A verdict from India’s Supreme Court has ordered 20 state governments to evict more than a million families living on forest land before the 27th of July. These families live in and around 500 wildlife sanctuaries and 90 national parks; but many live there sustainably and have protected the forests long before these areas were declared parks and sanctuaries.
In India, there are 705 ethnic groups officially recognized as "Scheduled Tribes," although there are several ethnic groups that are also considered Schedule Tribes, but are not officially recognized.
India has several laws and constitutional provisions, such as the Fifth Schedule for Central India and the Sixth List for certain areas of northeastern India that recognize the rights of indigenous peoples to land and self-government, but their implementation is far from being satisfactory. India voted in favour of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples on the condition that after independence all Indians are indigenous. Therefore, it does not consider the concept of "indigenous peoples", and therefore the UNDRIP, applicable to India.
Indigenous peoples in India
Indigenous peoples in India comprise an estimated population of 104 million or 8.6% of the national population. Although there are 705 officially recognized ethnic groups, there are many more ethnic groups that would qualify for the scheduled tribe status, but which are not officially recognized. Therefore, the total number of tribal groups is undoubtedly higher than the official figure.
The largest concentrations of indigenous peoples are found in the seven northeastern states of India, and the so-called "central tribal belt" that stretches from Rajasthan to West Bengal.
Main challenges for indigenous groups in India
According to the latest report (Crime in India 2016) of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) of the Ministry of the Interior, 6,568 cases of crimes against indigenous peoples were reported in the country during 2016, compared to 10,914 cases in 2015, which shows a substantial decrease. However, these were only reported cases of atrocities committed by indigenous people against indigenous people and do not include cases of human rights violations by the security forces.
In that sense, in 2017, the security forces continued to be responsible for human rights violations against indigenous people. In areas affected by armed conflicts, indigenous peoples are caught between armed opposition groups (AOGs) and security forces. The cases are numerous and many are not informed.
Another struggle for indigenous peoples in India is their right to the land. There are a plethora of laws that prohibit the sale or transfer of tribal lands to non-Indians and the restoration of alienated lands to tribal landowners. However, these laws are still ineffective, are not invoked or are intended to weaken them. In addition, a large number of tribes that lived in the forests were denied their rights and the tribes continued to live under the threat of an eviction in the name of forest and animal conservation.
The situation of tribal women and girls in India remains very worrying, as they are clearly deprived of many of their rights. Collective and individual rights are violated in private and public spaces. Sexual violence, trafficking, killing/branding, militarization or state violence and the impact of development-induced displacement, etc., remain important issues. The NCRB in its latest report stated that 974 tribal women were raped during 2016.
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47 houses owned by the Adivasis have been razed in another attempt from the Jharkhand Forest Department, local police and the so-called forest mafia to evict the Adivasis from their land. Over 200 Adivasi villagers have been directly affected by the violent attempts to overtake the land and natural resources.
A decade after the passing of the Forest Rights Act, the book by indigenous rights activits Gladson Dungdung “Adivasi and Forest Rights: Grassroots reality of Forest rights in Jharkhand” documents how government agencies, industry lobby and even the Naxal insurgentes have worked deliberately against the implementation of the Forest Rights Act of 2006.