Tribal Day Celebrations: Making Mockery Of International Day Of The World’s Indigenous Peoples

Tribal activists say that instead of making false promises, the chief minister should focus on providing proper and regular health services to the adivasis.

Perhaps in response to the call given by the United Nations General Assembly to observe August 9 as the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples annually, the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh instructed the Ministry of Tribal Welfare to host an event at Araku Valley in Visakhapatnam Agency.

Although the UN adopted a resolution to this effect way back in 1994, it has taken more than two decades for the government to realize that there was such a day for pondering over rights of adivasis.

It was August 9, 2016 on which, for the first time, the day was observed by the state government at Araku, where the Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu made a slew of promises for the development of tribal folk. There is criticism among adivasis that the assurances he delivered at the last year’s meeting have remained an empty rhetoric. Notwithstanding, the Chief Minister Naidu has promised as many promises this time around too.

A 27-point programme was announced for the uplift of tribal people in the state by the chief minister. His promises include a tourism circuit with Araku as centre, developing Araku as a health and medical hub, residential educational institutes for students of class IV and above, financial assistance to those adivasis students wishing to pursue higher education abroad, TV and internet facility through fiber grid at the cost of Rs.200 and free electricity up to 75 units for each household in the region and export facilities at Araku for exporting coffee beans grown in the region.

Last year, the chief minister announced an educational hub at Araku during the celebrations. He promised a College of Education (B.Ed.), an Engineering College, a District Institute of Education and Training (DIET) and Nursing College at Araku and surroundings, which remained nothing more than a hollow promise.

Naidu did not even touch upon the precarious state of health of adivasis in the agency area stretching from Srikakulam to East Godavari in the state at the latest celebrations. Agency has been in the grip of viral and malarial fevers for the past several months.

More: Naidu Announces 27-Point Development Programme For Tribals At Araku

In Chaparayi village in East Godavari, as many as 16 adivasis died of falciparum malaria shockingly in a three weeks’ span. The government sought to obfuscate the reality by trying to pass off the Chaparai deaths as due to adivasis having eaten rotten meat at a marriage gathering and also because of consumption of contaminated water from a local hill stream.

Visakhapatnam Agency viral, malarial and typhoid fevers have been on the rise since the onset of monsoons. Particularly, scores of villages in Munchingputtu mandal have been reeling under fevers. Children, women and elderly were more vulnerable to the diseases. There were reports that sickle cell anaemia has been reported in many of the children.

There is no road connectivity for the villages that dotted in the hills and valleys. The hilly terrain is making the health staff, such as health assistants, visit villages regularly. This being so the ASHA workers (community health workers) have been paid a meager honorarium of Rs.400 a month.

Many villages do not have drinking water facility and as a result, they fetch water from the nearby streams.

If this is the state of health in the Agency, what way a health and medical hub at Araku would benefit tribal people? Instead of making false promises, the chief minister should focus on providing proper and regular health services to the adivasis.

Naidu should have gone through the reports of K.Sujatha Rao and KR Venugopal for understanding adivasi society and their health needs.

As Sujatha Rao suggested “tribal development strategies need to be more human-centred with health at its centre. The conventional, bureaucratized approach of looking at health issues for tribals in a sectoral, compartmentalized manner can have little impact on achieving health goals. Strategies to reduce morbidities and mortality among tribals would need to contain specific directions for establishing interconnectivity between income, food security, female literacy, and good health right down to the PHC level.”(Ref: Economic and Political Weekly. 33(9). Feb 28 – March 6, 1998)

The chief minister was referring to providing education for adivasis students abroad.  On the pretext of low student intake, the state government was rationalizing the schools not only in plain areas, but also in the Agency.

Several schools were closed down or merged with some other schools, depriving the tribal students a school in the neighborhood. The tribal students time and again represented to the government, but the rationalization process did not halt.

As with bauxite mining in the region, the government did not scrap the GO 97 as yet. However, the chief minister assured orally that the mining would not be done in the interest of adivasis.

Then why Naidu is hesitating to issue a GO remains a mute question. Polavaram Project, on the other hand, is going to submerge several adivasi villages depriving them the land, forest and thereby their livelihoods. Despite the fact, Naidu is keen on continuing with the project. The adivasis in the state, as a whole, deprived of their basic rights. It is a mere mockery to observe International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.

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