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Reclaiming Tribal Forests in India
- G. Akhila, India Leader for the International Indigenous Working Group on HIV & AIDS (IIWGHA) and ITDS NGO Polavaram, West Godavari District
- Pandi.Rameshbabu, Doctoral Fellow, Department of Social Work and Sociology, Acharya Nagarjuna University. Nagarjuna Nagar. Guntur, Andhra Pradesh
Keywords: Forest Rights Act, Tribal lands, NGO Advocacy, India.
In this article, the writer tries to help readers understand the issues contained within the Forest Rights Act (FRA) and how it influenced development. It also describes the role of civil society, NGOs and government officials in creating awareness of the FRA process as it relates to eligible Tribal beneficiaries including those affected by HIV and AIDS, supporting their welfare in Andhra Pradesh.
Indigenous peoples (Tribals) in India are popularly known as Adivasis implying ‘aboriginals’ or ‘original inhabitants’. The Indian government refers to them as the Scheduled Tribes (STs) as outlined in the country’s constitution. Most of the Tribal communities have been dwelling in forests for centuries. Traditionally, forests have provided most of their foods, medicinal products, firewood, fodder and other needs. In the long process of history, forest areas have become state property as well as the source of raising revenue from timber and other forest resources to the successive governments since the colonial period.
Since independence, these policies have led to deforestation through the transformation of forests into agricultural lands. This has also resulted in the loss of livelihoods and displacement of various Tribal societies and communities. Commercial exploitation at the hands of outsiders, and degradation of forests and other natural resources have caused imbalances to ecological and sustainable environments.
For 15 years, the Integrated Tribal Development Society (ITDS) has been networking collectively with likeminded tribal organizations in Andhra Pradesh and advocating for tribal rights, land rights, tribal women rights, and tribal displacement rights. The ITDS was founded in 1998 by Sri G. Anil Kumar, a member of the Koya Tribe. He is described as an educated Tribal social activist who serves “scheduled Tribal people”. Specifically, he has done work with the economically and educationally deprived people of the West Godavari Tribal Agency Area in the State of Andhra Pradesh.
The ITDS has been conducting 60 village-level orientation workshops on FRA land rights in 15 Tribal villages in West Godavari. The tribal people who attended became aware of the FRA and learned how to advocate with forest officers and revenue officers to obtain FRA land titles. They also learned about the Right to Information Act (RTI Act) and how to use it for gaining FRA land titles. It total, 1500 Tribal women and men attended the workshops. Of these, 15 women identified as being infected or affected with tuberculosis and 16 female attendees identified as affected by HIV and AIDS.
Advocacy with Government officers and ministers
The ITDS has facilitated advocacy discussions regarding the plan approval process of lands for Tribal families and Tribal women living with HIV and AIDS. Advocacy actions include postcard campaigns aimed at political leaders, the Prime Minister, Ministry of Tribal Welfare, the President of India and others in the Government. State Governors were also targeted. Four Advocacy meetings were also held with the District Collector, the Project Officer for Information Technology Development Agency (ITDA), the Revenue Divisional Officer, Jangareddy Gudem and Mandal Revenue Officers.
The Right to Information Act Application Submissions
As a result of village-level meetings and meetings focused specifically on awareness and advocacy of the RTI Act, eight (8) applications under the Right to Information Act were submitted. The applications asked why the government did not sanction lands to eligible Tribal women, including to eligible Tribal families affected by HIV and AIDS. The Tribal women applied to through the Project Officer of the ITDA, the Revenue Divisional Officer Jangareddy Gudem and Concern Mandal Revenue Officers.
Due to this advocacy and the applications through the RTI Act, government officers replied to the applicants’ concerns and ensured that the applications were forwarded to the Concern Officers. Ultimately, the land survey was undertaken and the process for FRA land titles distribution was engaged.
Within a short time period the Government of India completed the process of sanctioning and distributing lands to Tribal people through the implementation of the Forest Rights Act. 5% of the lands allocated to the applicants in this article now belong to Tribal women affected by TB, HIV and AIDS. This shows that by upholding Tribal (Indigenous) rights, that tribal women and men living with and affected by TB, HIV and AIDS also benefit in Andhra Pradesh and throughout India.
Elisa Canqui – Bolivia
Ms. Elisa Canqui Mollo, is Aymara from Bolivia. As an Indigenous activist, she has been involved in the struggle to recognise Indigenous peoples rights since 1997. She was appointed as a Member of UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (2008/2010) where she addressed HIV/AIDS and TB in the agenda of UNPFII doing advocacy in many international scenarios. She is currently an independent consultant on Indigenous issues and works for NGOs, International Cooperatives, Indigenous organisations and government in such areas as health, rural development, Indigenous leadership and municipal development. Elisa is currently working on her PhD in Development Management and Public Policy.
Juana Cheuquepan Colipe – Chile
Juana is a community educator, with a Masters in Management of Development with Identity. Ms. Cheuquepan Colipe is a leader from the Indigenous Association Kiñe Pu Liwen, originally from Lautaro, 9th Region of Temuco in southern Chile. She has played a diverse role in community education and HIV and AIDS advocacy in Chile. She has worked as a Traditional Educator in local schools and in the Mapuche community, in La Pintana, corresponding to the Pikunche Territory (People of the North). In 2011, she developed innovative HIV educational materials for the International Labour Organization (ILO) from the perspective of the Mapuche worldview. She also lent her voice to the first translation into an Indigenous language (Mapudungun) of the ILO’s Recommendation concerning HIV and AIDS and the working world.
Michael Costello – Australia
Michael Costello is Arrente of the Central Australian Arrente Nation; his family’s country is Titjikarla. He was raised in Alice Springs; however, he has spent most of his adult life living in the city with his partner Corey and 3 dogs. Michael still has very strong connections to his country and returns regularly. Michael’s involvement with the Anwernekenhe movement began in 1998 at Anwernekenhe 2, where he was elected to the Anwernekenhe Steering Committee. Soon after Michael accepted a position with the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO), in the role of Senior Policy and Programs Officer with the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander HIV/AIDS Project, a position he held until December 2011. In December 2011, Michael was extremely honoured to take on the role of Executive Officer of the ANA with an 18 month contract. As Executive Officer Michael was charged with securing ongoing funding for the ANA, development and implementation of our first ever strategic plan and establishing our secretariat office. Michael upholds a strong commitment to self-determination for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, ensuring that we maintain and continue to build an effective community response to HIV.
Marama Pala – New Zealand
Marama Pala (Ngatiawa ki Kapiti Iwi), BML, BMA, AdvDip Business systems, was infected with HIV in 1993; her status was highly publicised as the first New Zealand/World HIV court case. She is the Executive Director of INA, an organization that provides education, advocacy and support services to culturally and linguistically diverse communities. Marama is also a New Zealand representative on the International Indigenous Working Group on HIV/ AIDS (UNAIDS). She was appointed as one of seven Global community representatives on the Community Programme Committee (CPC) for the XIX (19th) International AIDS Conference 2012 (AIDS 2012), held in Washington. Marama is a keynote speaker at numerous conferences on HIV in Australia, New Zealand, South Pacific Islands, Canada and Europe. Marama is married to Tony Pala who is from Papa New Guinea and has two children who are HIV negative.
Harlan Pruden – USA
Harlan Pruden (nēhiyaw/ First Nations Cree) is a co-founder of the NorthEast Two Spirit Society. Within his current position, Harlan works to organize the Two-Spirit (LGBT Native) community locally, nationally and internationally. Harlan is one of the lead organizers of the National Confederacy of Two-Spirit Organizations; serves as the principal Two-Spirit consultant to the University of Iowa’s National Native American and Alaskan Native Addiction Technology Transfer Center; and serves as an Honorary Committee Member of the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services at the University of Alberta, Canada. After committing himself to sobriety 27 years ago, Harlan was the first person in his family to attend college and now devotes his life to First Nations community organizing.
Temo Sasau – Fiji
Temo Sasau (I-taukei) is married with one child (son) whose birthday is also on World AIDS Day. He had worked with Fiji Red Cross for over 10 years. Diagnosed with HIV in December 2006, Temo was discreetly demoted from his job to a casual staff position. Temo joined Pacific Islands AIDS Foundation (PIAF), a regional organisation that focuses solely on improving the quality of life of people living with HIV. Through PIAF, he has become one of their regional PLHIV advocates, coordinating the regional AIDS Ambassadors work and working towards the development of support groups in Fiji for people living with HIV. As an Advocate, Temo does outreach and peer support in most of the Pacific Island countries, especially with Ambassadors in Vanuatu, Samoa, Kiribati, Fiji and Solomon Islands. He is involved in the development of support groups specifically for people living with HIV and is currently conducting a weekly support group meeting for people living with life-threatening illness. Temo recently joined Empower Pacific (formerly known as Pacific Counselling & Social Services) as the National Manager Clinical Services after the closure of PIAF in early 2013. He is currently the PLHIV representative for the Pacific Response Fund Committee (PRFC) and the Pacific Islands Multi-Country Coordinating Mechanism (PIRMCCM).
Temo has almost 20 years of hands on experience working with people at the grassroots level, including marginalised and stigmatised groups. For 5 years he specifically focussed on high-level advocacy with government leaders and organisations. Temo is passionate in peer treatment adherence support for those taking prescribed medicines for the rest of their lives such as antiretroviral therapy (ART).
Temo Sasau is proud to be a Fijian living with HIV and continues to look for ways to support others who are living with HIV and their families.
Maritza Segura Villalva – Ecuador
Maritza is an Ecuadorian mestiza, with Indigenous and Afro-Ecuadorian ancestry. She has her Doctorate in Psychology with a specialty in Psychoanalysis and working with groups. Maritza is an anthropologist (FLACSO-Ecuador).
Maritza has twenty years of work experience around themes of human rights, gender, sexual and reproductive health and prevention of violence against women. In the last 8 years, she has worked in the prevention of HIV in Indigenous communities.
Chris M. Mumba – Zambia
Christopher Montlhante Mumba was born on 11th July, 1964 in the copper mining town of Luanshya on the Copperbelt Province in Zambia. His parents were Mr. Christopher Antonio Mumba, a miner of the San minority group in Namibia and Prosperina Selita Mwewa, a Zambian national. Mumba attended junior high school at St. Charles Lwanga Catholic Junior Seminary in Mansa, Luapula Province and completed his high school at Mwense Boys Secondary School in the same province in 1982. He later entered the Evelyn Hone College of Applied Arts and Commerce in Lusaka where he graduated with a diploma in journalism, public relations and advertising. He then joined the Zambia News Agency (ZANA) where he worked as a senior reporter and was later elevated to the rank of sports editor. He resigned, however, after the plane he was expected to board to cover a 1994 World Cup qualifier game between the Zambia National team and Senegal crashed off the coast of Libreville in Gabon on 28th April 1993, killing all 32 people on board. That included Mumba’s deputy news editor, Joseph Bwalya Salimu, a former sports editor who was hurriedly assigned to cover the game after Mumba was given a week off after his home was raided by robbers who got away with his personal and household belongings. The unprecedented robbery saved Mumba’s life!
A few weeks after Mumba suffered from herpes zoster attacks on his left hand and on advice from his close friend, Winstone Zulu (late), an AIDS activist who became the first Zambian to go out in the open about his HIV serostaus in 1990, Mumba decided to walk in for voluntary counseling and testing at Kara Counselling and Training Trust in March 1994. He was diagnosed with HIV. That turned his career from that of journalism where he was editor for a daily tabloid newspaper into an AIDS activist with the aim of using media to sensitize people about HIV and AIDS in a country where HIV infection was treated as a disease for affluent foreigners or Zambians who had travelled abroad, and towards which stigma was rife. Mumba joined a Winstone Zulu led community outreach education group of AIDS educators that was operating at Hope House under Kara Counselling and Training Trust and was captured on several radio and television stations as well as in newspaper publications to speak about his experiences and testimonies of living with HIV. He was the first journalist in Zambia and perhaps in the whole southern, central and east African region to do so.
In February 1997 Mumba joined the National United Nations Volunteers (NUNV) pilot project (RAF 96/VO1) as a volunteer and was appointed assistant coordinator to the Network of Zambian People Living with HIV & AIDS (NZP+). NZP+, a network that by then only comprised 26 individuals living with HIV and AIDS, was established in May 1996 on tips from the Network of African People Living with HIV & AIDS (NAP+), which was set up on UNDP funding in Mombasa, Kenya in June 1994 and to which a Zambian who has preferred to remain anonymous became first coordinator. The NUNV pilot project was initiated by UNAIDS on joint collaboration with the UNDP and UNV Zambia country offices and was coordinated by Mrs Noerine Kaleeba, a Ugandan who at the time was Community Mobilisation Advisor for UNAIDS in Geneva.
Mumba later worked as programme manager on an OVC project for the Danish based Development Aid from People to People (DAPP) where he organized OVC committees in 64 villages in Cibombo district in the central part of Zambia to support orphans and vulnerable children living with HIV and AIDS. He also worked as editor on a regional HIV and AIDS youth magazine covering 23 countries for the Commonwealth Youth Programme-Africa Centre whose Secretariat is based in Zambia and was later on engaged as a treatment literacy and communications officer for Treatment Advocacy and Literacy Campaign (TALC). He was appointed temporary adviser on task shifting for the World Health Organization (WHO) and was also a member of the International AIDS Society (IAS). From 2011 to 2012 Mumba worked as a Commonwealth Professional Fellow at the UK Consortium on AIDS & International Development (now STOPAIDS) in London, United Kingdom. Mumba has participated in several International AIDS Conferences since the 12th International AIDS Conference held in Geneva, Switzerland in 1998 through to the IAS 7th International Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Prevention and Treatment held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in July 2013. He is currently working as a volunteer with Prisons Care and Counselling Association (PRISCCA) in Zambia where his work is centered on HIV and AIDS, TB, human rights and basic legal education. He is married to Beatrice Mwanza, a nurse in a public health centre in Zambia and they have two daughters.
Rawiri Evans – New Zealand
Rawiri Evans is from Ngati awa ki Kapiti in New Zealand. He has been involved in mental health and addiction work for over 35 years. He has worked for his community for years supporting whanau to gain the best results possible. Rawiri completed his Master’s Degree in 2011 at Massey University, having studied under great leaders in Maori health. He did his thesis in cultural competence. He has been awarded a Civic Honour from his people for services in the community. Rawiri sits on a number of key boards with Iwi and has a wide network of people across the world that supports his work. He is a Practitioner AOD and Supervisor and has been in the sector for 37 years.
Rawiri has been chairperson of INA in Aotearoa for the last 4 years with Marama Pala. He has presented at many conferences across the world and his expansive knowledge in Addictions is widely known.
He is also a father and grandfather and is married to his wife Fiona of 38 years.