The World of Khilonjiya and their peaceful co-existence

Jebra Ram Muchahary

At the very outset, especially in this august International Day of the World Indigenous Peoples, I, on behalf of the Indigenous Peoples of India, would like to congratulate the Khilonjiya Manch, Assam for successfully observing this august Day here in Guwahati along with the rest of the Indigenous Peoples around the world and warmly greet and wish you all a very happy International Day of the World Indigenous Peoples!

Dear Indigenous brothers and sisters of NE region, particularly Assam, as you are aware of the fact the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People’s is observed on August 9 each year to promote and protect the rights of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. This event also recognizes the achievements and contributions that Indigenous Peoples make to improve world issues such as environmental protection.

By resolution 49/214 of 23rd December, the General Assembly of the United Nations decided that the International Day of the World Indigenous Peoples shall be observed on 9 August every year during the 1st International Decade of the World Indigenous Peoples (1995-2004) to mark the day of the first meeting of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations (UNWGIP) of the Sub-commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, in 1982. In 2004, the Assembly proclaimed a Second International Decade, from 2005–2015, with the theme of “A Decade for Action and Dignity”.  People from different nations are encouraged to participate in observing the day to spread the UN’s message on Indigenous Peoples. Thus August 9 has become an auspicious day for over 370 million Indigenous Peoples living in more than 90 countries across the world, making up 5,000 distinct indigenous groups and speaking over 4,000 languages.

As an Indigenous Peoples’ rights activist of this country, let me attune that the India is broadly a country of immigrants but it is the original home of the Indigenous Peoples (Adivasis), which has been already established by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India dated 5th January 2011.

Indian sub continent has the 2nd largest populations of Indigenous Peoples next to Africa as it is the home of more than 120 millions of Indigenous Peoples comprising of more than 9% of its current estimated 1.37 billion total population of India (2018), representing more than 700 tribes. In the North East region we are more than 212 different Indigenous tribes, where the Assam itself is having more than 70 Indigenous Peoples including sub-tribes.

Following the resolution A/RES/61/295, The General Assembly, adopted  the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) on 13th September 2007 which was ratified by India as well that enumerates a series of rights related to the theme of the International Day, including the right to self-determination and cultural development (art. 3); the right to maintain and strengthen distinct political, legal, economic, social and cultural institutions (art. 5); the right to practice and revitalize cultural traditions and customs (art. 11); and the right to maintain and develop contacts, relations and cooperation, including activities for spiritual, cultural, political, economic and social purposes, with their own members as well as other peoples across borders (art. 36).

However, unfortunately, India has not been playing pro-active role either to recognize its Indigenous Peoples in the country nor to implement the UNDRIP for the improvement of the life and situations of the Indigenous Peoples of its country. It is too unfortunate to observe that India denied the existence of Indigenous Peoples in the UN floor saying “There is no Indigenous Peoples in India as India is ‘like a melting pot’’. By an accident of history, this opinion of the Government of India expressed at the floor of the United Nation working Group on Indigenous Population (WGIP) in 1984 and again in 1985, has come to our elder’s ears and therefore our people thought it fit to depute a team of five representatives of Indigenous Tribal People of India to appear in persons and get the correction done on the floor of the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Population itself in 1987.

Today we the Indigenous Peoples of India are facing a serious threat to our survival as we have been losing out our life sustaining resources of land, water and forest day by day more and more. The Indigenous Peoples of North East, particulalarlry the Khilonjiyas of Assam, have been facing the brunt of state sponsored unabated illegal Bangladeshi influx to topple the demographic situation of Assam with an objectives to destroy the ethnic character of the Indigenous Peoples of Assam, the dangerous implications of which all along being vehemently objected by the Indigenous Peoples of Assam. The latest process of updating of NRC of 1951 of Assam  on the basis of 25th of March 1971 as electoral basis rather than comparing it with the appropriate materials through the successive electorolls of 1952 and now the desperate attempt to pass the proposed Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, by which the present government plans to change the definition of illegal migrants, which was introduced in the Lok Sabha on July 15, 2016 and seeks to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955 to provide citizenship to illegal migrants, from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, who are of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian extraction. However, the Act doesn’t have a provision for Muslim sects like Shias and Ahmediyas who also face persecution in Pakistan and the Bill which also seek to reduce the requirement of 11 years of continuous stay in the country to six years to obtain citizenship by naturalisation is nothing but a design to put death trap not only for the Indigenous Peoples of Assam but in the region as a whole as we are already microscopic in size as already witnessed the bitter experienced in Tripura.

It is indeed a painful live experience for us to witness the government of India’s attitude by which in the name of governance it has created a situation where law and facts are in conflict between practice and profession. Various laws and constitutional bindings of the state in regard to migration of foreign national are made inapplicable in Assam which is only encouraging to jeopardized the alarming situation of unabated illegal influx of migrants in millions from neighboring Bangladesh, which has become crystal clear example of silent invasion to destroy and wipe out the Bhumi Putra, the Khilonjia, the Indigenous Peoples from the sacred soil of Assam.

Therefore, through this august observation of the “International Day of the World Indigenous Peoples (IDWIP), I on behalf of the Indigenous Peoples of India, particularly the Khilonjiyas of Assam would like to appeal to all my indigenous brothers and sisters of this region to join hands together, stand united and march forward effectively to survive, secure and prosper as distinct Indigenous Peoples with our own geniuses of languages, cultures, values and identities and to contribute in nation and peace building processes as aspired by our brothers and sisters (Indigenous Peoples of the world) around the world as enshrined in the 46 articles of the UNDRIP for better world and peaceful co-existence.

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