New Delhi (AsiaNews) - A denial of the very existence of the aborigines, and therefore of their rights to their land, of which they are deprived, even by force, in favor of multinational companies, a denial of respect for their culture and their right to food, a denial of their religion and forced conversion to Hinduism. These are some of the accusations that Indian priests and tribals are issuing against the Indian government, and will be presented at the eighth World Social Forum, a meeting of nongovernmental groups for the purpose of exchanging experiences and advancing proposals to create a more democratic, fair, and united world. The meeting will be held from January 27 to March 1, in Belem (Brazil). The abuses suffered by the indigenous will be reported at the meeting by representatives of the justice and peace commission of the Indian Catholic bishops' conference. AsiaNews talked with some of the delegates.
The Capuchin friar Nithiya, executive secretary of the commission, says that "all over the world, indegenious people have a right to their land. At the international level, India has consistently denied that India has indegenious people, they refer to the Adivasis as Vanvasis, and this frees them from them from the international law that legitimizes the right to land of the indigenous people and cannot be alienated. In India - Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Orissa and parts of Madhya Pradesh - are vast tribal lands belonging to our aborginal people, or Adivasi people, which means indigenous people. Land was central and crucial in the tribal worldview. Culture, religion, history, spirituality and even the Sacred Being cannot be conceived without land. By attributing the label Vanvasi, or people of the forest, the administration is denying these Indian indigenous people their basic human right to land. Tribals land is linked to their identity; hence land alienation leads to a loss of identity. Industrialists have brought huge amounts of tribal land, and are exploiting the natural resources, which cannot be renewed. The problem has two dimensions. First, the tribals are duped out of their landholdings. Second, the families thus rendered landless are then forced to encroach further into the forests. Another even more pressing problem is the saffronization or Hinduization of these tribals. These tribals are even being alienated from their religious identity - they are not Hindus.
"We have a scheduled visit to the indigenous communities in the Amazon and two days in Rio de Janeiro, to have exposure to the indigenous people in that area. The right to food is an important aspect to be considered."
Fr. Xavier Jeyaraj (in the photo) is secretary for social action for the Jesuits, and is leading a group of 29 delegates from India, including tribals and Dalits. He tells AsiaNews that "the government denies the indigenous status of the tribals in India. Calling the tribals 'scheduled tribes' is an injustice done to the people even in the constitution. It needs to be fought in a collective way. The same goes for the Dalits, who have been denied their basic human rights in many ways." In India, economic advantages, jobs, and free education are granted on the basis of membership in a particular ethnic group. For this reason, classifying a community as part of one group rather than another can lead to the loss or recognition of important rights.
"The problems of tribals in India or the indigenous people in Brazil or any other Latin American countries is very similar," Fr. Xavier continues. "Our effort is to recognize the struggles of the indigenous all over the world and to join hands with them in the first step. Such collective consensus building on the issues of tribals / indigenous people, reflection with them is necessary. The result may not be visible immediately, but building the people's power to speak truth to power at various levels, in the state and in the centre, is a must."
Fr. Xavier also intends to denounce, at the WSF: "A) Alienation of natural resources, particularly land, forest, water etc from the tribals in the name of so-called 'development'. We call this 'developmental terrorism' that is going on in the country. We will highlight various ways in which the people have been displaced and are terrorised to leave their land for industries and multinational corporations. B) The economic and political fundamentalism that uses religion to divide people. The attack on the minorities (Christians in Orissa) and the causes behind such attacks. The state has been a mute spectator in all this. C) The Dalit atrocities and human rights violations against the marginalised community."