India’s Indigenous peoples under attack by Modi government and conservationists

Tribal peoples are the best conservationists. Baiga woman from Peepatola. © Survival

                                                                            #IndigenousUnderAttack in India

India’s Adivasis (Indigenous and tribal people) are under attack from the Modi government and conservationists. They are facing threats to their lives, lands and survival. 

In 2019, India’s Supreme Court issued an order to evict 8 million people. At the same time Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government tried to push through draconian forest laws which would allow forest guards to shoot people with impunity, and which fatally undermine the vital Forest Rights Act.

Modi’s government is also planning a National Register of Citizens. Coupled with a law that discriminates on the grounds of religion, together these risk making Adivasis stateless, and amount to a legislative genocide – an attempt to extinguish Adivasi peoples through laws and policies.

It’s no surprise that Modi is strengthening his relations with President Bolsonaro – both are imposing policies which are devastating to Indigenous people. In both Brazil and India, Indigenous people are under attack, but they’re strongly resisting, and need as many people as possible to stand with them. 

                                                                             Threats to citizenship and religious rights

Dongria Kondh ceremony, Orissa, India © Jason Taylor/Survival

Diversity and identity under attack

In Modi’s India, diversity is under attack and the impacts on non-Hindu citizens are severe. Growing national and international concern is being expressed about the impacts on Muslims in India, but there’s less awareness of how new legislation and policies will affect Adivasi communities. 

Tools to suppress diversity

The recent Citizenship Amendment Act has led to vast protests across India because it is discriminatory on the grounds of religion and is a violation of the spirit of India’s constitution as a secular nation. 

This Act has been coupled with a proposal for a National Register of Citizens to be rolled out across the country. If this occurs, those unable to prove their citizenship with the right documents could be rendered stateless and moved to detention centres. 

The NRC has been piloted in Assam where the government is already building huge centers to detain the nearly two million people who didn’t make it onto the NRC list there. 

Impacts on Adivasis

Across India, Adivasi people have borne the brunt of evictions for conservation and industrial projects. Many lack the documents they will need to prove their identities. 

“The CAA/NRC will have terrible effect on the Adivasis. Adivasis will be denied their citizenship, detained in the detention camps and intruders will be rehabilitated in their land and territories. This is unacceptable. Adivasis are first settlers of the country, they must be kept out of the CAA/NRC and their land, territories and resources must be protected.” Gladson Dungdung, Adivasi activist and writer.

The Citizenship Amendment Act states that citizenship will be granted on the basis of religion, and people must state what their religion is. Only the major religions are recognized, not the religions of many of the country’s Adivasis, whose beliefs are firmly rooted in their connection to their lands. 

The combination of a lack of documents and being forced to fit into a dominant religion are deeply dangerous for Adivasis.  

                                                                             Forest Rights Under Attack

Baiga and Gond banned from India’s Kanha Tiger Reserve, their home for countless generations. © Survival

Vital law under fire 

For India’s tribal peoples, the Forest Rights Act is a vital piece of legislation which recognizes both individual and collective rights to use, protect and manage their forests. 

It was designed to redress the ‘historical injustice’ to India’s traditional forest dwellers but is being consistently undermined by Modi’s government, foresters and conservationists, despite growing evidence that tribal peoples are the best conservationists.  

Mass eviction of 8 million people ordered

In a case brought by conservationists opposed to the Forest Rights Act, in February 2019 India’s Supreme Court ordered the eviction of 8 million tribal people, and other traditional forest dwellers. 

“We unequivocally appeal to the Supreme Court to re-evaluate this retrograde anti-people order which will throw millions of Adivasis and other traditional Forest Dwellers into the streets,” V.S.Roy David, National Convener, National Adivasi Alliance (NAA) 

Demonstrating its contempt for the rights of tribal people, the Indian government’s Ministry of Tribal Affairs didn’t even turn up to court hearings to defend its own law. 

Only after intense political pressure did the government take some action, and the eviction order was suspended. The next Supreme Court hearing on the case is imminent – the threat of mass eviction still hangs over millions of people. 

Dangerous changes to forest laws

Akash Orang, a seven year old tribal boy, was maimed for life after being shot by a guard in Kaziranga National Park. The park has a shoot on sight policy. © Survival

In 2019 a secret draft amendment to India’s colonial forest law, which would turn India’s forests into a virtual police state was leaked to the press. It was drafted by senior forestry officials and WWF India’s Secretary General. 

It would have given astonishing quasi-judicial powers to forest guards who would be able to shoot tribal people with impunity and hand over forest land to private companies after evicting forest dwellers. 

Eight months after it was leaked, following national and International protests the Indian government withdrew the proposed changes to the law.

However, Adivasis and activists in India are convinced that this threat has not gone away and suspect that the government will bring the proposals back, in another guise. 

Evictions from Tiger Reserves 

Kabathgai village relocation site, for people evicted from Similipal Tiger Reserve © eleonorafanari

The lives of hundreds of thousands of Adivasis in Indian tiger reserves are being destroyed in the name of conservation. The Indian government, with the support of conservation NGOs like WCS, is illegally evicting them from the land where they have always lived and that they have always protected.

They are often threatened, tricked and harassed into “agreeing” to leave their forest homes. The government claims these are “voluntary relocations,” but Survival’s investigations have unequivocally shown that in many cases evictions are taking place without free, prior and informed consent and are therefore illegal. 

Attempts by the Modi government to undermine the Forest Rights Act, combined with attacks on religious diversity and difficulties in proving citizenship, make Adivasis even more vulnerable to forced evictions. 

Attack on Diversity and Biodiversity

Evidence shows that Indigenous people are the best conservationists. Therefore, attacks on the rights of Adivasis to their land, lives and ways of life are an attack on India’s biodiversity too. 

 “How could we harm the forest? We’re the ones that save the forest. As long as we are here, the forest will be fine. If we leave this place, the forest will not survive. We are the defenders of the forest. If we don’t save it, then what will happen? If we leave, who will protect the forest?” Sukraam Bhaiya, Baiga man threatened with eviction from Achanakmar Tiger Reserve.

                                                                             Educational rights under threat


“The © KISS

Erasing diversity

A major tool in the onslaught against diversity in India is schooling: much of the state and private education for tribal children is geared towards stripping them of their tribal identities and getting them to ‘join the mainstream’. 

Our Factory Schools campaign is exposing and opposing this attack on Adivasis which masquarades as ‘education’ and is calling for Indigenous education to be under Indigenous control. 

Click here to stand in solidarity with India’s Indigenous peoples and help stop this assault on their rights #IndigenousUnderAttack