If I may ask you who was Columbus, it would not take long to come up with an answer. He is a widely celebrated discoverer, but is that all? Most of us tend to give credence to the fact which has been predominantly presented before us without even questioning its credentials. In this context, Columbus was not a mere discoverer, as for the indigenous people he was nothing more than a thief and a slave trader. The story that the indigenous people laid out before us is plenary disparate from the ascendant one. Unfortunately, meagre heed has been paid to their version.
But who are they and why should we even bother about their plight and their stand regarding some issue? Indigenous people are people defined in international or national legislation as having a set of specific rights based on their historical ties to a particular territory, and their cultural or historical distinctiveness from other populations that are often politically dominant. The indigenous people are present in most of the countries, though some countries use different terminology to refer them such as ‘Adivasi’ or ‘Tribal People’ as in the case of India.
Indigenous people provide an exceptional outlook to each issue, be it domestic or international. In the discipline of International Relations, which has faced challenges at several calibres for the inclusion and exclusion of the predominant actor in the world scenario, indigenous people provide a road, which is less travelled. Firstly, it brings forth the conflicts, whose occurrence renders to the conflicting claims of being the rightful inhabitants of a particular land, as in the case of Israel-Palestine conflict. Thus, in-depth analysis of this might provide some solution. Secondly, it provides the essential consideration in the debate of development vs displacement of the people and reminds the respective government(s) that the development cannot be achieved at the cost of culture and land of the local inhabitants. And, their protests and demands highly affect the policy making process of several countries.
Moreover, due to the constant demand and protest by the indigenous folk, not only some countries were forced to provide them with a dignified space, but it also leads to the establishment of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations (WGIP) in 1982. It was later ratified in 2007 and gave way for the establishment of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). This Declaration was a milestone in international indigenous struggles.
These declarations, provision for rights and laws for the indigenous people sound noble in the ears, but infelicitously the outcomes are not that outstanding. Even after these provisions we come across persistent killing and human rights breach of the indigenous people around the world. For instance, besides the widely known Red Indians and Aboriginals of Australia, in Bangladesh the indigenous or tribal groups (as known in Bangladesh) in Chittagong Hills Tracts are still struggling for their rights.Indigenous people remain among the most persecuted of all minorities, facing discrimination not only on the basis of their religion and ethnicity, but also because of their indigenous identity and their socio-economic status. The Chittagong Hill Tracts Accords came as an initiative to resolve the issue to some extent, but remained largely unimplemented. Another case could be in India, which does not recognize them as indigenous people. It provided several provisions for the safeguard of the Scheduled Tribes in its Constitution. But, what is worth noticing is that it still faces frequent and gory uprising from the tribes in the North-Eastern regions, and other regions such as Chattisgarh, Jharkand, etc. in the form of naxalism. These uprisings implicatively insinuate that provision in the papers will not serve the purpose, until it is implemented on the ground. As it affects every aspect of government and people, it requires further heed that hasn’t been paid till now, or else the result would be incorrigible and deleterious.
About the Author
Loveleena Sharma has completed her graduation in Political Science from Delhi College of Arts and Commerce. And, with her ardent interest in International Relations, is now pursuing her Masters in International Relations from the South Asian University. She is interested in subjects like Foreign Policy, Conflict Transformation and Peace Building, South Asian studies, etc. She has earlier interned at DLSA (Delhi Legal State Authority). She has also volunteered at Amaani, for the education of the underprivileged children. She has an inclination towards theatre, and has performed in various competitions during her graduation. She is currently pursuing her internship with Alexis Centre for Public Policy and International Relations.