Tribals, In India, Are Facing The Worst And Being Blamed For It Too!

Note: The Prime Ministerial Brief podcast is now live! Head here to listen and subscribe to the latest episode on issues that young India wants the Prime Minister to pay attention to.
WhyOnEarth logo mobEditor’s Note: Are you bothered by the drastic changes in our climate, causing extreme weather events and calamities such as the Kerala Floods? #WhyOnEarth aims to take the truth to the people with stories, experiences, opinions and revelations about the climate change reality that you should know, and act on. Have a story to share? Click here and publish.

Indigenous people or the aboriginals, as the name suggests, are native inhabitants of the land. They are also called adivasis, vanvasis, etc. Since time immemorial, they have been residing in the forest and thereby conserving flora, fauna and the whole ecosystem in general. But, they are ones who have been subject to utmost injustice and social exclusion. It still continues, though not openly.

Adivasis have been subject to utmost injustice and social exclusion. It still continues, though not openly.

The scenario has been no different in the present or in the past; they have been deprived of almost everything. Most importantly of their forest rights. For example, the right to inhabit, right to collect, use forest produce, etc. and the Right to Life as enshrined under Article 21 of the constitution of India. This “hidden” deprivation not only snatched their basis of livelihood but also effected the ecosystem adversely. They are like a newborn baby thrown in front of a pack of wolves!

But what’s worse than all the unfairness is that they are also tagged as ‘destroyers of the environment’!  Some people, and specially the government, are more naive than even children, for they are the ones who have branded tribals as ‘destroyers’ of no less than their own home. But, are they really naive or do they have some ulterior motive? Decide after reading this article.

After Independence, efforts have been made to ensure justice. It is because of these efforts that at least a very small (almost negligible) fraction of the ST community is now a part of the mainstream society. But, the most important step came in 2006 when the Forest Rights Act was enacted. This Act appears green if its provisions are observed, but if we talk about its implementation, it is barren land. Before proceeding further it is essential to first know the rights which are recognised under this Act:

  • Title rights, i.e. the right to ownership to land farmed by tribals or forest dwellers subject to a maximum of 4 hectares. Ownership is only for land that is actually being cultivated by the concerned family and no new lands will be granted.
  • Use rights, to minor forest produce (also including ownership), to grazing areas, to pastoralist routes, etc.
  • Relief and development rights, to rehabilitation in case of illegal eviction or forced displacement and to basic amenities, subject to restrictions for forest protection.
  • Forest management rights, to protect and conserve forests and wildlife.

Now the important question is, who are eligible to claim rights under the Act? The Act:

  • Provides for those primarily residing in forests or forest lands and depending on forests and forest land for a livelihood.
  • Further, either the claimant must be a member of the Scheduled Tribe community in that area or must have been residing in the forest for 75 years.
The traditional dance of the Santal community. (Photo: One Life To Travel/Facebook)

The Act provides an extensive procedure for deciding on who gets rights. But the problem starts here – how will they prove it?

This is the loophole which has sown the seeds of this complicated problem. Majority of the tribal communities don’t have any land record or any other kind of evidence. Forget about that or the laws, most of them don’t even understand the mainstream language properly!

This fact is not hidden that the Ministry of Forest and Environment and the Ministry of Tribal Affairs have been at loggerheads lately. The former is claiming that the tribals are the destructors of the environment and the latter is opposing that view. And trust me, the Ministry of Forest and Environment has the most ironic instrumentality I have ever seen. Let us not even discuss the “namesake” ministry.

It is said that the Supreme Court is the guardian of fundamental rights but in the recent judgment of Wildlife First & Ors. V. Ministry of Forest and Environment & Ors. 2019, the Supreme Court ordered state governments to evict over 10 lakh forest dwelling families whose claims have been rejected under the Forest Rights Act, 2006. The tribal communities are claiming that the claims rejected are faulty and improper.

The Supreme Court is expected to look beyond to provide justice but this judgement shows a different picture altogether. It seems as if everyone is trying to find more and more loopholes in the laws to exploit them to the fullest “legally.” They are trying to find more and more issues which tribal communities can be blamed for! So, they are tagging them as destroyers of the environment.

I mean, seriously! The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report, The Forest Survey of India, etc. clearly show that where indigenous groups have control of the land, forest area and biodiversity flourishes! Are they trying to say that all these reports and surveys are false? The UNDP also report says that nearly 70 million indigenous women and men depend on forests for their livelihood, and many more are farmers, hunter-gatherers or pastoralists. One should at least use their common sense and wonder why would anyone destroy their means of livelihood?!

We shouldn’t forget that The Forest Rights Act is satisfactorily backed by the constitution, and important articles in this regard are: 1) Article 14: Right to Equality. 2) Article 15(4): Special provisions for the advancement of other backward classes (it includes the ST community). 3) Article 19(5): While the rights of free movement and residence throughout the territory of India and of acquisition and disposition of property are guaranteed to every citizen, special restrictions may be imposed by the state for the protection of the interests of any Scheduled Tribe. 4) Article 21: Right to Life. Hence, their rights are guarded well within the constitution theoretically, but in reality, this is not the case.

In the case of Olga Tellis V. Bombay Municipal Corporation, 1985, the Supreme Court held that the Right to Life as guaranteed by Article 21 of the constitution also includes Right to Livelihood. Isn’t this a violation of Article 21 because they are being deprived of their right to livelihood unreasonably and unjustly?

And forget about everything else for a minute. I may even believe that these reports are false but can emotions be fabricated? Nature holds immense significance in tribal culture; we can see a lot of examples of it being revered, and it being referred to in song and dance. There exists a beautiful symbiotic relationship between tribals and the environment and we all know very well that there’s no “I” in a symbiotic relationship!

In the case of Maneka Gandhi V. Union of India, the apex court beautifully explained this aspect of Article 21 – that the Right to Life doesn’t mean mere animalistic existence but includes within its ambit the right to live with human dignity. This was affirmed by n number of cases like the Francis Coralie Mullin case and the Bandhua Mukti Morcha case. But, with regard to tribals, can you say that they are living a life with dignity? Definitely not!

The most important fundamental right seems blatantly violated in their case and no one is doing anything! If tribals are “destroying” the environment then are people trying to say that big mining projects taken over by the corporations are healing the environment?! Hasdeo Arand (where a fake Gram Sabha was organised to get the permission), and the Aarey forest are still fresh in everyone’s mind.

Forget even about tribal communities for a second, think about yourselves (since everyone is selfish here). You are depriving yourself of the right to a clean and healthy environment! It has been affirmed by cases like the MC Mehta judgments, Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra V. State of UP, and the Indian Council for Enviro-Legal Action V. Union of India, etc. that the Right to Life as enshrined under Article 21 also takes within its sweep the right to a healthy environment.

Think about it! Everything and everyone is connected, whatever happens to one will affect the other. My dad once told me that tribal communities use forests for their need not for greed. And, need can never destroy anything but greed does! Since we all know who is greedy, it can suffice to say people are digging their own grave!

Featured image for representative purpose only. Featured image source: thecitizen.in
Similar Posts

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Read more about his campaign.

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.

Read more about her campaign. 

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.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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 Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’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.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below