Sunday, February 15, 2009

Tribal concepts of assets and “forest dwellers”

Sunday, February 15, 2009
Though I can’t really hand pick the “best” moment from my trip, there are parts which stand out. And meeting Stan Thakaekara was surely one of them. (More about him Here).

We went to his office and just sat there while he went on and on, hopping from one issue to another. I didn’t blink once.
When you look at Tribals, the first things that come to your mind are that they are uncivilised, they live on trees, eat leaves, go around strutting, illiterate and so on.
-Stan Thakaekara

He further said that all these were highly negative ways of describing the community, leave alone stereotypical. Tribals are social groups with territorial affiliation yes, but their idea of property is very different from the conventional idea. To tribals, the concept of land ownership doesn’t exist, (s)he thinks of himself as an integral part of the ecosystem while using its resources in a minimalist way.

So how is this relevant?

Look back through history. So like we discussed there was no concept of land as an asset for the tribals. So what happens when people start treating it as an asset? The issue of inheritence comes up. This is the real problem. The inherited land is passed on mainly to the male member of the family and this is one of the fundamental causes of gender inequality. It’s only the man who is in possession of the assets where as the woman becomes a child bearing device.
When I had gone to Chembakuli I had seen that the men and women were both equally vociferous in their opinions. I suppose it all makes sense now.

Now for the interesting and tragic part. The tribals never sought to acquire the land or try to get documents to back up their claim on this land because they never felt the need to. As far as they could remember they’d always been here and the forest had always been nice to them, taking care of all their basic needs.

Coming back to the present:
When the government goes ahead and passes the laws such as the Forest Rights Act etc, they don’t expect the Scheduled Tribes of that particular area to show the documents but instead use wells, small check dams etc as a proof of their existence. That part is alright.
But when the migrants came to this region, they started claiming the land as their property (and the tribals were obviously not aware of this).

Now of these migrants, “forest dwellers” are defined as those who had claimed the land as long as 75 years ago, and they are on the safe side. The tricky part is relating to those migrants who claim to have owned the land for less han 75 years. They are the ones with vested interests and who want the policies to favour them. Obviously, opinions differ on this.
Some people feel that 75 years is too long a time. Imagine a person who has owned the land for only 73 years

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