Recognising Indigenous people

Monikangkan Barooah, Anjan Sarma

The indigenous peoples of northeast are those who are the original inhabitant of the state since ancient times. Every person who has inhabited in a place for a long time with a legal existence in a place and speaking the local language are to be treated as indigenous people of the region. Though the United Nations has given definitions of Indigenous people, many nations including the Government of India, are yet to come up with a notion to accept it. And there lies the issues that to be addressed with. People living in India since ancient times are to be treated as indigenous and safeguards to be made available to protect them.

Though there are loopholes in defining the definitions of Indigenous people worldwide, there are international treaties legally binding to the member nations of UN. One such treaty is the convention of biological diversity (CBD). The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is a  legally-binding international treaty. All countries, except the US, have not only signed it but have also ratified it. The parties to the Convention are supposed to make legal framework in compliance with the treaty.

Each country which is a party to the CBD is supposed to form a National Biodiversity Action Plan and they are required to protect the traditional knowledge of indigenous people and local communities. But the member nations has not done it accordingly. The compliance of CBD is very feeble and not proper assessment and review has not been done with so far. Thus the rights of indigenous people and their traditional knowledge remains largely unprotected in spite of international treaties. It is very sad that most countries do not want to recognise indigenous people as their people.

It is pertinent to note that there are differences of use of terms of indigenous and local communities instead of indigenous people. According to Mohammed Taghi Farvar, former director of Avicenna University in Iran said that “The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted by the UN general assembly in 2007, recognises that indigenous peoples have the rights to maintain and strengthen their distinct political, legal, economic, social and cultural institutions, while retaining their right to participate fully, if they so choose, in the political, social, economic and cultural life of the state. When you replace the word people with communities their legal rights are taken away.”

It is in the right earnest that Indigenous people of Northeast recognises the appropriate terms while representing themselves  as “Indigenous People” instead of “Indigenous Communities”. This would be the first step towards recognising the rights of Indigenous people. Last but the not the least, the clarion call for indigenous people of Northeast is – “unite, adapt and conquer”.

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