The rally was part of a series of simultaneous mass rallies held on the same day at the headquarters of the four Naga dominated districts of Tamenglong, Senapati, Ukhrul and Chandel. The demonstrations were organized to push the Government of India to finally come up with an acceptable settlement of the Indo-Naga issue. The rallies also protested against the militarization of Naga areas, in particular Ukhrul district, by the Manipur State government following the killing of a member and former Vice-Chairman of the Ukhrul Autonomous District Council.
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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On March 10 the Delhi High Court issued notice related to a court case to restore Luingam Luithui and his wife Peingamla Luithui as Indian citizens.
The notice issued was addressed to the Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of External Affairs and the Indian High Commission at Ottawa in Canada. In the four weeks that the Delhi High Court has given the ministries to respond, they will have to argue whether citizenship can be granted to the activist and justify the stand on citizenship rules and may also face questions of why Luingam Luithui was not granted a visa despite the fact that a “look-out circular” in his name had been withdrawn in 2011.
In 1997, after over four decades of war between the Indian armed forces and Naga resistance groups asserting their right to self-determination, a cease fire agreement was signed between the Indian government and the largest of the armed Naga groups, the Isak-Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN-IM). The agreement has since been renewed several times, but the more than 80 rounds of peace talk have not had any concrete outcome and during the past two years the peace talks have been stalled altogether.
During the two-day consultation programme “Indigenous Peoples Consultation on Dams and Natural Resources Protection in India’s North East” in Argalta, environmentalists, social organizations and pressure groups have asserted that the land, forests, rivers and all natural resources in India’s North East belong to the indigenous people of the region. The participants expressed their concern on the introduction of more than 200 mega dams and other ‘unsustainable development policies and projects’ in the region done without the consent of the indigenous peoples of the region.