HOME Adiwasi Samta Manch Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups Contacts


India has 104 million indigenous tribal people according to the 2011 census - more than any other country in the world. They belong to some 573 tribes recognized by India as Scheduled Tribes and have lived mostly in forests.

Majority of them are called 'Adivasi' that means 'pre-inhabitant' - who has lived in the area before the land became known as we now know it. As diverse autochthonous ethnicities' ways of life have become adapted to their environments, Adivasis have been involved in for millenniums in the process, which made India's diversity of lands, forests and life-heritages what they are.

While Adivasis used to live quite self-subsistent life in the forest areas mostly around the Eastern and Western Ghats mountains by livelihood which they got from those forests, when the British colonial rule took over those areas in 19th century, it subordinated them to supply raw materials for the British imperium.

The forests of Adivasi areas were declared by the colonial law to become the property of the British colonial state which treated Adivasi life as illegal - as Adivasis lived without land titles in the forests where they had lived for millennuims.

Adivasis contributed to the movement to remove the British rule and tens of thousands of them who opposed the colonial rule were killed.

When India got independent, its indigenous Adivasis however continued being ruled by the same British colonial laws and by the Forest Department inherited from the colonial rule.

Even after independence more than 30 million Adivasis have become thus displaced by India's 'development' of mines, dams & other industry.

Share of mining for Adivasis in the soil of their own ancestral lands is that they can only wait when a truck full of their ancestral soil drives by and small pieces of stones with some iron ore drop to the roadside. Then they sieve the sand to find some iron particles to earn their living.

While many Adivasis get displaced by mines even those few who get job find out that "we can not eat the money" as food that grows is polluted in dust by mine industries.

The past 25 years of India's very rapid GDP growth have only increased the percentage of India's children who suffer for wasting due to malnutrition. (1) India's commercial growth has thus not reduced but increased malnutrition and wasting of children. It hits most severely the Adivasis whose lands and forests are taken away from their use to serve commercial interests of others.

As ca. 50 % of the people forcibly displaced in India by 'development' are Adivasis/ tribals who are less than 10 % of Indian population, such 'development' discriminates & violates human rights of Adivasis and displaces them from their food sources by capturing their ancestral lands and forests for commercial purposes of others. While India has 1/3 of world's people who suffer from malnutrition and "covers 40% of undernourished children of the world", "in India, tribal population is among the most deprived and undernourished people." (2)

Within India, "children from scheduled tribes have the poorest nutritional status on nearly every measure and the highest prevalence of wasting". (3) Also according to the World Bank supported statistics, "Adivasi children show even worse levels of malnutrition" (4) which is highest among tribal children in terms of stuntung, wastiing and underweight - corresponding to the weak health condition of tribal women. (5) "Within India, stunting is highest (54%) among children of adivasis or tribal peoples" according to UNICEF. (6) Also "Under Five Mortality Rate (U5MR) is 96 per 1000 live births. Compared to rest of the population [...] U5MR rate was higher by 61 percent. The 1-4 year mortality is 33.6 in Scheduled Tribes and 10.3 in the non-Scheduled Tribes." (7)

In respect to "the disproportionately high level of hunger and malnutrition among indigenous peoples and the continuous discrimination against them" India has "to support indigenous peoples’ occupations, traditional subsistence activities, economies, livelihoods, food security and nutrition". (8) It has many legal obligations under the Forest Rights Act (FRA), PESA Act and under the UN treaties on human rights and environment, UN Convention on Biological Diversity, etc. to respect these rights of its vulnerable indigenous forest communities.

Also the Supreme Court has judged that India is obliged to ”granting a secure and inalienable right to those communities whose right to life depends on right to forests" so that they can be ensured survival of their forest life. (9) India has to "ensure that all children" of "Scheduled Tribes enjoy the whole range of rights" also for being protected from "chronic malnutrition (stunting), wasting (acute malnutrition) and underweight among children". (10)

Adivasis have right "to be secure in the enjoyment of their own means of subsistence and development, and to engage freely in all their traditional" economic activities. (11) India's current 'development' has however deprived Adivasis of their own means of subsistence, development, their traditional occupations and their ancestral lands, even though they "shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories [...] without the free, prior and informed consent". India is responsible to provide "restitution, developed in conjunction with indigenous peoples, with respect to their cultural, intellectual, religious and spiritual property taken without their free, prior and informed consent or in violation of their laws, traditions and customs. " (12)

Biodiverse forests have survived south of Himalayas usually best in Adivasi areas. The displacement of Adivasis from those areas has brought expanding loss of indigenous forest biodiversity.This further endangers tribal forest communities' sources of sustainable forest life.

Forest Rights Act (FRA) came into force 10 years ago recognising for the fist time the rights of Adivasis to use of the forests which they have used and sustained for millennia. But so far only ca. 1,2% of such forests are recorded for the forest communities in compliance with the Act.

India's Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change neglects the law and biodiverse forests by providing leases for private business to make monoculture-type plantations to relatively biodiverse 'open' forests which have been used for livelihoods by Adivasi communities.

India has to secure the rights of tribal forest communities to their customary use of forests in which they have lived or which they have used and animated by their life-heritages and from which they shall not be forcibly displaced.

Notes and references

1. Global Hunger Index 2017 - The inequalities of hunger, http://www.globalhungerindex.org/results-2017/ and http://www.globalhungerindex.org/pdf/en/2017/appendix-c.pdf

2. https://www.degruyter.com/downloadpdf/j/anre.2017.80.issue-2/anre-2017-0010/anre-2017-0010.pdf

3. Bajpai and Dholakia, 2011: “Improving the integration of health and nutrition sectors in India”, page 8, http://globalcenters.columbia.edu/mumbai/files/globalcenters_mumbai/Improving_Integration_of_Health_and_Nutrition_Sectors_CGCSA_Working_Paper_2.pdf

4. http://siteresources.worldbank.org/EXTSOCIALDEVELOPMENT/Resources/244362-1265299949041/6766328-1307475897842/India-PSE-Adivasis_Brief.pdf

5. https://www.omicsonline.org/open-access/health-status-of-children-in-india-2471-9870-1000138.php?aid=87163

6. UNICEF, Nutrition and Adivasis, sivut 7-8, http://unicef.in/Uploads/Resources/Nutrition-and-Adivasis-Low-res-for-View.pdf

7. http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/IPeoples/EMRIP/Health/IndigenousWomenNetworkIndia.pdf

8. UN General Assembly resolution on the Right to Food, A/RES/72/173, paragraphs 21-22

9. Supreme Court of India, Judgement on Niyamgiri 18.4.2013, section 42, ICESCR, article 1(2) & UNDRIP, article 20

10. UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding observations on India; CRC/C/IND/CO/3-4, 13 June 2014 paragraphs 32 (b), 63 (c) and 79-80 and UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women: Concluding observations on India CEDAW/C/IND/CO/4-5, 24 July 2014, paragraphs 34 and 35 (c)

11. UNDRIP, article 20 and ICESCR, article 1.2

12. UNDRIP, articles 10, 11.2 & 32.1