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Lament for Indigenous People of Canada, Australia and India

They stand divided, isolated and voiceless. They are fighting their lone battle in isolation in climate change effected devoured sea sides to deep jungles of Chhattisgarh.
Peoples Voice on December 10, 2015 - 9:34 pm in Governance

A Lament for Indigenous People of Canada, Australia and India on International Human Rights Day

(The Shriveling skeleton of the starving man of Sukma)

The Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made a historic speech at the Assembly of First Nations Special chiefs on 8 December. He underlined that the constitutionally guaranteed rights of the indigenous people are not an inconvenience but rather a sacred obligation. Beside other measures he promised to launch a national inquiry into the causes for the ongoing tragedy of more than 1,200 cases of murdered and missing indigenous women.

Its implication is that the settlers who have occupied a land whose people they pushed at the margin must respect their rights if not compensate them for violating these rights in the past. It is important that this is a political declaration that apparently has the people’s will behind it, given the popular vote that the Prime Minister has recently won.

On the contrary in Australia such a declaration is a much contested issue. The ruling Liberal party due to its conservative character is not interested in any such move that improves the conditions of indigenous Australians who are no better than sub Saharan African communities or our own scheduled tribes living in parts of Orissa and Andhra Pradesh. The Australian Labor party will not oppose any measure in which indigenous people are given their due rights as the native of this country, but it will not take any such an initiative. If it had so intended, it could have taken some concrete measures to improve their lot when they were in power many times in the past.

An Australian indigenous’s life expectancy is 10 years lower than non-indigenous; they are three times more likely to be unemployed; 15 times more likely to be in prison as compared to the rest of population. About 30 percent indigenous people report that they experience routine discrimination. About three percent Australians identify themselves indigenous translating into about 700,000.

For them on paper there exists a useless ‘consolation toy’ in the form of native title. This title (won in 1992 after ten years of court battle) is a legal title that an indigenous person or group of persons may have after placing a claim before a government tribunal that a particular piece of land belongs to them traditionally. If they succeed to convince the government with concrete evidence of records (a difficult task) then they will have no other rights on that land except for the sacred customary and traditional purposes (mainly worship) that may also , under certain conditions, be restricted.

It is just like having our fifth schedule in the constitution. All the rights of Indian scheduled caste people are supposedly safe under this schedule where the governor of the state and the President of India are entrusted the duty to see that tribal get their due share as the original inhabitants of the land. But that is on paper. A decade back an NGO, Samata, had to approach the Supreme court to get them saved from being violated. Soli Sorabjee represented the NGO, won the battle for them and after a while when he became the Attorney General advised the government to go for a review petition or amend the constitution to do away with the protection that the court had upheld ! Lawyers’ in India are powerful and rich’s faithful soldiers. Those who have doubt, read Bombay High Court’s today’s judgment setting Salman Khan free in hit and run case.

It is pathetic that in India the indigenous people do not have a strong voice. While all the political parties are vying for appropriating Dr. Ambedkar , Indigenous people remain forgotten in dark and cold remote areas. They do not have a uniting symbol or personality. They stand divided, isolated and voiceless. They are fighting their lone battle in isolation in climate change effected devoured sea sides to deep jungles of Chhattisgarh.

It seems we are doing the same to our indigenous people that Canadians or Australians have done to their indigenous population two hundred years ago. One is surprised that it never occurred to our bureaucratic delegation accompanying the Prime Minister while he recently visited Australia that they should have arranged for him a visit to an indigenous village near Darwin (capital of Northern Territory state of Australia, that has about 28 per cent of countries population). There he himself could have seen the gulf that lies between Penthouses of Sydney and mud huts in sandy villages of Northern Territory. After such a visit he perhaps would have realised that his zeal for mad industrialization is creating the same gulf by which:

While coffers of steel (steal) magnets of all colors are swelling;
the skeleton of the starving man of Sukma is shriveling !

Pushkar Raj
CSR Global Peace Project Coordinator


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