For centuries now we, the Adivasis, fisherfolk, hill, forest dwellers and others who are the original inhabitants of the Indian sub-continent have been systematically pushed off our ancestral lands and forcibly confined to small, remote and increasingly vulnerable corners of the country. In this process we have been subjected to unspeakable atrocities bordering on genocide by successive regimes ruling what has been styled as the ‘world’s largest democracy’.
In these seven decades millions of our people have been displaced by destructive development projects and robbed of their resources by one government after the other. The forces of the Indian State have violated our human rights repeatedly, murdered our menfolk, raped our womenfolk and thrown countless youth from our communities into prison on false charges. In other words we have been reduced to less than third class citizens in the Republic of India, the alleged land of ‘non-violence and peace’.
We have never accepted these policies of loot and plunder and will resist them to our last breath. We have never begged or asked for anything. We only assert our rights to what is ours and has been taken from us. In recent years, we have taken up many struggles against forcible attempts by the Indian government, acting on behalf of foreign and domestic business interests, to take away our forest, sea, land and water resources.
Due to our struggles the government was forced to pass the Forest Rights Act in 2006 and recognise some of the forest rights due to the Adivasi and traditional forest dwellers. However, till date none of these rights have been truly implemented and as a result, the rights of forest workers to their natural resources are being denied, leaving women and children to face the maximum burden.
The Coastal Zone Regulation Notification of 1991, another product of our struggles, has also been violated repeatedly and is now being replaced by business-friendly legislation. Such attempts to dilute these existing laws are being made in order to benefit multinational companies and the corporate world.
On the eve of the Indian Republic’s general elections we the Adivasis, forest workers, fisherfolk and people of the hills have decided to issue our own Election Manifesto as both a mark of our aspirations as also a document of our demands from India’s political parties and institutions.
We demand that all Indian political parties pledge to:
- Set up Autonomous Councils for self-governance in all Adivasi, forest dwellers, fisherfolk and hill people majority areas.
- Stop destroying our environment, livelihood and way of life in the name of development.
- Stop denying access to the forest and sea resources to our people or displacing them under the pretext of conservation. Respect our right to food sovereignty and our historical role in protecting biodiversity.
- Implement the Forest Rights Act 2006 in a manner that the community and its individuals both have control over the management of its natural resources.
- Stop setting up SEZs and STZs in coastal areas.
- The gram sabhas in Adivasi areas should be delineated and defined as the immediate habitat not the cluster of villages defined under different panchayat laws.
- The gram sabha should be the supreme political, legal, social and cultural institution to decide the management of natural resources, which includes forests, land, waterbodies, minerals, all criminal and civils disputes including inheritance and marriage disputes
- Gram sabha should be the final authority for deciding matters related to excise duties.
- The PESA Act should be extended to the contiguous Adivasi villages and territories of non-5th Schedule Areas
- The 5th Schedule Area should enjoy the autonomy and power granted to 6th schedule areas
- The areas declared as critical tiger habitats should be repealed
- The management of sanctuaries and national parks should handed over to the gram sabhas.
- The new draft forest policy and CAF Act, along with the 1927 Indian forest Act should be scrapped
- Stop promoting tourism as a part of development policy and stop neglecting the ecological destructiveness of tourist projects.
- Re-delineate gram panchayat constituencies to give greater representation to coastal people.
- Make Tourism Impact Assessments, with participation of the communities, compulsory for existing tourism projects. Ensure that maximum benefits of existing tourism projects go to communities.
- Stop dumping of domestic and industrial waste in inland water sources. Place severe restrictions on the emission of fuels and pollutants by industries and vehicles that cause climate change and environmental degradation.
- Put an end to Free Trade Agreements that destroy our food sovereignty and sustainable farming practices.
- Set up a separate Ministry of Fisheries. Provide basic infrastructure like marketing sheds, water and toilet facilities to fish vendors.
- Stop sexual exploitation of women and children in tourist, coastal and forest areas.
- Stop using Maoism as an excuse to kill, rape, assault and imprison people and communities resisting the corporate and state takeover of their resources.
We also call upon our people to:
- Select the representatives whom we elect to government from within our communities.
- Force all political parties to represent the interests of local communities and expose their corporate or business interests. We must use our voting power to put pressure on legislators for our issues to be discussed in parliament.
- Prevent any individuals and organizations from misrepresenting our community or profiting from this misrepresentation.
- Building up a political consciousness of unity among Adivasis and all people dependent on forests and natural resources to implement the Forest Rights Act including the community rights which we feel are vital for our cultural and physical survival.
- Start a “Quit Forest” agitation to end the control of the Forest Department and rebuild gram sabhas as a means for forest management and conservation of biodiversity by our communities.
- Do our own survey on FRA implementation by putting together the input from our own forest dwelling communities by training ourselves to map and survey the land and resources required for the community to sustain itself and its customs.
- Prevent government officials who come to survey land prior to acquiring it from entering our areas. Resist the use of Aadhar or the UID card to get information from our communities.
- Counter the narrative pushed by conservationists that tribal control of forests will lead to its destruction. We were born in the forests, we depend on the forest, and we have taken care of the forest despite being pushed away from them by deforesters, corporates, the government, forest department and conservationists.
- Actively preserve and take forward our diverse cultural and agricultural traditions and value systems. We will say no to genetically engineered seeds, pesticides, fertilizers, patenting of seeds and medicines and the menace of government-sponsored sale of liquor.
- Say NO to commercial tourism and other destructive development projects.
- Unite locally so that all peopledependent on and culturally connected to natural resources in our communities fight together unitedly for our rights to those resources.
- Mobilize at the village, then district, state and national levels, with people coming together from everywhere to support each other’s struggles.
- Strengthen local institutions of governance and establish our control over them, both through our traditional Adivasi gram sabhas, and through implementing PESA and strengthening the primacy of gram sabhas as custodians of resources such that no resources can be diverted without their consent.
- In the face of repeated failure of the so called democratic institutions of the Republic of India to ensure justice to us we endeavour to create a “parliament” parallel to the government structure to represent the voices of Adivasis, Dalits, hill and forest dwellers, fisher folk, and other communities dependent on natural resources, and to implement our aspirations.