Imagine having to leave your home. Imagine someone telling you it’s not even your home, to begin with. That you have no right to live here. No right to live on the land which you so lovingly nurtured. The land which nurtured you. The trees which are your family, the animals your brothers and sisters. And why? because of so-called development!
Over the years, the Adivasis have been constantly tortured and deprived of their rights. They have been shorn of their dignities, called wild and uncivilized, just because for the ‘civilized’, Adivasis can’t fit them into their boxes of self-proclaimed labels and tags. There has been a serious threat to the autonomy and liberty of these people. Land alienation, loss of access and control over forests, enforced displacement due to developmental projects and lack of proper rehabilitation, and indebtedness have been some of the key reasons for their marginalization.
Isn’t the government doing something to protect them, you may ask? One can say yes. The Parliament passed the Forest Rights Act in 2006. The law gave back to traditional forest dwellers their rights to access, manage and govern forest lands and resources within village boundaries, which had been controlled by the forest department since colonial times. This act recognizes the importance and rights of forest dwellers and ensures their peaceful survival and welfare.
But what is the point of such an act when there are no forest dwellers? Whom does it protect then? Forest dwellers need proper documentation to claim their rights. This is where the problem lies. Adivasis have been living here since the beginning of times and legal documents came much later. So does documents actually act as proof of a person being a rightful forest dweller?
Local tehsildars do not help the Adivasis in obtaining a voter ID or an Aadhaar card. Many of them do not even have caste certificates because they have never heard of it. When they do not have any help in procuring these documents, how will they survive?
The Supreme Court’s February 13, 2019 order directing state governments to evict an estimated one million members of Adivasi and other forest communities is a grave travesty of justice. It denied claims of over 1 million forest dwellers. These tribal communities and dwellers, who have lived in these forests for 200 years, will all be brought to the streets now. There are no proper rehabilitation programmes. These dwellers are pushed further into debility and malaise.
In the name of development, people are deprived of their homes. To provide luxury to the country’s inhabitants, the survival of these people are at stake. Aren’t Adivasis part of the country too? Isn’t their development important? They have protected these lands for centuries. The government, instead of helping them, is deceiving them. If they are removed, the forest department can freely allow the land mafia to take control of the land, as they please.
There is a need to bring their issues in the mainstream media with the help of initiatives such as PARI. These people are the heart and soul of the forests of our country. Without them, there are no forests, and without forests, there are no Adivasis. In times of critical environmental degradation, their survival becomes much more important. Maybe more important than some large companies making themselves larger, in the name of ‘progress’. Guess what? Progress against the Earth is no progress at all. We are hastening our own doom.