Adivasis seek assurances against eviction . . .
On the heels of India’s Citizenship Amendment Bill, to be tabled at the winter parliament session, comes yet another proposed legislative amendment: this time to the Indian Forest Act of 1927. The proposed amendment would have allowed forestry departments to override various forest laws, including the Forest Rights Act (2006), to displace forest communities and allow government officers to use firearms to prevent offences without any fear of repercussion. While India’s ruling BJP government has withdrawn the draft amendment, it sparked fear among the 150 million forest dwellers in the country. Last Thursday, more than 2,000 Indigenous people and other forest dwellers marched into New Delhi seeking redress and assurances that they will not be evicted from their traditional homes.
The state vs the Adivasis . . .
For the Adivasis, a collective term for the many Indigenous peoples of India, a fear of eviction is not without reason. In February 2019, the Supreme Court of India ordered the eviction of nearly one million forest dwellers after their land rights claims were rejected by state governments’ forestry departments. That eviction order has since been stayed as the Supreme Court acknowledged the need to determine whether due process was followed. Under the Forest Rights Act (2006), forest dwellers in India have rights to cultivate, protect, and manage the 98.8 million acres of forest land they have lived on for centuries. Over the years, however, these traditional guardians of forest lands have faced various forms of human rights violations – including sexual violence, trafficking, militarization, state violence, and development-induced displacement.
The state of affairs . . .
Indigenous peoples in India comprise 8.6 per cent of the national population. According to the World Bank, there are approximately 370 million Indigenous peoples worldwide in over 90 countries, which is about five per cent of the global population. Together they occupy just about a quarter of the world’s surface area, protecting 80 per cent of the world’s remaining biodiversity. While conservationists in India claim that the Adivasis and other forest dwellers are degrading the land with their slash and burn farming practices, a study by the World Bank indicates how forests have the potential to reduce poverty, lead to rural economic growth, and support national conservation goals for India. Recognizing that Indigenous land rights are an integral part of the country’s growth will involve lessons old and new, be it in India or Canada.