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The planet needs indigenous people to save their lands

The planet needs indigenous people to save their lands


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The preservation of indigenous cultures, their traditional knowledge and the sustainable management of their resources, while helping them to access, choose and prioritize development paths so that they are not left behind, has been a challenge for governments around the world.

Teacher Ramakrushna Bhadra had a huge challenge at Hatrasulganj Santhal rural primary school in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal, until he decided to learn the indigenous language.

"By showing him a picture of a crow in a book, I sing 'kaak', in Bengali, the state language. Many repeat the word in chorus, but first grade Santhalis stare blankly. They only know him by 'koyo', ”Bhadra recounted.

"They gladly throw the marbles to count, but if you ask them how much they counted, they keep quiet because in their mother tongue, one is 'mit' and two is 'bariah', very different from Bengali, 'ek' and 'du'" he added.

For the Santhal community, the largest in West Bengal, Bengali is a foreign language; for this reason, when they start school, new students do not learn anything, lose interest and abandon to go with their parents in the seasonal migration. This generates illiteracy that only perpetuates the cycle of poverty.

India passed a law declaring that education is a constitutional right for all boys and girls ages 6 to 14. The norm also seeks to reduce the dropout rates of ethnic minorities, provides for teaching in their mother tongue in primary school and creates free residential schools in tribal areas, as the indigenous people are called in this country.

With a population of 8,000 and only 3 percent literate women, the Dongria Kondh community in neighboring Odisha state has a free, girls-only residential school in Rayagada district, created by the government in 2008.

Enrollment and retention of girls requires ongoing effort, but older girls, who have been in school for years, stray from their roots and are ashamed of their unique traditional hairstyles and outfits.

Of the 370 million indigenous people in 70 countries, India has 700 different ethnic groups, about 104 million people.

For this, it is essential, and the closest thing to a solution, to grant them customary rights to the land, as well as to the resources found in it.

Ancestral resources and territories are of fundamental importance to their lifestyle, livelihoods, culture and religion, and indeed to their collective physical and cultural survival as a community.

The government has several specific programs for indigenous communities in terms of education, means of earning a living, educational and labor fees, as well as a huge budget for food security, aimed at reducing the visible economic gap between them and the rest of the world. the population.

"The poor implementation of existing programs in tribal regions means that not only poverty remains exceptionally high in those regions, but its decline has been much slower than in the entire country," according to the national report of the Planning Commission , now called Niti Aayog.

Discrimination, official apathy and a lack of sensitivity to tribal lifestyles, in addition to widespread corruption, lack of justice and respect for human dignity, and political marginalization strengthened extremism in various tribal regions of India.

In this country, most of the indigenous peoples live in the deep jungle that on top of rich deposits of iron, bauxite, chromite, coal and other minerals, highly coveted by the government and mining companies.

Photo: One of the towns with the least contact with the outside world, the bonda community, is part of the Red Corridor, where the insurgents of the extreme left are active and where the government's plans for education, health and sanitation have had very little impact. Credit: Manipadma Jena / IPS.

The Constitution of India preserves the right to self-government and autonomy for indigenous people over their territories. Even the village council has the last word in decisions, even above that of the government with regard to the use of resources, especially in the framework of the Forest Rights Law, 2006, and the Law Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement, 2013.

But village power is subverted from time to time by businesses and government agencies, numerous studies have concluded.

The lack of recognition and protection of the rights to land and natural resources, especially the jungle, is one of the main causes of conflicts and unrest that disrupts most infrastructure projects, which over time it leads to project disruption and the loss of billions of dollars.

Ethnic groups became somewhat more aware, but in addition the Supreme Court of India closely follows the respect of their rights to land and forest. That made a huge difference in the last decade. The issue has been on the table because civil society organizations, both local and international, maintain protests and open debate.

Until the 2011 census, more than half of the indigenous population of India had gone to live in the cities, in an environment totally different from their way of life, more in contact with nature. The main causes of migration have been poverty, displacement derived from infrastructure projects and the loss of their livelihoods due to lack of access to land and forests.

In the village of Kadaraguma, high in the Rayagada Hills, 66-year-old Kone Wadaka is looking for an heiress to pass on his rich knowledge of medicinal plants. She inherited from her father, a medicine man of the Dongria Kondh clan, oral knowledge that was passed down from generation to generation.

As a teenager, Wadaka accompanied his father for days and learned to identify leaves and roots to prevent conception, relieve seizures and convulsions, heal wounds and soothe pain. And as a young man he wanted to take the post of familiar knowledge.

As the jungle grows further away from the village and trees are cut down to make way for commercial timber plantations, Wadaka fears that if a suitable heir is not found soon, the priceless knowledge will die with her. He is sorry that his people lose something that belonged to him for generations.

The 2030 Agenda for sustainable development, whose key objectives continue to be to build inclusive societies, seek the empowerment of indigenous peoples by guaranteeing their rights to land, equal education and training, doubling the income and productivity of small agricultural enterprises and to encourage states to include indigenous leaders in subsequent reviews of the country's progress.

Cover photo: An indigenous matriarch in India from the biologically diverse state of Sikkim in the Himalayas. She concentrates traditional knowledge on food and medicinal properties of plants. Credit: Manipadma Jena / IPS.

This article is part of IPS coverage for the International Day of Indigenous Peoples, August 9.

By Manipadma Jena

Translated by Verónica Firme


Video: Protecting the Land u0026 Rights of PHL Indigenous People (June 2022).


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