CLEARINGHOUSE FOR REVIEWING ECOTOURISM, No. 5
No. 5: India:
- Resolution on ecotourism adopted at Panchgani
- Adivasi struggle for self-rule
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In this edition, we share with you a Resolution opposing the UN-initiated International Year of Ecotourism (IYE), which was signed by participants of the recent National Conference on Human Rights, Social Movements, Globalization and the Law at Panchgani in India. This signature campaign is an initiative of the Bangalore-based NGO Equitable Tourism Options (EQUATIONS) and supported by indigenous peoples/Adivasi, human rights and environmental groups and activists from all over India.
The second document is edited from a longer essay entitled “The Political Economy of Self-rule” by Anita Cheria and Edwin. It gives a background as to how the lives and livelihoods of the Adivasi in India are threatened by unfair and dehumanizing conservation activities and explains why indigenous peoples fight ‘eco-development’ projects, including ecotourism, imposed by the State and international institutions.
The campaign coordinating groups:
April 5, 2001
SUB- Resolution on the UN International Year of Eco Tourism-2002
Dear Madam/ Sir
Over 1,500 activists, representatives of non governmental organisations, tribal communities and people’s movements including Judges from India and abroad came together during the last week of December, 2000 to attend the National Conference on Human Rights, Social Movements, Globalisation and the Law organised by the India Centre for Human Rights and Law, Human Rights Law Network, Centre for Social Justice and Drishti Media Collective and nearly 60 other organisations from around the country. The objective being to share experiences of the various groups on the Judicial System, to build organisational links, exchange information and co-operate in campaigns and investigations into human rights violations.
The multifaceted themes deliberated upon and discussed in the conference both in Plenary and in Parallel sessions included nearly 25 critical issues ranging from Globalisation, Human rights, Environment, Women, Children and Adivasi rights. This conference was unique in as many as 40 sitting judges of the various High Courts and Supreme Court of India and leading judicial personalities from various countries attended.
EQUATIONS, an NGO working on tourism concerns based at Bangalore participated in sessions and led discussions on (a) Adivasi Rights (b) Environment, and (c) Commercial sexual exploitation of children. It also had indirect interventions in the sessions on Globalisation and Women.
The Adivasi Rights session had indepth deliberations in terms of its content and trends in which nearly 60 activists participated. EQUATIONS initiated and led the discussion on Eco Tourism. The NGO highlighted the conflicts between development, conservation and needs of local communities in sensitive areas where Eco- tourism has been indiscriminately promoted as a development option.
In the light of these conflicts in Eco-tourism areas the imperative need to protest against the UN Declaration of 2002 as International Year of Eco-tourism was emphasized. As an outcome of the discussion, the participants unanimously resolved to protest the declaration of year 2002 as International Year of Eco Tourism.
Attached below is the resolution passed against the Year Of Eco-Tourism with the signatories.
RESOLUTION ON ECO-TOURISM
* When the U N proclaimed 2002 as the International Year of Eco- tourism; many NGO’s who have been monitoring tourism impacts went on the alert. In October 2001 an international coalition of environmental, human rights and indigenous people’s groups launched a call for the fundamental reassessment of the UN Eco- tourism year 2002.
* NGO’s are extremely concerned that this UN endorsement of Eco- tourism in light of all the fundamental problems related to the industry - in many cases another green wash - will destroy more bio diversity and harm even more local communities.
* We the undersigned NGO’s and people’s movements feel compelled to warn all concerned parties not to skirt the critical issues of Eco- tourism and the fact that a mountain of money will be spent on projects initiated around the international year of eco- tourism order to boost the eco tourism industry.
* In contrast to advocates who tend to portray eco tourism development as a means to protect bio- diversity and enhance the well being of local people, we are gravely concerned that this lYE will result in a disastrous situation for local communities and the environment in destination countries.
* From Thailand to Belize, Eco- tourism has opened the doors to more forest destruction. Indigenous peoples in affected areas have been forced out of their traditional lands in some cases.
* Reports are also growing that “tourists” are illegally collecting forest plants with potential medicinal value for the biotechnology industry.
* We also denounce the lack of transparency and failure to meaningfully involve indigenous peoples and southern organizations in ongoing preparations.
Lakshmikanth, Nagarika Sevatrust, Bangalore
Adivasi Struggle for Self-rule
The marginalization of the adivasi is sequential. Initially, the people might see some increased benefits from projects - more wages, welfare measures to “ease their transition to the mainstream”, aid or charity for instance. But the end result will be the same: they will end up as waste absorbers because the dominant system cannot relate to them as equal, since it will defeat the very purpose of extraction of the best and expropriation.
Let us take the question of land. A World Bank ‘Eco-development plan’ calls for the eventual eviction of the adivasi from their homelands, regardless of their rights. According to the plan, “in the long-term excluding these [adivasi] areas from the PAs… would not be compatible with management of the area for conservation of biodiversity.” The plan further states that “the resolution of rights would be so time-consuming, and enforcing of the law would be so socially and polically difficult, that state governments have tried not to do so.”
The adivasi homelands are not taken over at one go. To make the life of the adivasi unviable within the area, the forest department resorts to processes of slow strangulation. The declaration of the area as a National Park is preceded and succeeded by several silent moves to push people out. The method used has four distinct stages:
1. In this stage, the adivasi are not allowed to grow any of their fruit trees and what they have is taken over by the forest department and then replanted with teak.
2. The next stage is the prohibition of cultivation. This effectively destroys their life support system. The people thus become dependent on the forest department for any work, or else they have to go out.
3. The courtyard and the little space around the village is also taken over by the forest department. The ‘village’ now consists only of huts. The people have been reduced to wage labour.
4. This stage depends on how badly the government wants the land. If the resistance of the people is strong, elephants are let loose onto the land. With the buffers gone, the people are defenseless. They then agree to do whatever the government wants. Alternately, the government says that those who will agree to move out will be given some land and help to settle. For those who do not agree, intimidation and harrassment result.
But the slow strangulation process is operative not in land or land-related issues alone. It covers every part of life and livelihood spectrum, including the abstract ‘superstructure’ such as religion and culture. Exploiting holarchies first take over relatively unfilled spaces of the ones they want to subsume, then claim plenary power over the entire holarchy. The wealth of the marginalized holarchies are declared to be the property of the larger society whether for the ‘national interest’ as in the case of the Indian State, or ‘global sinks’ in the case of the United States of America. Global agreements all drafted by the West routinely talk of all biodiversity as ‘global’ heritage while tightening controls in safeguarding their own property such as ‘industrial’ and ‘ intellectual’ property. In the Eco-development plan, the World Bank says contrary to the declaration of the Indian government India is “expected to conserve biodiversity not just for India but for the Earth as a whole.”
Indigenous peoples’ livelihood and resource management systems are invariably at subsistence levels. ‘Deficits’ cannot be made up from some where else, for their culture does not permit it. A basic construct of this system is to live within the regenerative levels of their resources. Living within one’s means is an important part of all non-exploiting holarchies. Self-integrated holarchies do not have a waste generation system.
Traditional management and administrative systems see humans and other holons as part of the holarchy. Expropriating holarchies on the other hand see humans as external to, and separate from, the ecosystem and the biosphere. The marginalized holarchies are seen as external to themselves, from where resources must be extracted. The obvious example is the relationship of the forest department and the adivasi to the forest. While they both have an interest in the resources, both do not have a stake in the holarchy as such. It is only the adivasi whose lives are intimately bound to, and an inseparable part of, the holarchy who do. This is the root of conflict between the holarchies: the dominant promote adivasi holarchies as resource extraction and leisure spots for the elite, while for the adivasi it is a question of life itself.
The expropriation of the adivasi homelands for the pleasure pursuits of the elite brings out the power relations and value perceptions violently imposed in this interaction between holarchies. While adivasi consider themselves as a part of the forest, and the forest their mother, the exploiting holarchies including ecotourists consider the forest a ‘virgin’ to be raped, or ‘enjoyed’ in the case of ecotourists. The current rush by imperial holarchies to protect ‘virgin tropical forsts’ cannot but be compared to the feudal practice of reserving the young virgins for the feudal lord. After they are ‘despoiled’, they are handed back to the sents - just as degraded areas in joint forest management.
The dominant always consider the terrain the landscape, seascape or mindscape of the others as terra nullius. They consider other religions as superstition, other scriptures a mythology, and the people less human. Though, at first for penetration, some human interaction is present, it soon degenerates to exploit. The adivasi are considered people without a culture and civilization despite knowing that reality is different. Their languages are considered dialects. Their traditional knowledge system despite being validated even by modern science is dismissed as superstition or declared as ‘common heritage of mankind’ as in the case of herbal medicine. All these are to dehumanize the other holarchy so that, with a clear conscience, the dominant one can appropriate it.
An expropriating culture can no doubt absorb the adivasi holarchies to buy time for itself. The question is but for how much longer? Their explosive consumption rate will use up resources in ever decreasing time frames. And then what? The impacts of over-consumptive life systems cannot be wished away forever.
The adivasi have been fighting a continuous battle for survival against attempts to absorb them as the waste absorbers of other holarchies, whether - social, cultural, economic or religious. Fed up with piecemeal knee jerk reactions, be it for the forest bill or rehabilitation policy, they have set their own proactive agenda for their empowerment, and self-rule.
All empowerment is, at its core, a political process in which sovereignty is returned to - or to be more precise, taken back by the people. This ‘ empowerment’ is not an unquantifiable abstraction. Its impact is quantifiable, even in purely economic terms, and within the Indian polity. From 1995, the adivasi in India have been on a self-rule campaign. When they do attain self-rule, control over the local funds and resources will be much more than what any external body can provide as dole. This is exclusive of the natural resources or in terms of biodiversity.
At the national level, the National Front for Adivasi Self-rule negotiates only with union ministers specially deputed by the Prime Minister. The adivasi in Karnataka still negotiate with the forest department keeping it as a law and order problem though they have now wrested an assurance from the forest department that all further negotiations will be in the villages. This is, in a seminal form, an assertion of sovereignty by the adivasi, and its knowledge by the state.
The Indian State claims to be Gandhian. It is the Gandhian concept of village republics that the adivasi are struggling for. Gram Swaraj for Gandhi meant that the village should be strong enough to defend itself against the whole world if need be. Compare that to the ‘radical’ demands of those campaigning for autonomy of states with many powers to the central government.
Now that the campaign has intensified, the government proposes some sops for the adivasi much on the lines of the British who offered home rule when the independence struggle got under way. The adivasi can decide to either reclaim sovereignty or be resumed. Thus far, they have resisted the bait.
The struggle could be waged against all attempts to the exploiting ‘mainstream’ to absorb autonomous holarchies into itself by inducements and, when that fails, by coercion. The struggle to be non-exploited and non-exploiting will be a fierce one.
The refusal to be assimilated as the waste absorbers of the rest and to be the masters of their own destiny, is the core of the adivasi and other independent peoples’ struggles today. The right and control over their natural resources is a significant component of such a struggle, for which self-rule is a prerequisite. As is obvious, these are not issues for the adivasi alone, but for all dominated holarchies - dalit, women, religious, linguistic, ethnic, social, cultural, economic, political… - who have to reclaim their humanity.
The full article “The Political Economy of Self-rule” by Anita Cheria and Edwin was published as a series in EQUATIONS Quarterly ANLetter, Vol.5, Issue 2-4, and Vol.6, Issue 1.