In 1983, when FEDINA’s network got created, its first goal was to work with tribal communities. Even though there are millions of tribals living all over India, we can observe that these populations are still oppressed. Rakesh Kumar Narayana is Reasarch assistant and Tribal Project Co-ordinator for FEDINA as part of the central team in Bangalore. He explains to us what is the situation of tribals in India today and the activities FEDINA is carrying out in order to improve both their working and living conditions.
1/ Hi Rakesh, could you tell us what is the situation of tribals people today in our indian society?
Rakesh Narayana : All human development indicators highlight the same fact : tribal people are marginalized concerning their access to basic health and education. In comparison to other communities in India they present the worst results. The high majority of tribal communities got evicted from the forests, where they used to live for hundreds of years and are now experiencing insecurity.
They did not get any rehabilitation supports when evicted from their lands and most of them are presently landless. They work in the unorganized sector and get very less paid with no social benefits of any kind. Even though tribals were not part of the hindu society, they were absorbed into the cate system. Even the Indian census counts them as Hindus.
2/ How is FEDINA fighting such a discrimination, working with tribals and supporting them ?
R.N.: FEDINA and its network support and work with tribal organisations and movements. Our main focus is to support tribals in accessing forest rights, land rights, and basic rights such as health. We also try to form unions as most of tribals have become agricultural workers and got exploited in the fiels : we are working at improving labour rights.
As you can see, FEDINA’s approach is rights-based : our aim is that community will organise itself for its own rights.In order to achieve such goals, our network has been working on two different ways. Among our 4 partners working with tribals, some are mouvements leaded by communities themselves; some others are non-governmental organizations working with communities.
3/ What are the main victories tribals won during the past decade … ?
R.N.: I would say the first victory tribals got was the legislation passed in their favour, especially with the Forest Rights Act of 2006. Even though, in reality, we are still very far away from practical implementation of the Act in many areas, we are dealing with a law that guarantees the communities and individual land rights and the right to protect forests. According to me, this is one of the major victories.
As an example, Vedanta company was stopped from taking over Nyamgiri Hills (Orissa State) from the Dongria Konds.
Finally, we can say that health and education are improving but at an extremely slow pace.
4/ … And what are the main difficulties they still have to overcome ?
R.N.: One thing is the unresponsive bureaucracy, especially the Fforest department. In spite of the Forest Rights Act, we observe that accessing community and land rights remains difficult. In our area of work – District of Mysore, Karnataka and Wayanad Kerala – very few government officials were actually concerned and implementation is still not effective … It is a real challenge to break the historical structural inequalities of our society and particularly in accessing education and ressources for tribal communities. Moreover, we observe the inclusion of dominant cast groups into the scheduled tribes list. A tribe being registered on such a list allow its community members to enjoy some benefits. But by doing so, dominant groups corner education, political and job reservations.
5/ What are the perspectives for the future ?
R.N. : You know, at the moment FEDINA is working and supporting four groups:
- Spoorthi for Women and Rural Developement Society (SWARDS)
- Tribal Development Society
- Buddakatu Krishikaraa Sangha (BKS)
- Joint Voluntary Action for Legal Alternatives (JVALA)
We are currently part of the state level Network of Tribal Communities. We are also working on state level campaigns to influence policies and to work on macro level issues … Community mobilisation is of course the most important activity we need to focus on in the near future. I think it is important, now, for all movements, to come together and to fight under the same banner. This is the only way for tribal communities to put pressure on the State and force it to meet their demands.