(Paper for the seminar " The Indigenous people and Human right: the issues and challenges "……………………. At Dhemaji College, Dhemaji, Assam)
Keshoba Krishna Chatradhara , M. Sc.(Computer Sc.) , an Action Aid Fellow working on indigenous peoples rights over land and natural resources.
Contact Numbers: +91 98542 08481, E. mail- firstname.lastname@example.org
Indigenous peoples inhabit large areas of the earth's surface. Spread across the world, at a rough estimate, some 300 million. Indigenous or aboriginal peoples are so-called because they were living on their lands before settlers came from elsewhere; they are the descendants - according to one definition - of those who inhabited a country or a geographical region at the time when people of different cultures or ethnic origins arrived, the new arrivals later becoming dominant through conquest, occupation, settlement or other means.1
Northeastern part of India is located in the transition of Indian and Indo-Chinese bio geographical zone and home to large scale diversity of life and associated culture ,comprising of eight states, viz, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tripura, Mizoram, manipur and Sikkim occupied an area of 2,62,264 sq.kms with a population of 3,98,35,582 according to the 2001 census of India. Most of the major ethnic populations of these provinces are anthropologically Mongoloid in origin. Most of them are known as tribal or adivasi i.e. indigenous population2 Out of the 1,652 mother tongues recorded in the Census of India, around 420 are spoken in North-east India. Around 250 ethnic groups or sub-groups are living in the region3.
The term 'human rights' refers to those rights and freedom essentials for human survival, liberty and dignity that have been recognized by the global community and protect by international legal instruments. Human rights are universal. They are the birthright of every child, women and man4 The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood" (art. 1). In article 2 it is expressly stated that everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms without distinction of any kind "such as race ... national or social origin, property, birth or other status"5.
Rights of the indigenous people:
The United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples affirms minimum human rights standards necessary for the “survival, dignity and well-being of the Indigenous peoples of the world.” These include the right of self-determination, protections from discrimination and genocide, and recognition of rights to lands, territories and resources that are essential to the identity, health and livelihood of Indigenous peoples.
Article 10, 27 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People states that:
Article 10: Indigenous peoples and individuals have the right to belong to an indigenous community or nation, in accordance with the tradition and customs of the community or nation concerned. No discrimination of any kind may arise from the exercise of such a right.
Article 27: Indigenous people have the rights to the restitution of the land and territories which they have traditionally owned or otherwise occupied or used, and which have been confiscated, occupied, used or damaged without their free prior informed consent. Where this is not possible, they have the right to just fair compensation shall take the form of lands, territories equal in quality, size and legal status.
Indigenous people shall not be forcefully removed from their lands or territories. No relocation shall take place without the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples concerned and after agreement on just and fair compensation and, where possible, with the option of return6.
The key Issues and challenges;
This paper aims at evoking a discussion on the areas concerning new concept of the development in northeast through implementing mega hydroelectric power project and its impact on indigenous people. Also focuses on the perspective of tribal and indigenous peoples pertaining to their rights.
For this decade, the concept of human "rights", social "justice" and social "inclusion" have not been even uttered in mainstream development discourse7. Indigenous communities in the northeastern states of India are face extermination and forced ‘civilization’. However, this threat has been so severely opposed that now it has spiralled out of control. Excavation of petroleum, mainly to fuel the national economy, was undertaken with complete disregard to the local community, their culture and rights. This approach isolated these communities from the rest of the country. Undeterred repression was launched by the state to silence all resistance put up by the local communities8.
The nationalities of north east strives to control their land and resources to promote their culture, tradition to secure their survival and the government of India respond to these movements with more repression leveling them as terrorist activities and leading to gross Human rights violations. The Indian state serving the interest of the ruling class has been adopting an expansionist policy of sending troops to occupy the region, control over natural resources and the subsequent militarization process is characterized by massive deployment of its abundant military, enactment of special legislations and further occupation of indigenous land and resources9. The implementation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958 mainly used to provide impunity to the armed forces stationed in the Northeast for torturing, raping and killing the members of the local community has resulted in the complete isolation of the Northeast from the rest of India.
The exploitation of the natural resources on Indigenous Peoples’ land often takes place against their will, or without their participation. Indigenous People bear the costs of this exploitation in damage to their environment, their livelihoods, language, culture, identity and health. Yet they rarely share in the benefits from the great riches that flow from their land and resources10.Construction of hydropower stations and dams has resulted in a massive exodus of tribal communities from their habitat.
The new development paradigm of northeast and its impact on indigenous people:
The hydropower generation in India started with installation of a 130 MW power plant at Darjeeling in 1897. India’s total hydropower potential is about 84044 MW and of this, nearly 38 % of the country’s potential is located in the northeast region. North-eastern region has been identified as India’s ‘future powerhouse’ and 168 large dams of a cumulative capacity of 63,328 MW are planned and of which some have been under construction. Even amongst the northeastern states, Arunachal Pradesh accounts for a hydropower potential 84 % of the power potential of the entire northeast and 32 % of the projected hydropower potential of the country. As a result, all eyes are set on Arunachal Pradesh for tapping this potential which includes 22 projects having potential of 15,191 MW in the Subansiri river basin. The most controversial 2000 MW Lower Subansiri hydroelectric project, proposed to come up at Gerukamukh on the Assam – Arunachal border is the largest and first of its kind, which is planning to be constructed in the Subansiri basin
Large Hydropower project and Impacts on indigenous peoples:
Large dam have serious impact on the lives, livelihood culture and spiritual existence of indigenous people. The indigenous people of Manipur have the resistance against the manner of planning and the procedure of approval of the project. The indigenous groups of Loktak downstream project face serious threats to their livelihood and identity. Hmar community of Tipaimukh area is facing same problem due to Tipaimukh Multipurpose project. The Narmada dam project is just one best example in India that is being held responsible for submerging the settlements of thousands of people and forcing them to relocate to new areas. On this issue even the courts in the country were not with the indigenous communities. The mega intervention leads serious downstream impact on indigenous communities in the region specifically on health, cultural heritage, and impact on women and through indirect displacement. The indigenous Leepsa community of Sikkim and the idu-missimi community of the Dibang valley facing threats over their future existence as a community due to series of large dam planed in Teesta River and with the 3000 megawatt Dibang project. The displaced people of Chittagong Hill Tracts (Kaptai dam) and relocate them in northeast region was a major indigenous people rights violated by Indian state, is one of the major ongoing ethnic conflict posed by the India.
Security forces were deployed for the protection of dam also committed many human rights violation, targeting innocent civilians, children and women inclusive. One young housewife of Lucy of Lamdan village was raped by a personal of CRPF, deployed to protect Loktak Project in 2000. Three people were killed and over 25 were hurt I firing by security forces at Khuga dam when affected villagers were agitating for implementation of their demands for compensation and rehabilitation packages on 14th Dec. 2005. The best example of impact of deployment of security forces to protect arbitrary development process in case of sexual harassment and subsequent targeting innocent civilian and arbitrary arrest of four innocent youths at Maphou Ukhrul District who intervened in monestring of two girls, by the personal in Indian Reserve Battalion on 26 March 2006, deployed at the dam.
The downstream impacts of large dams are most significant but have never assessed or addressed justifiably.In case of Subansiri the Dam Break Analysis and Disaster Management Plan it mentioned “for the worst condition in which it has been assumed that the whole dam gets washed away… After the breach, immediately below the dam, the maximum flow will occur 0.35 hours after the breach starts and the magnitude of this flow will be 256402 cumecs (about 9, 05,000 cusecs)." The report further says that, ‘…The time required to reach the peak flood wave is 0.35 hours which does not leave any possibility of any rescue or evacuation.’ In the event the report talks about the emergency action plan with a very high emphasis on communication and warnings systems with the downstream villages up to the confluence of the river with the Brahmaputra and has set aside a sum of Rs. 3 crores for the disaster management plan. What will be the situation of the indigenous communities living downstream of the dam.
As the Centre and States push for these hydel projects, large dams are emerging as a major issue of conflict in the region. It is clearly shows that unless a prior comprehensive downstream impact studies are carried out to decide the viability of the multiple project planned in Arunachal Pradesh and downsteam communities in Assam acknowledged as projected affected person (PAPs), we will see violent conflicts in the Brahamputra basin over the issue of large dams in the future.
The legal expectation to safeguard the indigenous peoples right in the region:
The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, held at Rio de Janeiro in June 1992, recognized that indigenous people and their communities have a vital role in environmental management and development because of their knowledge and traditional practices. It was stressed that national and international efforts to implement environmentally sound and sustainable development should recognize, accommodate, promote and strengthen the role of indigenous people and their communities12.
The Mega hydroelectric power project builders (NHPC,NEEPCO,Reliance ect.) treating Northeast,what the British east India company was once. In case of lower Subansiri NHPC (National Hydroelectric Power corporation) shows complete disregard for democratic norms or environment and human rights considerations13.The forest conservation Act 1980, Doubtful public hearing procedure (4th sept, 2001), poor EIA (Environmental Impect Assessment), undermining the recommendation given by Supreme Court (19 April,2004) including the UN declaration of indigenous peoples right over land and resources. Besides that, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in its concluding observation of 69th session held in the month of March 2007, urge the government of India 'to fully respect and implement the rights of ownership, collective or individual, of the members of tribal communities over the lands traditionally occupied by them in its practice concerning tribal peoples in accordance with ILO Convention 107 on Indigenous and Tribal Populations (1957). The State Party (government of India) should seek the prior informed consent of communities affected by the construction of dams in the Northeast or similar project on their traditional lands in any decision-making process related to such projects and provide adequate compensation and alternative land and housing to those communities14. Can we believe these legal instruments able to safeguard the indigenous people's rights?
The question of nationality, led to armed struggle which was depicted as terrorism by the Government of India and treated as a law and order problem. The new economic development and political paradigm introduced by the government along with the International Financial Institutions. No attention is being given to the rights of the peoples of the NE who are defended themselves and their right to self Determination.
In June 1993, the second World Conference on Human Rights was held in Vienna recognized the "inherent dignity and the unique contribution of indigenous people to the development and plurality of society" and reaffirmed "the commitment of the international community to their economic, social and cultural well-being and their enjoyment of the fruits of sustainable development" (Part I, para. 20). The conference called upon States to "take concerted positive steps to ensure respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people, on the basis of equality and non-discrimination, and recognize the value and diversity of their distinct identities, cultures and social organization".
Indigenous peoples without land as their natural habitat are like birds without wings. Land and natural resources are natural right of the indigenous people. It should recommend that the indigenous people shall not be removed from their territories and any action to that effect by means of development or others should be stop. The government must respect the indigenous peoples’ knowledge, customary resource managements and the collective rights to self-determination and freedom. The government must also invest in research and application of other sustainable energy technology. Intimidation and intervention of security forces against peoples threatened and affected by dams should be stop. Prior information for consent in planning and decision making of the affected people must be appropriately conducted15.
In India in the past few decades atrocities committed against the indigenous communities are on the rise. This implies that the rule of law in India is also on a downward spiral. India boasts of becoming a developed nation by the year 2020. However, the cost of this development (the large scale hydropower project), whether it attains its goal or not, will also have to include the sufferings of the indigenous people in Northeast 16. In the present scenario, there will be no indigenous population in northeast by the year 2030.
At last I appeal "Until and unless the people of this region are allowed to exercise their right to national self determination, the Indian sub continent will not stop colonialism, imperialism, globalization and militarization in the region. There is a long battle ahead of us. The process of colonizing the mind has to be reversed where that state encourages ethnic conflict. All the brother and sister of northeast have to resist and unite for a strong people's movement to advance indigenous peoples struggle by knowing common enemy instead of conflicting among ourselves".
1 (Fact Sheet No.9 (Rev.1), the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Printed at United Nations, Geneva, and July 1997)
2 On Right to self determination of the oppressed nations and the indigenous people’s struggles by Naresh Jamatia*
3. D'Souza A, 1999, " north east India, Jakama: Kohima", Jesuit Region (Mimeo
4 .D. N. Pokharel, Human right to water: legal and policy analysis).
5. UN Declaration on human rights
6. UN Declaration on Indigenous peoples rights.
7. Presentation: Resettlement/Rehabilitation Issue in mega Water resource Intervention; Naeem Iqbal , Sungi development Foundation Islamabad.
9. Development and Militarization in India's NE, Phulindro Konsam, Committee on Human rights, Manipur , Paper presented at the workshop" Understanding International Financial Institutions in India's NE, 1-3 April,2006, Mawlien, Meghalaya, India"
8. /10 . Indigenous People, Human Rights and Development ,A Human Rights Training Program for Indigenous Advocates in the Asia-Pacific Region ,July 25th - August 4th, 2004
11. The report of Dr. D. K. Mishra on Lower Subansiri Project./ CEA Power planning.
12. The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, held at Rio de Janeiro in June 1992
13. India’s Ugliest Dam Builder March 25, 2008 by Heffa Schücking March 2008 World Rivers Review .
14. Press release of NE dialogue forum, 1st August 2008, Imphal
15. Research Paper ,Dated: 18 February 2008 ,G. Chinkhanmuan ,Information and Dissemination Manager ,Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact Foundation
16. India: by the year 2020 there will be no indigenous population in India,for immediate release ,as-185-2007,august 9, 2007,a statement by the Asian human rights commission .