A report on VIIIth session of United Nation Permanent Forum of Indigenous Issues (UNPFII)
The VIIIth Session of UNPFII held at United Nations, New York (18-29 May 2009)
"You know something, John, this Head Quarter of United Nations has been built on our ancestral land," Mr. Steven T. Newcomb said. Mr. Steven is a learned American Indian and distinguished writer of a well-researched book entitled "Pagans of the Promised Land". He was a participant of the VIIIth Session of United Nations' Permanent Forum of Indigenous Issues (UNPFII). This Session was held on 18-29 May, 2009 at the Head Quarters of United Nations, New York. We were discussing rather conversing on various Indigenous issues of our respective countries.
"Almost same is the history of my hometown Ranchi which happens to be the capital of newly constituted Jharkhand State in my country," I said. Little did we realize that most of the important cities and capitals of the world have similar background and history! We exchanged lot of other information and knowledge with each other which could always be utilized in their right perspective.
This year, I had the privilege and fortune of participating in the VIIIth Session of the UNPFII. I attended the session basically as an observer as I was very keen to know and learn - What happens there? How different sessions take place? How the reports, statements, recommendations are put forward and what happens to them? How UNPFII works? What are its strengths and weaknesses? How we, the tribal / indigenous peoples of India can make most of this Forum? And let me tell you honestly, I did learn a great deal which I would like to share with you.
Now, let me tell you about the UNPFII, in brief.
The idea of formation of a Global Body for Indigenous Peoples dates back to the year 1924. The sincere efforts culminated on 28 July 2000. So, it took almost 76 long years for the other world communities to understand the need of a Permanent Forum for Indigenous Peoples and it shows their earnestness and seriousness! However, this forum was established by a resolution passed by the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) which gave a mandate to UNPFII to discuss various issues pertaining to Indigenous Peoples. The issues are mostly related to economic and social development, education, environment, health, culture and human rights which fall within the purview of ECOSOC. It provides expert advices and recommendations on indigenous issues to the United Nations through ECOSOC. It also raises awareness and promotes integration and coordination of relevant activities within the UN system. And finally it prepares and disseminates information on indigenous issues.
The major agenda of the VIIIth Session of UNPFII were as under:
(1) Follow-up of the recommendations of the Forum with regard to a) Economic and Social development b) Indigenous Women c) Second International Decade of Indigenous Peoples of the world
(2) Human Rights a) Implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the rights of Indigenous Peoples b) Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of Indigenous Peoples
(3) Discussion (with special focus) on the Indigenous Peoples of Arctic Region
(4) Comprehensive dialogue with the six United Nations agencies i.e. FAO, IFAD, DESA, OHCHR, UNDP and UNFPA and funds
(5) Future work of the Permanent Forum including the issues of ECOSOC and emerging issues
Most of the agenda were discussed as per schedule during the Session and a range of reports, statements and recommendations were presented by the representatives, delegates and officials of various Governments, Non -Government Agencies, Indigenous Organisations, Associations, Caucuses, A predetermined time of three minutes was allocated for the presentation of these statements, recommendations etc. in the languages of respective country or place and a translation of which was available in English and Spanish. Many of these reports, statements and recommendations sounded bit repetitive (to me!), quite obviously, but they were very pertinent to the Indigenous Peoples and places they represented. The reason of such similarity or commonality of our issues is very simple because wherever we, indigenous peoples live - we are subject to discrimination, oppression, ill-treatment ! It comes as a bonus to them once they are born in the Indigenous Communities along with poverty, illiteracy .! (Exceptions should be ignored!) Only the nature or magnitude differs subject to place, people and circumstances. And above, political situation of the country or place play a vital role in the determination of status of lives of Indigenous peoples. But all these things prove that 'we', the Indigenous People are 'one' and we should remain 'one' because we are the "Saviours of Mother Earth". Just think over how? We should be proud of this actuality whether anyone acknowledges the importance of this fact or not. In many parts of the world, indigenous people are still treated just 'show pieces' because of their distinctive natural habitats, living-style, culture and traditional practices. Yet, they maintain an incredible balance between human and natural existence! Whenever and wherever 'man' has tried to go against the 'nature', he has to pay a heavy price for his follies. It's true but hard for other communities to think or believe that we, indigenous peoples too, can play (rather already playing) a vial role in survival of all living beings and preservation of natural properties of Mother Earth. Who are responsible for the destruction and 'over-use' of these natural properties and its negative impact on environmental health of the world? Does that need an elaboration?
Besides the usual session / proceedings of UNPFII, there were more than sixty 'Side Events' or 'Special / Parallel Events' e.g. Launching of IWGIA's Yearbook: The Indigenous World 2009; Broadcasting Human Rights to Indigenous Communities; Documentation Network; Launching of Docip's Documentary DVD on the UNPFII (2002-2008) & The Indigenous Portal for, by and about Indigenous Peoples; Information for Local and Indigenous Communities on Training for REDD These 'Side Events' also comprised of 'Group Discussions' on specific topics / issues e.g. 'Women and the right to education', 'Indigenous Youth / Youth Caucus Online Network', 'NGO registration and ECOSOC accreditation', 'Indigenous Women in Leadership', 'Indigenous Writers on Writing', 'Local and Indigenous Solutions for Environment, Climatic Change, and the MDGs' . which were conducted by various Indigenous Groups, UN Agencies, Zonal / Area Caucuses and UNPFII Secretariat. There were some Film / Documentary Screenings on Indigenous Issues and Exhibit & Sale of Indigenous Crafts also.
Here comes a question to my mind where do we find ourselves as an individual, a Community, a Social Group, an Organization or an Association ..? This is a valid question for all of us. Here, a very heart-rending incident comes to my mind which occurred in Guwahati on 24th November 2007 where AAASA took out a peaceful march to press the rightful demand of 'Schedule Tribe Status' to the tribal / indigenous peoples who had migrated to Assam from Chotanagpur plateau during the British era. Do we need to be reminded the painful and horrifying scenes of brutality executed by so-called 'Civilised Citizens' and apathy of Government Agencies? This serious and relevant issue was reported to at the Seventh Session of UNPFII held on April 21 May 2, 2008. This Joint Statement was presented by Mr. Stephen Ekka from PAJHRA (Promotion and Advancement of Justice Harmony and Rights of Adivasis); Ms. Anjali Tirkey, Ms. Dorothy Kujur, Mr. John B. Ekka, Ms. Rashmi Ekka, Bro. Vincent Minz from Chotanagpur Rising Association; Ms. Meenakshi Munda from Mundari Literary Society and Mr. Nicholas Barla from Rourkela Social Service Society,
I personally feel proud that such a bold and commendable step was taken up by our anguished and concerned brothers and sisters at an international platform like UNPFII and draw the attention of the world and seek help, strength, and support from any quarter. The Joint Statement also echoed the burning issue of "Scheduled Tribe Status" to the migrated indigenous / tribal peoples of Chotanagpur now living in Assam State. In the Indian context, the issue is more than 60 year old and the so-called agitation is still on. It is still alive! What will happen only God and Government(s) know!!! Now, what happened after this sincere effort we do not know or we did not try to know or find out. I think that this is what happens to most of our issues, movements, agitations. We start off magnificently (and admirably too) and we also get involved, may be emotionally in the beginning - but somewhere down the line, 'things' go wrong or flat and all the enthusiasm, tenacity wither off with the passing days! The reasons may be many - like organizational difficulties, lack of unity, funds, resources, and support from own people, influence of local politics, apathy of Local Administration or Government Agencies After the above-mentioned horrifying incident, many of our political leaders, NGOs, sympathizers did go to Assam and shown their solidarity. What happened after the immediate hue and cry? It would be an interesting study to make! In the same way, we need to find out what happens to our indigenous issues, statements etc. submitted to UNPFII? These are some questions which bound to engulf our minds and it's quite natural!
This year, Ms. Meenakshi Munda and Mr. Abhay Sagar Minj represented Mundari Literary Council and Jharkhand Indigenous Youth for Action respectively, on behalf of the Indigenous Youth of Chotanagpur. Their statement which they submitted to UNPFII focused on the issue of Naxalite / Maoist Movement and its ill-effects on the younger generation of tribal communities / indigenous peoples of the affected region. They also highlighted the failure of the Government(s) to stop or limit the growing menace of the movement. They recommended that the Government(s) should create appropriate atmosphere for talks or undertake rightful actions to resolve the problem to safeguard the future of tribal / indigenous youth.
Mr. Ram Dayal Munda, Mr. Jebra Ram Muchahary, Mr. Mitharm Basumatary representing Indian Confederation of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples (ICITP) and Mr. Prafulla Hafia, All Dimasa Students Union (ADSU) also participated in the Session. They presented / circulated a statement highlighting the issue of ethnic violence in North Cachar Hills and recommended that a high level investigation be conducted and appropriate actions be taken by State and Central Governments.
Here I would like to draw your attention to the "United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples" which was adopted by United Nations after 20 years of analytical discussions. The General Assembly, finally adopted the same at its 61st Session held in September 2007. There are 46 Articles in the said Declarations which deal with various aspects of Indigenous Peoples e.g. individual and collective rights; right to education, health, employment, right to its language and cultural identity. It discourages any kind of discrimination against Indigenous Peoples and invites them to participate and discuss any indigenous issues concerning them. It also encourages and guarantees them to maintain their unique identity and to pursue their own versions of social, cultural and economic traditional / ancestral values and practices. Information on these matters can be downloaded from following Web Site:
It is interesting and encouraging to know that ( this is not a revelation but a fact) our Indian Constitution does incorporates almost all these provisions relating to the rights and securities of Indigenous Peoples which are mentioned in the said United Nations Declaration. There are still many countries and places where the Indigenous People do not enjoy these rights and privileges at all! The references of such rights to Indian Citizens and Indigenous Peoples are enumerated in Articles 14, 15, 16, 19, 25, 29, 40,164, 224, 243, 244, 275, 338, 339, 342, 345, 350 ..of Indian Constitution. Specific Provisions like the Vth & VIth Schedules, Scheduled Areas, the PESA Act, 1996, SC / ST Atrocities Act etc. to protect / safeguard the ethnicity and rights of Tribal / Indigenous Peoples have been made. The Chotanagpur Tenency Act and the Santhal Pargana Tenency Act safeguard our Indigenous lands and properties. Aren't these adequate for our peaceful and rightful existence? We do owe our gratitude to the intelligent foresightedness of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar and the Constitution makers. It's a different matter that after the promulgation, there have been many amendments made to the above-mentioned Articles, Acts and Provisions to suit the interests and needs of Governments! Are we aware of these 'must-know' aspects of our Constitutional rights? Sadly enough, most of us do not possess these vital information / knowledge. I think - we should IF we are serious and committed to achieve our 'Indigenous Peoples' Goals'!
So, what is the crux of the problem? Why is it so that despite having so many safeguards, provisions, legal backings, facilities, developmental plans and schemes, we (obviously, not ALL!) are still regarded as backward, illiterate, boors ! Perhaps, the answer is very simple non-implementation. Yes, non-implementation of so-called developmental projects, schemes meant for Tribal / Indigenous Peoples in right perspective. They are being implemented 'half-heartedly' or not being 'allowed' to be implemented or implemented 'only on papers'! May be we are not strong and courageous (or competent!) enough to grab or snatch our rights and privileges; we are not united and organized enough to make various Governmental Agencies to work for us; may be we are not "go-getter" in the present trend or context. It is only few amongst us who take advantage of these facilities. Slowly and steadily, even these are being 'taken away' by other communities through various manipulative tactics. What do we do? Just sit down and watch and curse our fate! I do know and understand that there plenty of other 'external forces and factors' as well as our own inefficiency, lack of will, internal conflicts etc. which obstruct the overall growth of Indigenous peoples. In many ways, we do not need to point fingers at others but our 'own selves''. The 'change' begins from our own 'selves'.
We must take advantage of every opportunity which comes our way (if we can afford it, of course!) Like the UNPFII Session which provides an excellent platform and opportunity, to meet and interact with the Indigenous Peoples from different parts of the world on a single occasion, that too under one roof'. It widens the dimensions of our thinking-process when we meet different human beings and try to learn from them. But these experiences should not be restricted to 'one-self' or a group but they need to be shared with others so that they too can take advantage of such experiences, directly or indirectly. When I say and suggest these things, I do understand that a lot depends on personal interest, commitment towards development of tribal / indigenous communities. I also believe that our tribal society does not have dearth of committed persons, intellectuals, educationists, social workers, policy makers, cultural ambassadors, politicians, bureaucrats, academicians .... But it's quite sad to see and say that majority of our tribal people are still living below poverty line and leading just an ordinary life specially when look back to our own villages and home-towns. Many of us progressed 'comparatively' and have adopted, very conveniently, the cozy and comfortable life of cities / metros. We are, basically and predominantly, pre-occupied and restricted to the so-called 'personal priorities'. Perhaps, most of us are even aware of this! Aren't we?
There is an urgent need of coordination between our 'common / ordinary tribal' with the so-called 'upper-class' of our own tribal society. Somewhere this 'continuous connection' is missing. We all seem to drifting in different ways / directions! Moreover, it also has to be 'two-way traffic'! Many a times, it is observed that most of us just wait and watch who is coming forward to 'help' or 'rescue' or 'protect' us? It may be individuals, groups, NGOs, missionaries, various agencies, political parties or Governments .? Why do we have to be so 'dependant' or be at the mercy of so-called 'external factors'? We have to optimise the utilization of our own limited resources, intelligence everything! The 'benefactor' and the 'beneficiary', (in our own families and society at large) both have to join hands and do the needful to make a better and stronger indigenous society.
Yes, we may have many a differences amongst us. For example, 'Sarna' tribal and 'Christian' tribal! But is it not just a matter of faith? Had we been 'so truthful' and 'loyal' to our 'respective faiths', we should have been more tolerant, considerate and 'co-exist' in a cordial and peaceful atmosphere! The basic values and facets of 'faith' or so-called 'religion' emphasize on these very principles of human existence. Isn't it? Our reactions are more 'emotional' rather than 'practical' in our day-to-day life. We are also divided by our respective individual 'tribal identity' like Santhal, Oraon, Munda, Kharia .. But did we have the privilege of 'choosing it! It's a 'gift' by our parents, isn't it? Yes, I do agree that our 'individual entity' has to be preserved and respected but life is more than just 'individual survival'. Moreover, I am sorry to say that many of us have alienated ourselves by our self-created 'Class' wherein we think ourselves 'so high' that we do not identify ourselves with our 'real identity' as tribal / indigenous peoples! Is it not a 'false pride or self-esteem'? Yes, it is yet we love to stick to it! Can we not co-exist with our own fellow fraternity as we do with 'others' / 'dikus'? We can certainly do it provided we build-up strong will to do it and to act upon what we decide.
There are far more serious issues or problems which are endangering our very existence as tribal / indigenous communities e.g. displacements, social, economic and political discrimination, cultural degradation, tribal youth unemployment, saving our tribal lands and forests, migration, industrialization and mining on our lands .. ..so on and so forth. We CAN tackle these issues provided we come out of our 'individual entities / shells' to enter into bigger and larger social spectrum. It's a continuous process but will it take couple of more generations to achieve the objective? Won't that be too late?
The differences in our thinking-process, opinions, ideas, methodology etc. can be resolved through dialogues, better communication and may be, by our traditional social methods (Are we aware of them?). We can also adopt the modern technologies for social networking and better understandings. We all posses our unique 'individuality' but we need to 'co-exist' also with the 'common man' of our own tribal / indigenous society as well. We may be 'individual genius' but what's the use of that if the same is not utilized for 'some better and useful purposes'. Our ultimate goal has to larger than life and to achieve those objectives, we have to come out of petty and ignorable matters / issues which become barriers in our overall social and economic development. It's better said than done! However, let's think positive - go ahead and do our best!
.. . Before I parted with Mr. Steven, I told him," At times, even my mind is troubled with strange feelings and fears that if we Indigenous Peoples of Jharkhand do not wake up and act even NOW, my children or grand-children will have to say the same thing someday this Ranchi used to be my ancestral land!"
JOHN DENIS HORO Mumbai
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