Indian tribals' conditions very dismal, says UN

Indian tribal women hold bows and arrows as they march during an election rally in Calcutta. Photo Courtesy: AP.
Indian tribal women hold bows and arrows as they march during an election rally in Calcutta. Photo Courtesy: AP.

Indigenous communities of India find themselves on a par with the bottom 25 countries in the poverty index, according to a UN study.

The first UN State of the World's Indigenous Peoples Report (2010) found that Indian tribals are facing high levels of poverty, illiteracy, poor health and human rights abuse and their condition is lower than those of Scheduled Castes.

The report, which was released globally on Thursday, said, "On UNDP's Human Poverty Index ranking of countries, indigenous communities in India are comparable to sub-Saharan nations which are ranked in the bottom 25.

"By taking into account the poverty of indigenous people, the Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty by 2015 may not be achieved in India," the UN said.

"The number of indigenous people across the world is about 370 million. While, in both developed and developing countries, they make up 5 per cent of the world's population, these people constitute 15 per cent of the poor and one-third of the 900 million extremely poor rural people.

"Analysis of official data on Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes from the UNDP Human Development Index (HDI) and the Planning Commission showed that the caste system discriminates against the Dalits but the level of poverty among Scheduled Tribes is deeper, despite the constitutional rights that apply uniquely to them," it said.

It was also found that while poverty among the general population in India had declined between 1993-1994 and 1999-2000, there had been little change in poverty levels among indigenous peoples.

The SCs have fared better than STs in terms of poverty reduction and the poverty gap between Scheduled Castes and other groups has decreased, while that between the STs and other groups has widened.

Citing the example of the displacement of tribals in Manipur by the building of hydroelectric dams and of Santhal adivasis in Jharkhand by mining companies, the report noted that large dams and other big infrastructure projects have displaced indigenous peoples across the world without adequate compensation.

The health indicators of indigenous people around the world are even more shocking as over 50 per cent of indigenous adults suffer from type-2 diabetes.

In Australia, life expectancy of indigenous people is 20 years lower than the rest of the population and in the US, a native American is 600 times more likely to contract tuberculosis.

Tribal children do not have an easy access to education and teaching in schools is often irrelevant to their culture, as traditional knowledge is not respected by educators.

The report stresses the need for an acceptance of the collective rights of indigenous communities and an end to the criminalisation of their protests.

Despite having contributed the least to global warming, indigenous people are the ones most at risk from the consequences of climate change because of their dependence on natural resources, the report states.