Human Rights Concerns of NASC
1) Inequitable Access to Legal Justice Systems.
Being one of the most disadvantaged groups in India, the Adivasi people experience severe injustices in governmental and legislative systems. Acts that apply significantly to Adivasi people include;
- UN Declaration on Rights of Indigenous People,
- Bonded Labourers’ Abolition Act 1976
- Prevention of Atrocities Act 1989
- The Forest Rights Act 2006
- Right to Education Act 2009
- International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention Number 169
Acts that consist of embedded discriminatory principles include
- Land Acquisition Act 1894
- The Indian Forest Act 1927
- Criminal Tribes Act 1924 (Habitual Offenders Act 1952)
- Indian Wildlife Protection Act 1972
The abovementioned Acts have had varied success in enabling Adivasi people’s access to rights, as such require intense amending simultaneously with more effective implementation due to;
- Unbalanced distribution of power between departments resulting in conflicting jurisdictions
- Contradictory legislation stemming from poor consultation and review
- Prevalent corruption in decisions based on personal, political, fiscal gains
- Disempowering, exploitative practices by government officials
2) Violation of Economic and Livelihood Rights.
As a consequence of the above structural challenges Adivasi people are forced to face, their capacity to earn sufficient income is diminished. The Forest Department in particular restricts much of their traditional ways of life, including sustainable trade and agricultural practices. Escalating global and national value on individual responsibility and market principles combined with a sheer lack of basic needs force them to leave the forest and enter employment that often further violates rights to livelihoods. Below minimum wage work and the leading issue of Bonded Labour forces the majority of Adivasi people below the international poverty line of $1.25/day (World Bank).
“Bonded Labour occurs when a person is forced to work in order to pay off an illegal advance. The employer takes advantage of the labourer’s vulnerability by restricting their freedom to travel, seek alternative employment opportunities, sell goods and services or be paid the minimum wage.” (International Justice Mission -IJM)
A survey of rescued bonded labourers stated that 94% of victims are Adivasi people (IJM). Industries found to be involved in this form of modern day slavery include but are not restricted to;
- Wood cutting, rock quarries, brick kilns, production of fire-wood coal, construction work.
- Sugar cane cutting, animal farming, agriculture and watch people for mango, sapota and coconut cultivation and salt-production farms (migration to coastal areas).
- Rice mills, marriage hall preparation and cleaning.
The harmful legacy this leaves on people’s mental health and ability to regain meaningful and fair employment is a detriment to Adivasi victims’ right to economic livelihoods.
3. Displacement, Discrimination and Violation of Social and Cultural Rights.
Adivasi communities have been historically marginalised and oppressed by dominant society’s inequitable developments. Their identity as individuals and as a group emerges as the major victim, as the attacks on their rights to social inclusion and engagement in their own culture are prominent.
Patterns of deprivation of customary rights over natural common resources; minerals, water and forest products not only reduce capacity to earn income but destroy the deep connection to earth integral to Adivasi life. More specifically,
- Forced eviction practices causing land alienation persistently threaten traditional knowledge including intellectual property rights, medicinal wisdom and language.
- Harassment by government Forest Department factions restricts Adivasi people’s freedom to enact their heritage and collect natural common resources without fear.
Processes of government and private agendas still fail to include Adivasi people in consultation for decisions made about them, where as
“Indigenous People’s participation in decision making and the right to free, prior and informed consent are at the core of Indigenous peoples’ rights” (The Indigenous World 2011 of UN)
It is fundamental for Indigenous people to preserve and develop their cultures and ways of life and effectively participate in the ‘development’ discourse, benefiting them as peoples and not only the state as a whole.
4) Plight of Women and Children.
Women and children are the most vulnerable people of all societies; Adivasi communities are not exempt in this. It is evident that if a woman’s rights are secure, the family’s and community’s rights are protected, as such, traditionally, Adivasi life was matriarchal. However due to globalisation’s patriarchal values, they stand to lose their supports and resources. As women are often given the responsibility of rearing children, their struggle goes hand in hand.
Women are often the principle campaigners for the protection rights, however still face exclusion from any consultation, support or rehabilitation. Women’s concerns currently consist of;
- Democracy failures due to exploitation from politicians who target them for their unity and likeliness to vote. False respect and promises are made to gain votes, additionally if results are contested, harassment escalates.
- Accounts, land and bank accounts are held in men’s names, resulting in a struggle for lone women to obtain assets, access services or make legal claims.
- While some of the men are lured into urban areas in the hope of employment, women do not have the same opportunity due to lack of education and illiteracy.
- Adivasi women are victims of sexual abuse and intimidation by non Adivasi people, making the women vulnerable to HIV/AIDS and other infections.
- Displacement and land loss threatens women’s economic activities, food security, social, cultural and health support systems, increasing the rate of poverty, disadvantage and vulnerability.
Oppressive patriarchal systems and poverty limit education opportunities, resulting in low levels of literacy and technical skills and therefore reduces the capacity for ‘modern’ employment. This issue also directly relates to children. Further issues affecting wellbeing of young people are;
- Poverty – ill physical and mental health evident in developmental delays.
- Corrupt and poorly supported public education system problematic teacher quality and retention rates.
- Geographical isolation, low or no access to transport infrastructure.
- Premature involvement in labouring activities of land and other industries.
- Arranged child marriages reinforcing disparities in indicators of child wellbeing and exploitation of particularly young females.
- Girl child disadvantages impacting on access and right to education, employment and income, marital status, confidence and role in community.
with what values and approaches?
A common thread on which to base assessment and intervention is the Sustainable approach:
Increasing application of sustainable practice for long-lasting positive changes owned by the community itself.
Values underpinning our framework for practice include;
- Practicing democracy, participation and equal opportunities.
- Sincere learning and mutual sharing in all our process.
- Believing in our objectives and activities with optimistic confidence.
- Trusting in genuine commitment and hard work.
- Adoption of traditional knowledge, experiences with modern application.
- Importance of education, human rights, livelihoods and environment.
where to from here?
- Steps towards achieving the goal of creating a peaceful society where there are no disparities between race, religion, caste, class, gender and colour.
- Improving Indigenous communities’ access to equality and justice whilst protecting and utilising all the natural resources in a sustainable manner.
- To empower the most marginalised communities by listening to the people with the aim of understanding the context of their specific village situation. Through exploring their concerns and opportunities to build capacity, the development process is facilitated without compromising quality of service, time and social work values.
how will we get there?
Human Rights Protection Strategies
- Inequitable Access to Legal Justice Systems
- Training programs to build awareness of human rights violations, policies and legislation with a focus on developing skills and capacity to challenge injustice.
- Campaigning and lobbying State and Central Government to implement tribal protection Acts
- Strengthening peoples’ organisations for the enforcement of laws such as BLA, POA, FRA, RTE, RTI
- Upholding traditional Gram-Sabhas of Adivasi people and respecting their decisions.
- Work with tribal communities to appoint ‘Community Lawyers’ to represent villages, strengthening legal systems, stimulating courts and police for justice and demanding the state to ensure rights to all citizens. This will also encourage tribal people to come forward and make claims against human rights violations.
- Publication of a newsletter, booklets, to train people on important laws and to use methods of such laws for their rights and dignity (publish in different languages).
- Violation of Economic, Livelihood, Employment rights.
- Promoting traditional and customary earth based income generation activities by restoring tradition skills in sustainable resource management among tribal communities, related to their location and resources. For example, ‘Seed-Banks’.
- Gathering support for organisations working with Bonded Labouring issues for their implementation of rescue and rehabilitation programs,
- Widening awareness among networks for necessary referrals to supportive services.
- Displacement, Discrimination and Violation of Social and Cultural Rights
- Accurate, corruption free documenting and mapping areas experiencing human rights violations, detailing issues.
- Mass social movements highlighting human rights violations and their causes and discrimination to create collective action and bring attention to struggles and exploitation at a local, district, state and national level
- Use media and mass movements to pressurise on the State and Central Government to implement supportive changes, For example, the Community Rights Sangama, Signature Campaign, People’s Amendments and community participation
- Promote education of tribal knowledge, traditions, spirituality and language in schools and villages to preserve culture and restore generational knowledge.
- Plight of Women and Children
- Linkages between Adivasi women and banks, increasing savings and credit systems helping women to gain confidence, hope, mobility and solidarity.
- Women centred support groups on issues faced by women such as, rights over environmental resources, sexual abuse and harassment and stigma, health wellbeing, education, income and social roles. Resulting in increased participation and leadership.
- Pictorial model of self-learning and empowerment manual which identifies human rights violations, what legislation applies, processes to enact and who to contact.
- Mass education movement encompassing tribal young people and parents, teachers and colleges to address educational issues and promote the importance of quality education, for boys and girls.
- Providing training for participants on how to access college seats and government scholarships and inviting community members to express interest. This will also increase teacher engagement, sense of purpose and commitment/retention.
- Integration of human rights protection laws in the school syllabus and in college curriculum, to engender rights approaches in future leaders.
- Encouraging student interest in law studies to increase tribal representation in policy, law and decision making and to advocate for community rights and challenge injustice.
- Promotion of Ecological Child Rights Clubs (ECRC) in tribal and rural areas and organising exposure trips between regions.
The current political climate is not conducive to the enactment of [UDHR] peoples’ rights. The dominant agenda of Capitalism infiltrating India through Globalisation has resulted in structures of greed and ignorance. Campaigns for legislation to be introduced have been successful. However, implementation has not been visible on the ground. The role of the NGO therefore, is to highlight legal frameworks and increase awareness and understanding among marginalised populations about their violation of legal rights (economic, labour, education, health, cultural etc) and mobilise communities to access them. If quality of life is not improved, there exists the opportunity to band together in filing a case against the government for the purpose of holding them accountable.