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Initiatives and Responses

Ujithra Ponniah

By Prakash Louis
Gyan Publishing House, New Delhi, India, 2012, pp. 284, Rs. 850.00


As the struggle for self-determination and against oppression is being waged in Central and East India, this book is a timely contribution. It is a useful compilation of the different policy briefs and declarations by indigenous people, United Nations and international finance institutions (World Bank and Asian Development Bank) on the rights of indigenous people in the past two decades. A select bibliography on the issue is also provided. Louis in his introduction to the book uses the definition of the category ‘indigenous’ as per the Copenhagen Conference of 1994, that is, people who have a common history and culture, common territory, and those that have been politically denied the right to take control of their ‘own affairs, wealth, territory and prospects of development’ (p. 14). Unlike the Government of India, Louis uses the category indigenous and insists on not using the constitutional category Scheduled tribes throughout the book. The material in the book is compiled under four broad sections.   The first section focuses on the conferences organized and declarations undertaken by indigenous people in their struggle for self- determination. In 1992, the Kari Oca Conference was organized by the indigenous people in Brazil. The preamble to the Kari-Oca declaration, ‘We continue building and formulating our united commitment to save our Mother Earth…We, the indigenous people, walk the earth in the footprints of our ancestors’ (p. 36) captures the essence of the demands put forth at the conference. In 1993, the Indian Confederation of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples (ICITP) was held in Delhi. The Confederation opposed deforestation, land alienation and displacement and asked for the restoration of land, rehabilitation and compensation. It was argued that all the benefits of development accrued to a few at their expense and although the indigenous people would like to change, they wished to do so according to their traditions and cultures. In 1995, indigenous women used the Beijing Conference as a platform to articulate and demand their rights. Processes of trade liberalization and globalization were identified as ways of re-colonization.   A decade later in 2005, sixty indigenous women participated in the review and evaluation of the Beijing Conference. They were critical of the developed nations that spoke about poverty and destitution, but did not recognize the ways in which they were instrumental and integral to propagating it. In 1999, indigenous people across the world brought out statements critiquing the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and World Trade Organisation’...

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