Empowerement of the the Adhivasi Federation

Project location: India, Tamil Nadu
Project start date: October 2010 - Project end date: October 2011
Project number: 2010-48
Beneficiary: Mani Tese


In India, in the North and Central States, the ethnic groups belonging to the "Scheduled Tribes" recognized by the Indian Government, often together with the "Scheduled Castes", receive protection through the Constitution and other specific acts and rules stating the discrimination and the atrocities against these communities. But different is the situation in the South, in Tamil Nadu in particular, where this project has been implemented: the 36 original ethnic groups, called Adhivasi, spread in 18 Districts represent less than 1% of the total population. They are the original inhabitants of the forest, but they don't have any right on the land and on the natural resources inside it. As a consequence, they are leaving these areas and their jobs, loosing their tradition and culture, becoming coolies (daily workers) in some other local activities.
The project reported here is the third and final year of a process to create first a movement and then a Federation of all the organizations working in these areas, to enhance and strengthen the Adhivasi communities, establishing significant relations with the local Government institutions (Panchyat Raj Institutions) and giving them the necessary tools to know and claim their rights.
The main objectives of the program in the reporting period were:

Catalyzing a Tamil Nadu movement/federation of the Adhivasi by bringing the existing Adhivasi-led organizations on a common platform,
Strengthening the federation (Tamilnadu Adhivasi Federation, TAF) with skills training, exposures, etc.,
Enhancing the efficiency through honing leadership skills, Legal Literacy, lobbying and advocacy, etc.,
Sensitizing the leaders with gender consciousness, on the need of equity and ensuring sustainability,

According to IFAD (International Fund for Agricultural Development), Indigenous Peoples suffer higher rates of poverty, landlessness, malnutrition, human rights violation, illiteracy, unemployment and internal displacement than other sectors of the society.

In details, the vital issues the project intended to address, through the empowerment and enabling process, were the following:
1. Land alienation and proletarization: Land, forest and related common property resources (water, grazing ground, temples) are of fundamental importance to indigenous peoples since they constitute the basis of their economic livelihood and are the source of their spiritual, cultural and social identity. Dispossession of these traditional lands and territories is one of the major problems faced by the Adhivasi. Displacement, migration, bonded-ness, debt-trap are burdens heaped upon them.
2. Poor quality of life: The Adhivasi hamlets lack the basic amenities for decent human life. The housing is poor, mostly one room mud hovels. No electricity, no roads and transport, no safe drinking water and no grazing ground for their animals. The few schools, government tribal residential schools, also lack the basic infrastructure.
3. Low wages and discrimination: The impact of Globalization, the economic deprivation, the exploitation by non Adhivasi (of the government's reservations and job quota) play havoc in the lives of the Adhivasi. Social discriminations are heaped upon the community, specially on women by the other sections in society. The existence of social evils like bonded labour, illiteracy, harassment by the settlers, encroachments and such other human rights violations affect their development.
4. Disorganized and powerlessness: The biggest weakness of these communities is disorganization. The geographical dispersal of the tribal communities and their miniscule population, the various ethnic divisions among themselves and the weak leadership among the community, keep these people disorganized. They are divided also due to the multi-party system even in the remote hamlets.
5. De-tribalization: Identification of Indigenous Peoples is another issue of concern. As a sequence of the above problem, the Adhivasi have been losing their roots (cultural ethos and ethnic identity). If this trend continues, sooner than later, the Adhivasi communities will disappear.
6. Portrayed as villains of environmental degradation: The consequences of ecosystem changes have implications for indigenous peoples' use, protection and management of wildlife, fisheries and forests, affecting the customary uses of culturally and economically important species and resources. The protagonists of climate depict the Adhivasi communities as ‘villains' of the climate and as antagonists of environment and wildlife. Similarly they are portrayed as being in the centre of animal-human conflict and attempts are being made to dilute the provisions of Forest Rights Act, which is untrue and unfortunate.
7. Racism against indigenous peoples: The efforts by the international community to pursue the realization of Human Rights and fundamental freedoms for all regardless of race, gender, language and religion have proven to be inadequate. Despite such efforts, xenophobia/exclusivism/racial discrimination, ethnic conflicts and widespread violence persist against Adhivasi.

Implementation Strategies
Starting from the earlier experience of TRED in Erode and Nilgiris District, a vibrant movement of the Adhivasi has been activated by bringing the existing Adhivasi organizations in all the different 18 Districts inside Tamil Nadu, where the Adhivasi population was considerable in number, on a common platform, creating a State level Federation called Tamilnadu Adhivasi Federation (TAF).
By evolving a pedagogy of the oppressed based on their culture, system of values and love of nature, this project built and strengthened gram sabhas (village councils) in Adhivasi hamlets, paving the way for coalescence of people's power and the formation of CBOs (Community Based Organizations).
These 18 districts were grouped into 3 zones under the basis of the geographical location (North, South and West), each comprising of six districts. In each zone two leaders were selected for the core committee which has 9 members (3 women and 3 men Adhivasi leaders, the director and the coordinator of TRED and one NGO representative). At the level of each district, one Adhivasi organization was identified by the core committee to play a lead role, to join hands with the other Adhivasi of the district and to work towards the State level federation. All these identified 18 lead organizations became the general body of the State level federation.
Besides state level coordination, a team of Adhivasi, NGO head and animators held monthly meetings to monitor and review the activities.

Project based Activities
Main activities implemented under the project period were:
Training (trainings, issue-based motivational sessions and para-legal inputs) to hone the skills of the Adhivasi leaders were organized to empower the Adhivasi to tackle their issues, to learn about their rights, how to fight for them and to develop their capacities. In details, these trainings dealt with Leadership and skills, Training in Forest Rights (FR) Act-2006, Para-Legal training, Participation in decision-making processes and Gram-sabha, and Advocacy and lobbying. More then 400 Adhivasi leaders trained, well informed on FR and other Acts, dissemination of the same to the villagers, increased participation and access to Panchayats.

Exposure visit to learn from the functioning of other organized marginalized groups, to render first hand knowledge on their federations or organizations or on those that successfully handled pressing issues have been arranged as follows:
a) Internal visit to Kanyakumari District on July 15th to 17th , on the importance of education and SHGs for the 20 leaders;
b) External visit to Andhra Pradesh on October 27th to 30th, focusing on strategies for a proper implementation of the FR Act for the 20 leaders.

Celebration of the World day of the Indigenous Peoples
Every year on August 9th indigenous peoples of the world get together to celebrate World Indigenous Peoples Day. It is a day to celebrate the richness of cultural diversity in the Adhivasi world and to be reminded of the insecure situation in which the Adhivasi live. This Adivasi Peoples' Day would ensure indigenous people's social and constitutional rights. In 2010, the celebration was held at Trichy, in the open air auditorium of Kalaikaveri College of Fine Arts, where about 1000 Adhivasi, both women and men, took active part. The Day was an occasion to bring the Adhivasi together and to make their existence and presence visible. After this interaction, all of the ethnic groups spend some time singing and dancing (see the DVD n.1).

Organization of a public hearing (and issue based action)
To highlight the atrocities suffered by the Adhivasi communities (harassment by the law enforcing agencies, sexual assault on women, threats and eviction by the upper castes etc.) and to sensitize the general public about the key issues involved, a public hearing was organized on Sep 18th in Madurai. More than 200 persons, 80% of them Adhivasi, took part in the programme. 18 such cases were presented before the panel (judge, government officers, lawyers, activists) and the concerned victims themselves narrated their stories of woe, the instances of violence, harassment, persecution, insult, and discrimination. Media captured this event. (see the DVD n.2)

Cultural performances to heighten the consciousness of the people
The Adhivasi has unique cultures, traditions, knowledge, language, thought, belief, technology, behaviour, rights, festivals - all these are part of their cultural life. The cultural troupe which had been formed already was given 3 days refresher in Hassanur in June. We had trained more than 30 youngsters in the past years. This year we had conducted cultural performance in 12 districts.

Solidarity actions to address issues
"Jal, Jungle, Jameen hamara hai!" "The water, forests and lands are ours! Our Rights over the forest produce are inalienable!"-These slogans were reverberating across the vast area of Tamil Nadu on 4 different places (North, South, West, East) and days in the month of October 2010, by Adivasi peoples who have long suffered the oppression, exploitation and discrimination. There were about 300 to 350 people in each demonstration. All the programme had the same thrust of fighting for the land and rights over the forests.

Legal literacy, legal aid to highlight the atrocities suffered by Adhivasi
Legal aid is very urgent, specially to reclaim alienated lands and to seek redressal in case of atrocities, violations of human rights or assault on adivasi women that are ever on the increase. This we were able to do with the help of three part-time lawyers and 15 para-legal workers.

Documentation and dissemination
Documentation is done in two ways:
1. Printing Adivasi Muzhakkam, the bimonthly news letter of TAF, symbol of the Adhivasi struggle for liberation in the State, and supporting the library in TAF central office at Irungalur, where books, leaflets, pamphlets are collected;
2. Improve the TAF members' skills in documentation and in creative writing.

About 100 Adhivasi were trained in the tenets of FR Act 2006 and nearly 200 more have developed leadership skills, self-discipline, self confidence and have moved from lethargy to goal oriented life. About 50 young Adhivasi acquired skills in planning, monitoring, evaluating, reporting and in effective implementation strategies like Legal Literacy, with skills in lobbying and advocacy, legal compliance, documentation.
Some of the trainees (20) turned out to be leaders of the community, helping the villagers to approach the government departments, especially on the legal side.
Gender sensitivity came to the fore, with an active women's participation among the TAF leaders (6 among 18).
A sense of community ownership of TAF is increased and the office is well put into use.
Government offices are accessed and leaders speak to them with confidence. Advocacy and lobbying efforts are on with the government offices and departments (formation of forest rights committees).
Gained confidence to mobilize access for CBOs from the Panchayat Raj Institutions (housing, roads, drinking water, schools up-gradation).
Evinced interest in traditional art and culture and herbal medicines.
TAF is widely known in different circles and it has become a model for other Adhivasi communities, specially in South India.
Nearly 1.000 community certificates were obtained in this reporting period. And, as example, 460 acres of land, alienated by ZOO (Zoological Outreach Organization) have been reclaimed by the Adhivasi in Coimbatore district.
The consciousness of their right on NTFP (non timber forest products) increased.

Monitoring and Evaluation
Monitoring and Evaluation, including analysis of the context (social reality, problems identification, stakeholders' analysis), setting objectives, designing programme, implementation (input) and results achieved (output, outcome and impact) have been assessed in every monthly meeting and in the final evaluation.

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