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South Asian indigenous people assert rights, cultural identity

7:03 PM, August 14, 2019

India(Delhi):Problems faced by world's indigenous peoples include migration, displacement and state negligence, UN representative says.

Tribal women perform a cultural dance at the World Indigenous Day celebrations in New Delhi on Aug. 10. (Photo by Bijay Kumar Minj/

Some 3,000 tribal people from India, Bangladesh and Nepal celebrated World Indigenous Day with songs, dance and deliberation as they sought ways to defend their languages and identity.

Representatives of the United Nations, church leaders and activists joined tribal people in New Delhi Aug. 9-11 to discuss difficulties faced by indigenous people in South Asia.

“The problems indigenous peoples, or tribals, face in all parts of the world are the same, such as migration, displacement and state negligence, and not getting due respect and our rights,” said Phoolman Chaudhary, vice-chairman and Asia regional representative of the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII).

Chaudhary, a U.N. official from Nepal, said most tribal people are unaware of their rights, so do not demand them.

Lack of education and disunity are also reasons for the poor socioeconomic conditions faced by indigenous people, he said.

South Asian tribal groups can learn a lot from each other by better networking, sharing ideas and providing moral support, Chaudhary said in his keynote address.

Special attention this year was given to indigenous languages, with several speakers emphasizing that the majority of tribal languages are in danger of disappearing.

The three-day event was jointly organized by India Indigenous Peoples in collaboration with church institutions and more than 50 tribal organizations from the national capital.

Father Vincent Ekka, who heads the department of tribal studies at the Indian Social Institute in New Delhi, said indigenous people need to “understand their rights, educate themselves and stand united to safeguard our identity and culture.”

Pushed out

Jesuit Father Ekka, an Oraon tribal, said tribals have been pushed out from their own land in the name of development and forced to migrate to cities and towns. The process results in losing their culture and identity, he said.

Devasish Roy, a Bangladeshi politician and former member of the UNPFII, said India's situation is better than that in Bangladesh. “At least India’s government know about the U.N. declaration,” Roy said.

“The good news in India is that at least here the government has some welfare schemes for tribal people. Tribal people in my country are in real pain as they are targeted by the majority community,” he said.

Aug. 9 marked the 25th International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples after the United Nations designated the date in December 1994. The date was chosen to mark the first meeting of the U.N. Working Group on Indigenous Populations in 1982.

U.N. documents say the world has an estimated 370 million indigenous people who live across 90 countries. Although they make up less than 5 percent of the world's population, they account for 15 percent of the poorest.

India does not consider the concept of indigenous peoples. It voted for the U.N. declaration on the rights of indigenous people on the condition that after the British left India in 1947 all Indians are indigenous.

However, census records report that 104 million of India’s 1.2 billion people come from 700 recognized tribes. They constitute close to 9 percent of the total Indian population.

Source: UCAN

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