Pay Attention, The Systematic Displacement Of Amazonian Tribes Is A Warning Sign.

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Whether it be the Amazon rainforest, Alaskan wilderness, or Himachal Pradesh and other northern states of India, it is always the villages and rural areas that pay for the nation’s infinite jest for urban development. Like every major problem faced by humans, the people not responsible for climate change are facing the worst of its effects. In the race to be modern and technologically advanced, our society has lost its lustre, and with it, its appreciation for nature and the endless gifts it continues to bestow upon us.

The Tukano tribe performing a dance. (Photo: James Martins/Wikimedia Commons)

The photo shown above is of Brazil’s indigenous population, almost all of whom have been calling the dense folds of Amazon rainforest their home for a long time. Along with Brazil’s 2000 tribes, many known and unknown tribal settlements of South America, including descendants of the great Mayan and Aztec civilisations, have preferred to live in the real forests instead of the concrete jungles created by the European settlers.

As such, they have always been self-sufficient and happy in their own little world. In fact, it was more or less the European settlers who had to convince these indigenous people to cater to their needs. The ones that denied European superiority were either murdered in cold blood or chased off from their own homes. Five centuries later, and the South American tribes continue to suffer at the hands of their urban counterparts. However, the weapons of choice of their attackers have transitioned from swords and guns to climate change.

Forest tribes such as Brazil’s Ticuna, Amanye, and Baniwa have always depended on the forest for their survival and given back as much as they have taken from nature. They grow their own food, build their own houses from natural resources, and don’t damage the environment with their wastage.

On the other hand, the rest of the world which lives in humongous concrete houses uses plastic in spite of its endless harmful effects, throws as much as it eats, and damages the very nature it borrows unlimited resources from. The aftereffects of this gross negligence are pushed under the proverbial carpet due to which they reverberate throughout the environment and affect the indigenous tribes, who had nothing to do with it. I don’t know if it’s fair, but it sure as hell is shameful.

Photo provided by author.

Let me give you an example which is a little close to home. Shown above is the photo of the Himalayan Expressway, which has been under construction for the last five years. This superhighway aims at connecting Delhi and Chandigarh to Himachal Pradesh, mainly the capital city of Shimla. To build this road, thousands of trees have been cut in the past five years, mountains have been ground to dust, and the surrounding villages have been vacated with no exceptions.

My question: who is this road for? It’s certainly not for the mountain-dwelling people or who we call Pahadi people. Having been born and brought up in Solan, a hill station quite near to Shimla, I have been a first-hand witness to the everlasting destruction of our dear hills. I can say with confidence that this road has not been constructed for the residents of Himachal Pradesh.

After all, we were happy with the two-lane streets, for we don’t go out of our picturesque state unless we absolutely have to. The dreams of a picture-perfect eight-lane highway have been constructed for the tourists whose numbers have been increasing every day for the past two decades. And while the rest of India enjoys their short weekend respite to the hills, the people of Himachal have to suffer the environmental consequences.

History has been witness to the fact that in a race to be industrially apt and technologically advanced, every country around the world has sacrificed the glory of its past. Don’t get me wrong. I am a true believer of change and the positive effects it has on us. But this is not an example of that.

This is the proof of the blind march that we humans are having towards our own destruction because we are not evolving our practices but merely replacing environmentally viable methods with ones that damage the environment and leave the planet bloody.

Who Is This Development For?

The race for urbanisation started in India shortly after independence when the need for cemented housing or pucca houses rose. As the disposable income of the population grew, employment opportunities increased, and the demand in real estate sector boomed. In this boom, people who resisted and clung to their own ways were left behind in the past.

The indigenous tribes and settlements – existing mostly in remote places like mountains and deep forests – separated themselves from modern society not because they didn’t have a vision but because they knew their ways were better. However, they have had to time and again suffer for their decisions, all thanks to the endless thirst of their urban counterparts.

The Amazon fires blazed uncontrolled during 15-22 August in 2019. It is captured here in a satellite image taken by MODIS. (Photo: NASA Earth Observatory images by Joshua Stevens via Wikimedia Commons)

Returning to the example of Brazil, let me tell you the real reason behind the fires burning across the Amazon. Amazon is the largest rainforest in the world and is home to about 2.5 million insect species, tens of thousands of plants, and some 2,000 birds and mammals. The Amazon, due to its ultra fertile soil, has been under a constant threat from farmers, cultivators, and their industrial counterparts since the 1970s.

In those times, the Amazon was being encroached by land cultivators and farmers so that they could grow crops like soybean and herd cattle there. As a result, the forest cover started to shrink, and the biodiversity decreased. The indigenous population was forced further inland to survive. However, when the forest cover drastically reduced in the 1980s and 1990s, the Amazonian tribes revolted due to which various protection laws were placed by the government.

Although the condition improved in the next fifteen or so years, it has taken a turn for the worse again in the past five years, especially after the election of Jair Bolsonaro as Brazil’s president in 2019. Bolsonaro has been a long advocate of the farmers union, and in his manifesto promised to lift the protection of indigenous lands and population to clear area for the farmers.

His public condemning of Amazon’s protection laws and budget cut for FUNAI (the law enforcement group responsible for checking illegal occupancy of these lands) emboldened farmers. This is what has been causing the fires. The greed of Bolsonaro has emboldened the farmers who have again started clearing land for cultivation by setting them on fire. There have been 72,843 fires in Brazil in 2019, with more than half within the Amazon region.

Due to the Amazon being an integral part of the earth’s ecosystem, this is not only a heavy blow to the environment, but also set the existence of the indigenous tribes into question. Until 2015, only 8% of Amazonian deforestation occurred in forests inhabited by indigenous peoples, while 88% happened in the areas which are neither protected nor managed by indigenous tribes.

In 2019, a massive chunk of the protected land was encroached illegally by farmers, and the tribes chased out yet again. This time, however, since the perpetrators are supported by the government, there is little hope of nature or its dear inhabitants surviving.

Indigenous culture has always taught the tribes to live in harmony with mother nature, and as such, their living conditions and practices seldom damage the forest. So what went wrong? Brazil has about 2 million square kilometers (25% of Brazil’s national territory) under environmental protection, so the law is not the problem. These lands, although still under protection, could not be saved from illegal occupation because Bolsonaro not only unofficially motivated people to annex them but also cut the funding to FUNAI.

The leadership and the greed of society are a big problem. Bolsonaro has openly announced that indigenous lands will gradually be removed from protection for the country’s economic betterment and that they “do not need this land.” This has led to a growing threat of homelessness for over nine hundred thousand indigenous people in Brazil. The indigenous tribes continue to preserve the forest, but the farmers are getting close day by day, and as such, there is no one to save them.

To gather votes and come in power, Bolsonaro promised that in Brazil, not a centimeter will be demarcated as an indigenous reserve, and his promises gained him the presidential office. The result? To feed the ever-increasing appetite of the Brazilian population and other countries to which Brazil exports soybean and beef, the indigenous people, as well as their beloved nature, was sacrificed yet again.

Throughout history, there have been several examples of people encroaching the homes of native and primitive tribes to illegally gain land and raw materials. As these tribes don’t come under the purview of law, they are ignored by the government and judiciary, and the torments against them totally avoided by the media. This makes their enemies bolder in their gross injustice against these people who, unlike us, believe in conserving nature instead of just profiting from it. So, in short, we are not only damaging nature but also harassing people who are saving it.

The people who come in place of the indigenous population modernise the site and do everything they can to damage the environment in a race towards climatic extinction. The carbon footprint increases, and the greenhouse gas emissions skyrocket due to rising land cultivation and vehicles on road. The loss bearers of even these gross practices at the end of the day are the people who have been displaced from their own homes.

How is that modernisation, and how is this justice? A person who is doing his best to live in peace with nature that gives him a lot with no expectations is ousted from his own home to make way for people who not only damage the environment but also make the people living there homeless.

The same is happening across the globe. Due to the ever-increasing demand of a growing population, more and more trees are being cut, slashed, and burned, giving rise to two interdependent aftereffects. Nature is losing its lush glory, and the people living in it are being forced to leave their homes due to no fault of their own.

Global warming is rapidly increasing at an unprecedented rate, along with homelessness amongst native people. We, however, are still sitting in our AC homes and offices writing and reading articles that no one pays heed to. In the end, the mistakes of a few greedy people will have to be paid for by nature and the ones who care about the environment. The debt is substantial, however, and will have to be paid by the planet and everyone in it, including us.

Is this fair? You tell us. Give your opinion on the poll.

Created by Abhishek Pandeyar

Is Amazon’s burning illegal and unjustifiable?
Featured image for representative purpose only.
Featured image source: Tim Ellis/Flickr.
This post has been written by a YKA Climate Correspondent as part of #WhyOnEarth. Join the conversation by adding a post here.
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