Wednesday, 10 August 2011

August 9 International Day of the World's Indigenous People: Many Indian tribes are endangered


Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: Today is the International Day of the World's Indigenous People. Since the day 
was celebrated on August 9 last year, the indigenous tribes of Andaman and Nicobar islands were pushed 
further towards the road to extinction, while the Unesco had listed 191 tribal mother tongues as 
endangered and five extinct. Whether it is Andaman or the mainland India, the last 12 months have witnessed only more troubles and miseries among the tribal populations. A vast majority of tribals living on hills and in forests continue to succumb to easily manageable diseases like malaria and diarrhoea.

Illiteracy, diseases, poverty, exploitation and depleting forest resources and natural 
wealth make tribal groups the most vulnerable of all populations in the country. Certain genetic diseases 
coupled with lack of multi-dimensional approach to health problems have made the very survival of some of these tribes questionable. Only in January last year an ancient tribe, Boa, was declared as extinct 
after the last of its member died in the Andamans. With her death, the Bo tribe that had existed for nearly 
60,000 years on the earth became extinct. The Bo language, older than many of India's official languages, too became history. Earlier, Jangil tribe became extinct in the Andamans.

City geneticists, who have carried out pioneering research on tribal populations in the 
Andamans, warn that the next in the line of extinction are Jarawa, Great Andmanese, Onge and Sentinelese 
tribes, if immediate measures are not taken to protect their natural habitat. Even major tribes like the 
Kondareddys in Andhra Pradesh are fast dwindling in numbers.

No wonder then, faced with massive threats of all sorts - natural and anthropogenic - the 
tribals in Andhra Pradesh have finally decided to assert themselves by  celebrating on a big scale this 
August 9 as "Prapancha Adivasi Dinotsavam in Hyderabad. The tribals will not only showcase their ethnic dresses, arts, artefacts, dances and ethno-medicines but also chalk out a future course of action to protect their  culture, traditions and populations from possible extinction.

"We have selected the Indigenous People Day as the World Tribal Day to demand our rights 
on one hand, and tell people about our rich culture, traditions and heritage. Everything related to 
tribals is unique and needs preservation for posterity," says K Vinayak Naik, general secretary of Girijan 
Aikya Vedika, which is holding the tribal event in the State Capital.

Stating that the socio-economic, political and cultural situation of the indigenous 
communities is alarming, Vinayak Naik points out that tribals are the worst victims of socio-economic and 
political exploitation. "It is unfortunate that their culture and lifestyle is termed as primitive and they are branded  as uncivilised. In fact, a deeper critical analysis reveals that the Adivasis are the torch-bearers of basic human values of love, cooperation, compassion, tolerance, caring, sharing, equality, consensus mode of  decision-making and living in symbiosis with nature," he argues.

Vinayak Naik is not alone who argues that several Indian tribes face the threat of 
extinction because of the prejudice of a large section of people; and no one need teach the tribals how to be "civilised" and "cultured". The World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples prepared by the 
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees regrets that the majority of the population regards 
tribals as primitive, and government programmes aim at integrating them with the majority society, rather than  allowing them to maintain their distinctive way of life.

The WDMIP warns that while the larger tribal groups and languages will survive as a 
result of numbers, the destruction of their economic base and environment poses grave threats to those who are still able to follow their traditional way of life and may result in the cultural extinction of many of the  smaller Adivasi peoples.

Though tribals are being accused of "primitiveness", what many do not know is that they 
once inhabited a vast geographical area of the country. They were reportedly pushed to the hills, forests 
and inaccessible areas by the invading Aryans. "The message the tribes should now put across is that they 
are the original inhabitants of the land. Despite being the native people, they are denied bare 
necessities. This is nothing but blatant violation of human rights," says V Sankar Naik, president of Girijana Vidhyarthi Samakhya.

In tune with the United Nations theme of "indigenous designs: celebrating stories and 
cultures, crafting our own future" for this year's international day of the world's indigenous people, tribal 
communities in Andhra Pradesh will present Kommu dance, Chenchu dance, Rella dance, Banjara dance, Koya dance and Dhimsa dance at Ravindra Bharathi in the city. Other tribes like Kondareddy, Bhagata, 
Nakkalavaru, Jatapu, Yanadi, Gond, Gadaba, Thoti, Valmiki, Erukula, Savara and Ekalavva will present glimpses of their languages and culture.

The major show in the city, the organisers hope, will serve as a reminder to the 
government and people that there's an interesting anecdote behind every work of art and artefact, dances, culture  and traditions of the country's tribes.

Even as the tribals are gearing up to reclaim their rights through cultural shows, seminars and exhibitions,
the Indian Council of Medical Research in its report on tribal health care regrets that "despite remarkable
world-wide progress in the field of diagnostics and curative and preventive health, still there are people
living in isolation in natural and unpolluted surroundings far away from civilisation with their traditional
values, customs, beliefs and myth intact."

The ICMR conducted several studies on various tribal populations and found that some of 
them suffer disproportionately from malaria, sexually transmitted diseases, tuberculosis, genetic 
disorders, sickle cell anaemia as also nutritional deficiency diseases.

"The beauty of India lies in its diverse populations, a feature unique to it. The tribals 
not only need protection of their culture and traditions, but also require specialised medical  facilities. The government talks of mostly rural areas when it comes to creating health services. Unfortunately it 
does not talk of tribal habitations which are  inaccessible. Unless we tackle diseases particularly those of 
genetic type, we cannot do justice to the Adivasis, which means aboriginal population," observes social activist V Satyanarayana.
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What tribals demand

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* The tribals demand that the Central government recognise the Adivasis as the indigenous 
people of India as they are the original inhabitants of the land.

* Tribals want their languages to be included in the VIII Schedule of Constitution and an 
exclusive university for tribals.

* The endangered tribes of India are mostly from the Andaman and Nicobar islands. Some 
tribes like the Kondareddys of Andhra Pradesh are also endangered as their number is fast dwindling. 
Tribes like the Great Andamanese are left with just 52 people, Jarawa with 300 people, Onge 95, 
Sentinelese 250 and Shampen with 300 people. Tribes like Jangil and Boa are extinct.

* Tribals played a major role in India's struggle for Independence. Tribal leaders like 
Malludora, Komaram Bhim, Alluri Seetaramaraju and Gantamdora fought for the country.

* Inbreeding is a major problem among tribes with a small population. Inbreeding leads to 
genetic defects and compromised immunity and thus to gradual dwindling of population and extinction.

* India has 461 tribes and sub-tribes and 92 per cent of them live in the forests, as per 
2001 census. Andhra Pradesh is one of the eight States in the country with a vast tribal population. About 8 
per cent of India's population or 8.44 crore people are tribals. This forms the largest chunk of tribal 
population in the world.

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