Jan 01,1970
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First National Convention of Kunabi Community Held in Karnataka

Gurushanth S Y

BEING children of the nature, adivasis are the protectors of environment, and not its destructors. They are patriots. Tribal people’s contribution to Indian culture, language, society and economy is immense. But, negating their noble contribution, they are being ill-treated, neglected and subjected to inhuman treatment. Successive governments have failed to protect their constitutional and traditional rights, Adivasi Adhikar Rastriya Manch (AARM) leader and CPI(M) MP Jitendra Chowdhury said as he urged governments to change their approach and policies with regard to adivasis.

Inaugurating the first national convention of Kunabi community at Gerusoppa in Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka, Chowdhury said B R Ambedkar, whose 125th birth anniversary is being celebrated this year, defended the rights of downtrodden sections of the society, especially SCs and STs. And he gave prominence to them in the constitution. But still many tribal communities like Kunabis in Karnataka are not recognised and included in the ST list. Anthropological studies recommend considering inclusion of the communities that are out of the list. We demand the state and central governments consider the Karnataka Kunabi Samaja’s demands and provide constitutional safeguards for the community.

The convention, which was organised by Karnataka Kunabi Samaja Mahamandala, was attended by more than 1200 delegates and leaders from Karnataka, Kerala, Goa, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu. In some states this community is recognised as tribe and included in the tST list, but in some others, including Karnataka, it is yet to be recognised as a tribe. The Kunabi community is scattered in different parts of the country. It is the need of the hour to unite members of the community for safeguarding their livelihood, their culture and language.

Chowdhury said Karnataka Adivasi Hakkugala Samanvaya Samithi (KAHSS) and Kunabi Samaja have been working for he all-round development of the community. KAHSS and AARM have intensified their efforts in this direction. Twice they met the tribal affairs minister and the director of National Commission for Scheduled Tribes and submitted a memorandum along with other demands. Following pressure from Kunabi Samaja and other organisations, the Karnataka government has appointed a study team.

He explained in detail how those not included in the ST list are being betrayed by the governments simply because of not having ST certificate, and these forest dwellers are subjected to harassment and denied forest rights. “This shows a blatant onslaught on the rights of adivasis. Now our world has become more sensitive than ever before. Yes, we have to protect our environment, nature. But inhabitants of the Western Ghats know more than others who are protecting the ecologically sensitive zone and how it was protected. None other than the adivasis are protectors of forest and nature. Out of 600 districts of India, so much of bio-diversity is found in only 170 districts where tribal people are living. Because of special care by adivasis, the forest is protected,” he said.

In the name of implementation of the Kasturi Rangan report and setting up of projects like bio-diversity zone, tiger project, elephant corridor and national park, tribal people are being evicted from their habitats. It is condemnable, the CPI(M) MP from Tripura said.  

“Tripura is a model state for how nature, forest can be protected without disturbing adivasis’ livelihood. The Left Front government in Tripura has taken significant steps to protect tribal people and ensure their development,” he said, “while many states are not implementing the Forest Rights Act and the central government is diluting the rights of tribal people by bringing in new laws.”

“Through these acts, they want to evict tribal people from their traditional habitat and their land will be given to big corporate companies. This is a big challenge which we have to defeat and protect our rights. How to face this challenge? The answer is one must be organised and build powerful united struggle along with all exploited sections of the society. United and constant struggle is the need of the hour,” Chowdhury said.

The convention was chair by S Manjappa, state president of Kunavi Samaja. Retired judge and Kerala unit president K K Uttaran addressed the convention as chief guest. S Y Gurushanth, joint convenor of KAHSS addressed the delegates. He criticised the state and central governments’ anti-people and anti-tribal policies. “It is very shameful that Karnataka is among the states that are lagging behind in implementation of the Forest Rights Act,” he said and demanded inclusion of Kunabi community in the ST list.

CPI(M) MP Chowdhury also participated in a dharna in front of the municipality office in Dandeli. Dandeli, where many industries including paper mills are located, has a sizeable working class population. After four days of dharna, the council authorities had a meeting with CPI(M) leaders and accepted their main demands, including housing pattas for around 2,200 families and provision for drinking water. He also took part in a talk on ‘the contributions of Dr BR Ambedkar to protect tribals of India’ in Siddapura in Uttara Kannada district.