International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples is observed on August 9 every year. The day has been marked out by United Nations to promote and protect rights of world’s indigenous population. It was first pronounced by the General Assembly of United Nations in December 1994. This event appears very important to us in India since we have only just begun to appreciate contributions made by indigenous people to align themselves to issues pertaining to environmental protection.
Today, as world bodies and social media celebrate the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, HERD Foundation would like to take a look at the realities of the Gond Adivasis among whom we have been working so closely for over a decade. Settled in the jungles around Nagpur, the Vidarbha region enjoys a rich history and culture of indigenous tribes. It was here in the hilly tracts around Nagpur that the first historically recorded Gond kingdoms came up in the 14th and 15th century AD.
Adivasi’s in India are known constitutionally as ‘Tribes’. The total Adivasi population of India is (67.6.million) which is round around 8.6 percent. The total population of Adivasi’s in India is larger than that of any country in the world. The word tribe is generally used for a ‘socially cohesive unit, associated with a territory, the members of which regard them as politically autonomous’. Often a tribe possesses a distinct dialect and distinct cultural traits. Adivasis or Gond tribes in Central India are the aboriginal or indigenous people of the land.
The Gond Adivasi’s earlier held their natural resources – agricultural lands, forests, pasture grounds, fisheries, or water resources jointly. No family was deprived of access to these and all members had rights to land for grazing by their animals on open ground that were the tribe’s terrain. The dependency of the Adivasi’s on forest land was primal and they lived very close to nature and forest. With the reservation of forest lands into Parks and Sanctuaries their existence became traumatized. The People-Park-Animal conflicts are a direct consequence with sore repercussions.
Later, even with gradual merging of Gond tribals into mainstream population, a good percentage continued living in rural and jungle areas with their lives dependent on forest and natural resources. With ever more urbanization and consequent displacement they continue to be deprived of food and fodder from forests. Gradual displacement keeps them in denial of the natural rights that they used to enjoy. A huge percent of the Adivasi population suffers from displacement and adjustment to newer settlements.
In an ever increasing escalation of infighting for their natural rights and coming to terms with governance issues, they face deprivation, displacement and discrimination. And now with the onslaught of liberation, privatization and globalization the Gond Adivasis have been subject to much exploitation too. As an aboriginal community that once had complete ownership of the natural resources – Jal, Jungle, Jameen (water, forest and land), present day modernization has left them bereft of their heritage and ancestral rights
Today as United Nations marks out International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, the social media giant, Twitter has also come up with a campaign. This campaign will continue into September to mark the 10th anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. However the United Nations also states that even after 10 years since its Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, not enough had changed. This is true in our case too. HERD Foundation that provides health care and medical referral facilities to these inhabitants, pledges its support and will continue to be supportive to enhance standards for their survival, dignity and well-being.