The Declaration

Print edition : November 05, 2004

AFTER a series of consultations with hundreds of tribal, indigenous and Adivasi representatives at the local, zonal, State and regional levels, spread over several months, a Declaration on the Draft National Policy on Tribals was released by the assembly of tribal, indigenous and Adivasi people who met in New Delhi on September 21.

The Declaration has three sections - a critique of the draft policy, the non-negotiable principles that must be incorporated, and the inalienable rights of the tribal and indigenous people.

It rejects the draft policy as opaque and exclusionary and for its inadequate understanding of the tribal people's problems, which have their roots in the disregard of the constitutional and human rights guaranteed to them.

Most disturbing, according to the Declaration, is the policy's main objective of assimilating the tribal people. This demonstrates a complete absence of respect for the diversity among the tribal, indigenous and Adivasi people as well as their difference from the other people and cultures of India, the Declaration argues.

With inadequate stress on implementation of the existing protective safeguards and legislation such as Schedules V and VI of the Constitution, the Declaration indicts the draft policy for its offensive tone and derogatory definitions and descriptions of tribal people.

The draft, according to the Declaration, lacks consistency and is not clear on the recognition of rights to ancestral land and natural resources of the tribal people. The draft does not guarantee enough protection against forced relocation and eviction, and adequate provision for rehabilitation. There is also no recognition, protection or promotion of their customary laws, practices and governance systems; nor of their approach to health and systems of healing.

The draft does not recognise the tribal people's right to plan their own development, but wants to impose it on them. Nor does it make any mention of protecting them from the adverse impact of the policies of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation, which have been affecting their livelihood and well-being. Even the suggested development approach is neither comprehensive nor integrated. For instance, it ignores the economic aspects of their development.

Most important, the Declaration points out that there is no mention in the draft policy of the increasing alienation of tribal people from their land and livelihood systems.

THE second section details the non-negotiable principles that a National Policy for Tribal, Indigenous and Adivasi People must incorporate. They include:

* Fundamental respect of difference. That is, the acceptance of, and respect for, their distinct identity, culture, ethos and ways of life.

* Recognition of the natural, socio-economic, cultural and political rights of the tribal communities. These include the right to: life and livelihood with dignity; land, including ancestral homeland, and command, protection and regeneration over natural resources; express and uphold the distinct identities, cultures, ethos and ways of life; protect and advance the traditional systems of governance, customary laws and jurisprudence; protect and further their cultures and civilisations; self-governance and determination of their development.

* Their participation in the formulation of laws and policies that affect them.

* Responsibility of the state to safeguard the rights and genuine aspirations of the tribal people.

* Responsibility of the state to rectify historical injustices and restore the legitimate rights of the tribal people.

THE third section deals with the need to include the inalienable rights of tribal people in the policy.

This includes:

* Amendment to the Constitution to remove the derogatory reference to Scheduled Tribes as per Article 342 and identify them according to the International Understanding of Indigenous Peoples, given in the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention No. 169.

* Ensuring special provisions and protection of the rights of vanishing, nomadic, denotified, and other vulnerable groups.

* Adopting the United Nations standards, the ILO Convention No.169 and the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

* Granting tribal people self-governance according to their customary laws and practices adhering to the principles of equality and human rights.

* Including under the Scheduled Areas, traditional or ancestral areas of habitation, as well as areas where a significant tribal, indigenous and Adivasi population lives; extending the V and VI Schedules accordingly; and administrative re-organising of such areas under the tribal, indigenous and Adivasi self-rule.

* Ensuring absolute command of tribal people over natural resources in their ancestral homeland; access to such resources should be only with the consent of the community.

* Ensuring there is no economic, social and political marginalisation; gender discrimination, exploitation and deprivation; and violence and atrocities against the communities.

* Ensuring basic, dignified, sustainable and enriched livelihoods, which include meaningful and culturally appropriate education and adequate health care.

* Ensuring that the tribal, indigenous and Adivasi people are not evicted from their traditional lands, and displaced populations are not resettled on their land.

* Identifying and rehabilitating those already displaced from their land in a manner that is acceptable to them.

* Imparting primary education in their dialects through local teachers; setting up of universities, centres of higher learning, and research centres to promote and protect their languages, cultures, arts and traditional knowledge systems. Any research conducted among the tribal people requires their prior and informed consent and the findings should be discussed with them.

* Ensuring a culturally sensitive gender perspective, reiterating international standards on women's rights; the state's obligations towards children's rights; and providing for the youth including protecting them from negative impacts of changing social environment.

* Ensuring appropriate measures to remove existing military and unified command installations from their land or areas and restricting additional and further installations.

* Promoting conflict resolution and peace promotion using indigenous strategies, customary laws and reconciliation mechanisms.

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