In the congenial surroundings of the forests around Vanantharam, near Addatigala in East Godavari district, Andhra Pradesh, we, nearly 150 adivasis from the North-East, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Maharashtra, together with a few of our well-wishers, met yet again to carry on the Samvaad we initiated in 1995, and reconvened in 1999.
We were able to reflect and share among ourselves the unfolding situation of our communities.
Not much has changed for the better – in fact matters have deteriorated sharply:
Our access to our resources has declined substantially because of displacement, land alienation and control exercised by outsiders over the marketing of our products.
In the name of development, more of our livelihood resources are being alienated from us. Thus the sources of our livelihood are being transformed into mere commodities to the benefit of the urban middle class. We are excluded from the benefit of their use.
By denying us access to education, we are deprived of the possibility of finding alternatives to the livelihood that is being alienated from us.
With the alienation of our rich natural resources, our very identity as adivasis is under attack. We are impoverished, marginalised and often treated as encroachers in our own habitat.
The present administrative and governance systems are loaded against us. We are divided among different States. Different laws govern us, thus making unity among us difficult. New States of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand were formed and the Panchayati Raj was extended to our areas in the name of tribal autonomy, self-rule and identity but the new systems of governance are being imposed on us instead of recognising and improving on our traditional self-rule.
In every case our women and children are the worst sufferers. Women among us suffer the most. With alienation of land and forests they lose their social status. They are the worst victims of malnutrition and ill health. As a result of displacement, land alienation and impoverishment, our children are turned into labourers and denied their right to education and childhood.
However, many of us are resisting these processes and some are searching for alternatives to them:
We will persist in our efforts for proper application and implementation of the provisions of the Fifth and Sixth Schedules of the Constitution of India in letter and in spirit; to be made applicable to our communities left outside the ambit especially in the North-East, North Andhra, in the contiguous adivasi region of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, and in the contiguous adivasi region of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.
We firmly assert our rights over our traditional habitat expropriated for mining and wild-life sanctuaries in Jharkhand, Orissa and Chhattisgarh.
We will continue our struggles to retain control over our resources and livelihoods in diverse places like Kashipur, Meghalaya, Nagarhole, Narmada, Netarhat and Polavaram.
We are reviving our traditional governance systems in Gujarat and Maharashtra – in Delhi, Ahmedabad and Mumbai we have our governments; in our village we are the government.
We are finding ways of settling our disputes within the village through the traditional village councils, thus strengthening genuine self-rule.
We struggled to regain land at Gudalur in Tamil Nadu and now grow tea on it to improve our economic condition. We will now take control over the market through village cooperatives.
We are reviving recourse to the use of traditional medicinal herbs in places like Andhra Pradesh and will safeguard local access, bio-diversity, and intellectual property rights in the face of their commercial export.
We are determined to continue these efforts:
We will demand and work out a policy for adivasis relevant to the needs of our communities.
We shall strengthen traditional systems of governance in a form effective for the continued survival, sustenance, and sustainability of our communities in the face of unwarranted intrusions and obstacles.
We will critically review our traditions and customary laws to ensure equity for women over property rights, in the matter of ancestral land, participation in decision-making processes, and in general as equal members of our community.
We will ensure the primary education of our children in the mother tongue and ensure a system that promotes respect for our traditions.
We will protect our habitat, and ensure sustainable livelihoods for our communities with judicious use of land, water and forests.
We shall enrich our traditional knowledge systems in health, agriculture, services, arts and crafts to promote the growth and prosperity of the community as a whole.
In general, we value and reaffirm the traditional value framework of our communities based on trust, sustainability and collective well-being.
In consonance with this resolve we take this pledge:
We, the Adivasi/Indigenous People of India, original daughters/sons of the soil, Vow to Protect, Conserve and fight in Solidarity for our Natural Resources, Culture And Rights and dedicate ourselves to work forthe Development and Enhancement of Society.
Vanantharam, Addateegala, Andhra Pradesh
February 1 - 4, 2005
Following five issues will be discussed at our community, community organization and NGOs level: