India: rights of the indigenous Adivasis

The Adivasi cooperation programme aims to strengthen the rights of Adivasis to forest dwelling and to forest use and protection in accordance with Indian indigenous traditions. The programme takes advantage of the Forest Rights Act passed in 2006, the preparation and implementation of which the Adivasis have promoted through the cooperation programme itself.

Biodiversity can be sustained only when people sustain themselves in a way that does not threaten the regeneration of the land's own biodiversity, for example the regeneration of wild, natural forests. Forms of human settlement, agriculture, production and culture are crucial to the preservation or destruction of biodiversity.

In forest regions populated by Adivasis, the area used to sustain human life is rather small when compared to the area used to sustain modern ways of living. The amount of square metres required per capita of wild, renewable forest remains modest due to the Adivasis' indigenous lifestyles adapted to forest life. In fact, the Adivasis see themselves as part of the forest, in contrast to merely living in it. Despite the relative scarcity of natural forests in India, these regions are populated by approximately a hundred million Adivasis - which is more indigenous people than in any other country in the world.

Approximately 30 million Adivasis have been displaced during the 65 years of Indian independence. The displacements have been justified with various development projects such as mining and major dam building. The remaining Adivasi lands and forests are further threatened by the government, industry and mainstream culture. All this endangers the tribal heritages of communities adapted to local environments. Both the government and the general public are largely oblivious of local rights.


Strengthening Adivasi dialogue

It is often difficult for Adivasi communities to defend themselves against the government and big business by means of local organising alone. This is why the indigenous peoples of India need civil movements and cooperation between Adivasi groups in different regions.

The Indian legislation, judiciary and government have recently acknowledged more explicitly than before their international and national commitments to the collective community forest rights of Adivasis and to community rights in territories inhabited by particularly vulnerable tribal groups. However, the authorities in charge of registering and authorising the traditional customary rights of communities are not familiar with the numerous tribes' customary rights. The authorities also lack conceptual or administrative criteria or facilities required for the registration.

The Adivasi customary rights have been constituted as collective rights based on regional characteristics, life conditions, and traditional forms of labour. These traditions include rotational slash-and-burn cultivation, bamboo work, traditional knowledge and healing, forest produce collecting, and community forestry. Such life practices and the rights of traditional work inherent in them involve many features that connect communities engaged in these practices, even if the communities were far apart and distant in both language and culture.

Therefore, it is important that tribal communities located in different regions can gain publicity for the expression and handling of their rights through their campaigns and civil movements. When the recognition and registration of Adivasi community rights becomes easier, it will be more difficult for the government and commercial players to grab, destroy or pollute the Adivasi lands, forests and waters.

The Siemenpuu NAA programme is implemented in cooperation with the National Adivasi Alliance network, which aims to strengthen the autonomy and cultural heritage of Adivasi communities and to prevent displacement and environmental threats. The projects carried out by the NAA network and its membership organisations advocate the implementation of the legal forest rights of the Adivasi communities and strive to invigorate sustainable, self-sufficient models of village community life, for example community forestry and traditional healing.


National Adivasi Alliance programme was evaluated in 2015 - 2016. The focus of the evaluation was on the Forest Rights Act (FRA) related activities among NAA members between 2013 and 2015. The primary intention of this evaluation was to bring out lessons to be learned from that work, in order to help all those involved to be stronger in their future involvement. The evaluation pointed out that NAA member organisations have done remarkable work in enhancing knowledge and understanding on the law and its implementation among local communities and even government representatives. Besides that, NAA has managed to strengthen adivasi identity, leadership and self confidence in matters related to effective implementation of the law. In many of the projects also the role of women and youth in promotion of forest rights had received ample attention. Dowload the evaluation report here (pdf, 0.8 Mb)

In 2015, Siemenpuu commissioned Indian researchers from the Society for Promotion of Wastelands Development (SPWD) to make a study on shifting cultivation, titled “Environmental, Social and Health Implications of Shifting Cultivation in Select Districts of Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh”. Parts of the study has been published as an article in Jharkhand Journal of Development and Management Studies (pdf, 0.1 Mb)


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