Centre for Nomadic, Semi-Nomadic Pastoralists and Other Forest Dwelling Communities

 

Nomads who have roamed the subcontinent for hundreds, sometimes thousands of years have a larger story to be narrated. Anthropologists have identified about 500 nomadic groups in India, numbering perhaps 80 million people around 7 per cent of the country’s billion-plus population. Sometimes also described as “Nomadic” are the various itinerant populations who move about in densely populated areas living not only on natural resources but by offering services to the resident populations. These groups are known as ‘Peripatetic nomads’

Nomadism is also a lifestyle adopted to infertile regions such as steppe, tundra or ice and sand, where mobility is the most effective strategy for exploiting scarce resources. For example, many groups in the Tundra are reminder herders and are semi-nomadic following forage for their animals.

Most nomads travel in groups of families, bands or tribes. These groups are based on kinship and marriage ties or a formal agreement of cooperation.  A council of adult males make most of the decisions, though some tribes have chiefs.

In the pre-colonial period, the nomadic and semi-nomadic pastoralists were an essential constituent of the larger socioeconomic system of agriculture and mobile pastoralism, as well as being crucial for the sustainable use of the environment. However, this changed during colonial times, as the British brought in other ways of understanding the relationship between people and the land that subsidized them, only recognizing rightful occupations of land for settled communities, seeing nomads as an anomaly, that needed controlling and ultimately also settling.  The British categorically defined them as the wild and lawless’ pastoralist

In today’s century also, the situation of Nomads hasn’t changed much. Nomadic people have always been a suspicion to the sedentary people. The nomadic way of life has become increasingly rare. Many governmental dislike nomads because it is difficult to control their movement and to obtain taxes from them. Many countries have converted pastures into cropland and forced nomadic people into permanent settlements.

Forest Right Act and Problem faced by the forest Dwellers of the country in getting their claim recognized

The Forest Rights Act Or The Scheduled Tribes or other Traditional forest dwellers act is a result of the protracted struggle by the marginal and tribal communities to assert their rights over the forestland over which they were traditionally dependent. It seeks to undo the historical injustice committed against the forest dwelling scheduled tribes and other traditional forest dwellers who have been living in and around the forests for centuries.

Ironically, “forests” in Indian law often have nothing to do with actual forests. Under the Indian Forest Act, areas were often declared to be “government forests” without recording who lived in these areas, what land they were using, what uses they made of the forest and so on. Around 60% of India’s national parks have till today not completed their process of enquiry and settlement of rights. As the Tiger Task Force of the Government of India put it, “in the name of conservation, what has been carried out is a completely illegal and unconstitutional land acquisition programme.” Hence, this law was necessary.

The act grants them various rights:

  • It Grants legal recognition to the rights of traditional forest dwelling communities and makes a beginning towards giving communities and the public a voice in forest and wildlife conservation.
  • The act provides the privileges of the act to people primarily residing in forests or forest lands and depending on them for a livelihood. Further, the ones belonging to the scheduled tribes in that area are eligible for the rights of forest gains.

It provides various rights to the dwellers including

  • Title Rights: Ownership to land that is being farmed by tribal or forest dwellers subject to a maximum of 4 hectares; ownership is only for land that is actually being cultivated by the concerned family, meaning that no new lands are granted.
  • Use Rights: To minor forest produce, to grazing areas, to pastoralists routes etc.
  • Relief and developmental Rights: To rehabilitation in case of illegal eviction or forced displacement; and to basic amenities, subject to restrictions for forest protection.
  • Forest management Rights: To protect forest and wildlife.

What is CNPFC?

Scattered all over the country, the nomadic and denotified tribes have rarely managed to register political presence. However, things are beginning to change but that change is also quite bleak. So far, the issue of nomadic tribes and denotified tribes (NTDNT) was limited to academic discussions or social activism, but this generation has realized the importance of taking to the street to assert their political rights. Unlike the Dalits and other marginalised communities, the DNTs never had the scope to represent themselves in the formation of the constitution and thus have remained unresented in the national polity so far. Thus, to solve such a diverse issue and to bring the tribes under the umbrella of equality and justice rights, we have Centre for Nomadic, Semi-Nomadic Pastoralists and other Forest Dwelling Communities (CNPFC).

Why CNPFC?

India has about 31 lakh registered NGOs and according to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), there are close to 3.1 million non-governmental organizations (NGOs) across 26 states in India.

Now if this number is correct, it implies that there is one NGO for every 400 people in this country. But the number doesn’t look comprehensive enough. There are two issues:

  • The number of unregistered NGOs in the country.
  • The definition of the term NGO itself is subjective.

Although there is an entirety of NGOs working for the rights of such pastoralists communities. What all of them have in common is the desire to further their vision and mission, whatever it might be but the outcome that these communities receive is not enough. Thus, CNPFC aims to bring in all such non- governmental organisations to work in collaboration with each other to serve the right cause and yield the maximum result. It involves sharing the data and research instead of the individual collection just for the namesake and profit purpose. This would lead to a feeling of kinship among the tribal people also.

Many NGOs find it difficult to garner sufficient and continuous funding for their work. Collection of data at an individual level and then execution of their efforts involves a huge input cost. This might lead the NGO to suffer from a general lack of project, organizational and financial stability. The absence of strategic planning and limited opportunities do not serve the purpose of the organization instead they dilute the motive of it.

The sustainable development, for the time being, is also risked due to such ambiguity in the nature and work of NGOs. Therefore, CNPFC aims to deal in an academia industrial partnership format to pool in the documents related to the rights of forest dwelling communities dating as late to before 75 years from now.

Forest dwellers need research and documents to prove their rights on their lands, CNPFC proposes to do the same in a more influential and collaborative way to make the efforts more meaningful and useful for such communities.