A great deal has already been written, discussed and predicted about India’s newly elected leader, Narendra Modi, and his Bahratiya Janata Party. A tremendous amount of implications arise from his election, but one that has slid under the radar has been his and his party’s policies toward the indigenous population — the Adivasi people.

Many of the laws currently in place in India already fall short of international standards regarding human rights and indigenous persons. This problem is only compounded by the nationalist platform adopted by the BJP, and has caused concern for people both inside and outside of India’s borders.

While on the campaign trail, Modi took several opportunities to debunk claims from the opposition Congress party that he would take advantage of the Uniform Civil code to take away rights of Adivasis. Furthermore, Modi went on to claim that BJP rule in states with prominent Adivasi populations has already helped protect their rights and increase their living standards. But as is natural with most political campaigns, what is said on the campaign trail does not always match up with reality.

The indigenous population of India has historically had a negative relationship with the state and companies based in the country. Amnesty International has already called for Modi to bring to justice those who have committed prior crimes against Adivasi population, referencing riots that took place in 2002 and 1984. While there have been acts of violence against the indigenous population, the most common crimes have been committed against the Adivasi’s rights to give businesses the free reign they need to make a profit. This information is particularly frightening considering that one of the central components of Modi’s platform was reinvigorating the Indian economy.

So the question remains — are the Adivasi people about to find themselves in the crosshairs yet again? Recent legislative efforts indicate this might not be the case. However, many of these need to be passed by Parliament in order to be ratified into law.

One recent draft bill proposes that in order to use land on constitutionally protected indigenous territories, you would need the consent of village assemblies. However, this draft bill still needs to get passed before becoming a law. The recent Parliament also passed a temporary law making wrongful possession of Adivasi land a criminal offense. But similar to the draft bill, this law will expire unless it gets passed within six weeks of Parliament reassembling.

While these laws and bills certainly are a step in the right direction, more work still needs to be done. One of the main criticisms lobbied at the bills is that while they protect the Adivasis from private companies, there is very little mention of intervention done on behalf of the state. But before more comprehensive bills can be written and laws can be passed, these important first steps need to survive the political process. It is now Parliament’s turn to take action. With any luck, they will make the right decision and protect India’s indigenous population.

— Andre Gobbo

Sources: Amnesty, Indian Express, The Guardian
Photo: Forbes