Land and Forest Rights are Human Rights
Hello, friend of Ekta!
We hope you and your loved ones are doing well.
Every year, the 10th of December is observed as Human Rights Day. This was the day that the United Nations General Assembly adopted, in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
In this issue of Voice of Ekta, through stories of Ekta Parishad community leaders and activists across the country, we want to highlight the deep rooted connection of land and forest rights to human rights.
India needs a Peace Ministry: Editorial by Ramesh Sharma
Ekta Parishad strongly believes that without ‘justice’ one cannot bring and establish peace in society, especially when we deal with the issues of a marginalised community who are victims of structural violence. India needs a ‘Peace Ministry’ not only because of its deeply rooted moral & spiritual evolution which has been recognized across the world, but also for a very specific socio-political context where justice and peace remain a dream for millions of tribal, Dalit, nomad, fisherfolk, pastoralists and landless marginalised poor.
In the Indian context, a ‘Peace Ministry’ will certainly reform the governance, education and economy which is largely grounded on the age-old colonial mindset. We cannot allow the State to remain violent in response to millions of marginalized & deprived communities and use all of its power to suppress the people’s voice for maintaining so called law and order. The state cannot simply presume that better law & order is the only way for peace in society.
There is an urgency for a complete reform in the behaviour of a State so it is able to respect people-led or people-focused peace processes. Today, countries like Ethiopia, Nepal, Colombia, Sudan and Sweden are examples of nonviolent governance and education, both of which have a deep impact on its population. With these role models, India can learn about how to carry on the legacy and fulfil the dreams of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela for a better, peaceful and just world.
Land rights at the core of Human Rights: Miloon Kothari- United Nations Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing with the Human Rights Council
"Land is a cross-cutting issue that impacts directly on the enjoyment of a number of human rights, such as the right to livelihood, right to food, right to housing and right to development. Broadly, land rights affect all economic, social and cultural rights. The intersection between land rights and human rights is particularly relevant with regard to indigenous and tribal peoples for whom land is an irreplaceable part of their cultural identity and whose survival depends on access to land and land based resources.
Land is also a critical resource for nomadic and peasant communities. Land rights are a crucial element in conflict and post-conflict contexts. The restitution of housing, land and property rights for returning refugees and internally displaced persons constitutes a fundamental part of peace building. The Human Right to Land is recognised in international human rights law. The most recent recognition of land as a human right can be found in Articles 5 and 17 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas (UNDROP). The Declaration, passed by consensus vote at the UN General Assembly in 2018, enshrines the right of peasants and other people working in rural areas – alone or in association with others or as a community – to land and to access and use that land in a sustainable manner."
Our peace depends on our land rights: Malti Devi, Dalit Community Leader, Bihar
“This part of South Bihar is known for its decade-long fight for land rights. Often, poor and marginalised Dalits are the main victims and have been killed in massive land conflicts in the recent past. Over the years, this area has become known for the violation of basic human rights of the Dalit community.
Being legitimate citizens, we also want peace in our life. But how is peace possible without ensuring justice? My entire community has to face structural violence.
Sometimes, I feel like we were left behind because of the ongoing discrimination against us, which also results in us not having any rights over land resources.
This political discrimination against us further pushes us to the margins of society. Today, the growing apathy against us has shattered the dreams of many Dalit women like me, who are fighting everyday for a handful of grain grown in their farmland.”
Land and forest rights are our fundamental rights: Shikari Baiga, Tribal Community Leader, Chhattisgarh
“The forest has been home to humans since the beginning of time. Being a part of the Baiga tribe, I am a son of the soil and our community is known for its inseparable connection with the forest & land which provides the roots for our ethnicity, dignity, livelihood and a secured future.
Unfortunately, over the years our native land and forest resources have been taken over by man made enclosures and this has not only alienated us from our homeland, but also commodified these finite resources for the benefit of violent economies.
Can you imagine the life of a tribal without land & forest – it’s like taking fish out from water and expecting them to survive. For a tribal like me, survival without our natural God is unthinkable- almost all Indian tribal communities worship it in the form of land & forest. Can God live without its own home?”
Human rights of migrant workers: Bharat Sahariya, Tribal Activist, Madhya Pradesh
“Being a migrant worker since I was young, my dream was not only to liberate myself but also to help many young migrant workers like me to fight for their rights and justice. My life started changing soon after meeting with Ekta Parishad’s activists a few years ago.
I learned how to fight for our land rights because it guarantees a dignified life, space for self-dependency, an identity to feel our indigenous connection with land & nature and a secured means of livelihood. Today, I am happy to get a chance to fight for my community in the Chambal valley.
In the last two years, we have built several structures (small dams, ponds, water canals etc.) and have successfully secured water for tribal farmers, who are now growing food to feed their family and also earning some profit from their agricultural produce.
Just like I was, they are now happy to escape the trap of forced migration and engage in local farm-based livelihoods. I know I have a long way to go to liberate many young tribals like me and give them hope, but I will continue working on it for as long as I can.”
Recognized as tribal in one state but not another: Siyaram Sahariya, State Coordinator of Ekta Parishad in Uttar Pradesh
“My village is located in the border area between Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. Many of my relatives of the Sahariya tribes live in Madhya Pradesh and have a piece of land and rights over their forest. They were recognized as tribals in Madhya Pradesh. But at this end of Uttar Pradesh, Sahariyas are not recognized as a ‘tribal’ and deprived of their all due rights as Schedule Tribes.
No less than a few hundred thousand Sahariyas in the Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh feel institutionally-discriminated as victims of ‘political categorization of ethnicity’. We are not only deprived of the many entitlements which my relatives enjoy in Madhya Pradesh, but we are also not given our established rights over land & forest resources which our forefathers owned for centuries.
These struggles of the Sahariya community in Uttar Pradesh remain unaddressed even after several petitions to the decision-makers over the last few decades. My community believes that someday after our long struggle we will also be recognized as tribals.”
Stories from the Grassroots
Fighting for women’s land rights- Sharada, a tribal community leader from Odisha
Sharada has proven to be an excellent Community Leader, and is someone who overcame her grief to become a crusader for her community’s rights. Belonging to the Kondh tribe and born in Jurakhaman village in Kalahandi district of Odisha, she has shown the utmost conviction and commitment to her work. Like any others in the village, Sharada’s childhood was marked with poverty and struggle.
However, none of these setbacks could kill her indomitable spirit – they just propelled her to fight for her community’s rights. Sharada transformed herself into an effective grassroots leader, mobilising the tribal community to assert themselves and demand their rights.
As a woman who was denied access to familial property and was left penniless, Sharada recognises the importance of women’s ownership of resources like land and motivates tribal women to fight for land rights. She has also been instrumental in the setting up of Jailaitamu (a network of tribal women), which addresses contentious issues in the villages.
Sharada has also created awareness on health and sanitation among women in her community, With time and newly acquired learning through Ekta Parishad, Sharada has transformed into a dynamic and effective leader.
Loss of land, culture and identity in the Brahmaputra Valley: Kishan Sonowal, Tribal Leader, Assam
“My grandfather told me a story about my village in the Tinsukia district of Assam, which is known for perennial floods over the last few decades. Tribal communities have been dependent on forest and land-based occupation for centuries. Thousands of tribals like me were born in and grew up with nature in the Brahmaputra valley.
However, over the last few decades, we have been facing a serious crisis of flood & erosion and have lost one of the richest ecosystems in this part of North-East India. Hundreds of villages have been completely derooted due to flood & erosion. One of the main causes of these floods & erosion is directly linked to the massive deforestation in the Brahmaputra valley and uplands.
Every year, hundreds of tribal people and other marginalised communities are losing their ancestral land, culture and identity, which are deeply rooted in this valley. The absence of any kind of realistic plan for the resettlement of these tribals is responsible for the exponential rate of dispossession every year.
Sometimes, I wonder why tribals like us are an easy target for the so-called man-made disasters. Until we get some answers about why things are this way, we can only see the dark side of development.”
From Ramesh Sharma, General Secretary of Ekta Parishad