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Why Is The Govt. Trying So Hard To ‘Civilise’ India’s Tribals?

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By Arunima Singh:

Young_Baiga_women,_IndiaRecently, I came across an article on Firstpost, which provided a good example of everything that’s wrong with our current idea of development, and our mindsets. The argument put forth in the article, that tribals have no particular claim over the land they inhabit, says so much about the pattern we see worldwide, wherein institutions, governments, and capitalists work together to exhaust the resources that originally belonged to tribal communities. What do the tribal communities get in return? Promises of rehabilitation and compensation that are never properly fulfilled. But what they lose though is everything: their home, food, culture and lifestyle. And I cannot imagine a world where it’s ethical, and even appreciable for people to do that to each other.

Let me just say it loud and clear. Yes, they need special legislation – unlike what the article suggests – and yes, their lifestyle and resources need to be taken into account when we discuss their rights. They may not be tigers we put in reserves, but they are our equals, and as equals, none of us gets to displace the other from his or her home. But sadly, it’s happening in India.

Not only is the government actively working towards taking away the resources of the tribals, but it is doing so with an acute disregard for the rights given to the tribal communities by the Forest Rights Act. In fact, as this article shows, the attempt is to bypass the FRA altogether.

Somehow in all of this, there is also a sense of self-righteousness on the part of the government; as if they are doing a favour to the people. And there is a general apathy towards the issue among most of the citizens. They seem not even to consider the needs of an indigenous community. To them, they are just ‘backward’ communities that need ‘development’, and what better than to uproot them out of their lives and homes. Many of us seem to be gripped by an idea of superiority, the same kind of complex which the British were suffering from when they decided hunting-gathering communities and tribals needed to be tamed and civilised.

Let me present my argument in a different manner. Cities like Varanasi have been existing for the longest time now, and the town, the houses, and other structures have been built and rebuilt time and again. Today, it’s a haphazard setting of extremely congested lanes with even narrower and poorly laid (and maintained) roads. It’s close to impossible to develop these cities too much without demolishing the existing structures, the narrow lanes, the unwieldy houses, and the crumbling roads. But can any government consider breaking down and rebuilding this city? Do we see politicians yelling out slogans in support of this form of development and rehabilitation for those involved? Would the people of Varanasi ever agree to give up their homes just like that?

No, they wouldn’t. And it’s not just a matter of taking away their homes and spaces, but also, the reputation of such government-sponsored rehabilitation plans.

This problem only gets a lot worse, because many tribes still live in harmony with nature, subsisting on it for their daily existence. They are not accustomed to the urban lifestyle. To take all this away from them is in a way robbing them of their identity.

There have been protests against the government’s policies in many tribal areas, and the government has been using force (the police, law, administration) to suppress the voices of these protestors. There is a huge issue with reporting on such protests and problems from the field. The government machinery actively works to keep these issues out of the press and people’s minds.

This constant struggle between the bad governance of decades by various parties and the tribals who are either left ignored or have their resources exploited by one industrialist or another is perhaps one of the greatest reasons behind the emergence and constant growth of Maoism in many Indian states. The Naxal Belt is only expanding, and the way our governments have dealt with it so far only seems to be making it worse.

Stephen Corry, the director of Survival International, which monitors the repression against indigenous groups battling to protect the primary sources on which they depend for sustenance, said, “Industrialised societies subject tribal peoples to genocidal violence, slavery and racism so they can steal their lands, resources, and labour in the name of ‘progress’ and ‘civilisation’. Since the dawn of the Age of ‘Discovery’, tribal peoples have been the innocent victims of an aggressive colonisation of their land. By portraying them as backward and primitive, the invaders have justified a systematic and cruel annihilation, which continues to this day.”

The statement is just as true in the case of tribes in India. Their land, forests, and lifestyle are stolen from them in the name of ‘progress and development’, for the ‘greater good.’ But who gets to decide what that is?
If we are willing to take away their way of life and leave them with nothing but wastelands after mining, and faulty rehabilitation plans after most other projects, how are we any different from our colonial masters? We are also willing to make and manipulate laws, cook up explanations, and use force if needed to drive these people out of their homes and take away their resources.

We urgently need to reevaluate how we view development and the fact that it can mean many different things for different sections of people across the world.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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