The South Asian Life & Times - SALT   
  Spring 2014          



 Spring 2014


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 Tribal Victories 2013

 - Dongria Kondh

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South Asia's Most Threatened Tribal People

A family from Chittagong Hill Tracts;; man from Wanniyala Aetto tribe; Jarawa girls

Indigenous tribes are often looked upon as ‘primitive’ and in dire need of ‘development’. The truth however is that they are our national heritage and it remains our responsibility to help them sustain themselves in environments they have always lived in and not uproot them from their habitat of generations and turn them into objects of tourist curiosity. Unfortunately, tribal societies have been marginalised by political and economic greed, and their freedom violated. Their numbers are fast dwindling and with them will die the superior knowledge of their flora and fauna, their spiritual traditions, rituals, ceremonies, their social order, their expertise in indigenous medicine, and of course their language. Forest has always been their home, and animals and birds their neighbours and friends. They understand and respect their environment as no other ‘progressive’ and ‘civilized’ group does.

Most indigenous societies are highly evolved groups that have, over thousands of years, developed a symbiotic relationship with their environment and live in close harmony with nature. Land is sacred to them. Their lives are synchronised with their environment. More they do not need.

The development policies of Governments have often led to encroachment of their traditional hunting grounds – forests are cleared to settle thousands of migrants, which has required relocation of the indigenous people to ‘settlements’, splitting communities that had always lived together, and introducing them to an alien way of life, language and religion. Such changes have impacted their physical and mental health. Contact with non-indigenous people exposed these groups to diseases to which they had no resistance. An epidemic of measles a few years ago wiped away ten percent of the Jarawa population. [There are only 300-400 Jarawas ]. Alcoholism, obesity, diabetes, depression, are other ailments which are now appearing among those who have been ‘relocated’ to ‘civilisation’.

Among the world’s most threatened tribal people are four groups in South Asia - Jarawa (400) and Dongria Kondh (8,000) of India, Jumma of Bangladesh (600,000), and Waniyala Aetto (2,000) of Sri Lanka.



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