Valmiki belongs to which state
To the weekly markets in Araku Valley people come from all over the area: some with larger or smaller trucks, but many also on foot from remote villages to which only narrow forest paths lead. The wooden stalls are located on the market square, where food, clothing, household items, tools and the like are sold. Along the main street, the small traders sit in front of a tarpaulin on which they have spread their goods. The Adivasi women can be recognized immediately by their nose rings and clothing, but also by their range of goods. Mostly it is very small and includes a little vegetables, legumes and grains that you have grown yourself, as well as leaves, roots, berries or other fruits that you have collected in the forest. With the money they get for it, they buy things that they cannot make themselves - especially salt, kerosene, salted fish and fabric for their clothes. In the late afternoon the women start the long way back to their villages.
More than a dozen different tribal groups live in the Araku Valley. In India they are called Adivasis - indigenous people. The Araku Valley with its up to 900 meter high mountains and the many valleys is only about 115 kilometers from the port and university town of Vishakhapatnam on the Indian east coast; but culturally and economically there are worlds between the city and the villages of the Adivasis. The tribal groups that live here in the state of Andhra Pradesh, but also in the neighboring states of Orissa, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, are among the poorest population groups. The social indicators - education, health and life expectancy - are far below the overall Indian average. 60 percent of Indians can read and write, but only 25 percent of Adivasis.
"You really ask yourself what the Indian state did for the Adivasis in the first 63 years of independence, ”says Somela Bangaramma, who belongs to the Adivasi group of the Konda Dhora and who regularly comes to the weekly market in the Araku Valley. She is an elected member of the local council and has been committed to the rights of the Adivasis in Andhra Pradesh for years. “For us today it's about our survival. In my district of Anantagiri, 24 villages are threatened by mining projects. The area is rich in bauxite, which leading Indian steel companies want to mine. When that happens, our villages, forests and even mountains will be destroyed and we ourselves will be displaced. That is why we organize rallies on an ongoing basis. I have been to Delhi myself to testify to the Supreme Court of what mining would mean for the people here. " There are court rulings according to which the bauxite should not be mined here, at the same time rumors are circulating that the mining companies will still prevail. Bangaramma is determined: "But we will not allow that!"
The Adivasis in the Araku Valley and the neighboring districts are by no means alone with their worries. Throughout India, the tribal groups live predominantly in forested regions that are rich in natural resources. As activists point out, this is their tragedy. It already began under British colonial rule, when the British passed a series of forest laws from 1865, which did not recognize the customary rights of the Adivasis and regarded the Adivasis as intruders on their ancestral territory. As a result, there were repeated revolts in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. After independence in 1947, the Indian state maintained these laws or issued similarly restrictive regulations. The massive deforestation and the dramatic destruction of the forests finally led to a rethink in the 1980s and 1990s. Two new concepts were introduced - the joint forest management of the state and municipalities as well as the administration of the forests by the municipalities themselves. According to the forest law passed in 2006, Adivasis can now acquire legal titles on land traditionally inhabited and cultivated by them. In addition, it is legally anchored that outsiders may not acquire land from Adivasis or use it economically without their express consent. In practice, however, these regulations are disregarded.
From large industrial projects - be it dams, mining companies or steelworks - the local populations in India have practically never benefited. The balance of the federal and state governments with the promised resettlement and compensation of affected population groups is extremely bad. Millions of people have been displaced in the name of development. Even state and court-ordered investigations meanwhile show that we cannot just speak of an ad hoc policy or the neglect of the interests of the adivasis. Thousands of mining companies in India operate without any license, many others with questionable permits. The corrupt links between politicians and mining companies have recently led to multiple resignations and legal proceedings, but new miners are constantly emerging. In the name of what development and in whose interest, Narendra Bondla wonders. He belongs to the Adivasi group of the Valmiki, with a lot of luck and even more self-commitment he got a good education and now works for the Adivasis. With the Adima Adivasi development initiative he wants to network the so-called primitive tribal groups so that they can speak for themselves in the future.
“Our official terminology is a problem. Primitive is a degrading word. However, it continues to be used in official government documents for those adivasis who have the lowest social indicators. In Telugu, the national language of Andhra Pradesh, we speak of the Adima Adivasis. Adima means 'original, very old' and is therefore an acceptable word, ”says Narendra Bondla. In his view, the programs that governments have passed for the Adivasis have done little. On the one hand, this is due to the, at best, half-hearted implementation, and on the other hand, because “nobody has ever asked the Adivasis about their wishes or let them have a say in the matter. That is why we urgently need a strong tribal civil society that can represent its own concerns. "
Narendra Bondla heard to those adivasis who also view the many - real or supposed - advocates of the tribal groups with skepticism. These advocates include Gandhians, Marxists and other leftists, Christian organizations, various Hindu groups, including Hindu nationalists, and Maoist underground fighters or Naxalites as they are also known. "There are so many actors and ideologies at work, but mostly the voice of the Adivasis, who have their own cultures and languages, is missing," says Bondla. The tribal groups are confronted here with diverse political, economic, but also religious interests, for example when Hindu nationalist groups question the true motives of the social engagement of Christians in the tribal areas. As a result, the worst violent attacks have occurred time and again, for example in the neighboring state of Orissa.
In the Araku Valley, Narendra Bondla observes the growing influence of Christian churches, but also the spread of Hindu gods, who sometimes worship Adivasis side by side with their own deities. Girls who attend a school in the city after elementary school in the village take off their nose rings and no longer tie the sari in the traditional way. Some of these developments are probably inevitable, says Narendra Bondla, but it is important that the Adivasis themselves consciously deal with it and not be overwhelmed by external cultural influences or other economic interests.
The adivasis want too Development, emphasizes Kunjam Pandu Dora from the tribal group of the Koya. “But that must not mean the destruction of our previous living space and our culture. Jal, Zamin and Jungle - this is one of our slogans: This means that our land, water and forest belong to us, and we determine how they are used. We also want good schools and clinics. But we don't want our children in schools and college to be instilled with contempt for their own culture because this culture is supposedly so backward. ”Kunjam Pandu Dora has been an activist for Adivasi issues for years and is therefore familiar with current development debates . He refers to international efforts to conserve biodiversity, for which the knowledge of the Adivasis is of great importance. And he adds: “How can our traditional knowledge be so primitive when international pharmaceutical companies are constantly showing interest in our medicinal herbs? Who developed the knowledge of these herbs? Those were the Adivasis. ”That is why Kunjam Pandu Dora not only wants recognition, but also the integration of Adivasi knowledge and culture into the curriculum.
For the Adima Adivasis in the Araku Valley, it is also about being able to improve their economic base. Because currently they only get minimal amounts for their products. The Adima Adivasi development initiative wants to support them so that in the future they will process some of the products they have collected themselves and thus generate added value.
Brigitte Voykowitsch is a freelance radio and print journalist with a focus on South Asia and recently visited India again.
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