diversity but that unity is affected by different reforms and new Acts that are introduced in the guise of development schemes, schemes that disturb the livelihood of the tribes. In spite of this, the government has failed to provide security to Tribals. In this modern era of Information Technology, tribals face questions about their survival. These are the people who have nurtured the forest; yet today they do not have the rights in their own legitimate home that elite and multinational companies enjoy.

There are many Acts on paper to ensure justice or life security for the oppressed adivasi tribes in India, but they just lie locked up gathering dust in government cupboards.

Historically, tribes were not culturally equipped to handle settler cultures, which are very different from theirs. However, there were diseases in the forest belts, such as plague and smallpox, which swept away whole populations. Today, modern forms of disease have come up to sweep away the tribals, in the form of brutal killings, police encounters and sexual atrocities against the women. Chhattisgarh, for example, formed the Salwa Judum ostensibly to fight the Maoists, but they have ended up killing local tribesmen and women. In January, the Salwa Judum kidnapped 30 tribals from their hamlets on suspicion. Who killed the 30 tribal youth at Singaram in Dantewada district? Were they really, as the police claim, Naxalites? The Salwa Judum has now become an organisation that helps the state freely move around tribal areas and occupy lands. It is an attack on tribals to suppress them.

The suppression of tribals happens in various forms across the country. In the name of religion, right-wing political parties manipulate adivasis in Orissa (Kandhamal) and sets them against Dalits; to acquire land in Kerala, it rendered Dalits and adivasis landless, and in the name of combing operations, 11 tribal women were raped in Vishakapatanam.

Every day we witness an ‘encounter’ in one form or another. The government gives a stereotypical response and does not take steps to prevent these killings or the sexual harassment by state-sponsored authorities. On one side, 11 women are shouting that the police had raped them in the forest. Without paying heed to their voices, the administration strongly refuted their charges and described the allegations as ‘cooked-up stories’.

The tribals are often labelled uncivilised and barbaric. In reality, it is the so-called civilised society that has committed and continues to commit various atrocities against them and deprive them of their land and livelihood. Anyone who fights for their rights and works with them, like Binayak Sen, is incarcerated, labelled a Naxalite and a terrorist, and illegally detained for years. We have to force the state to stop committing atrocities against tribals and other marginalised sections of society and their supporters. We boast of being a free and open society while, ironically, we continue to terrorise and destroy our most marginalised and powerless groups. We should be ashamed and strengthen our ‘democracy’ rather than just shout nationalist slogans.