Last Updated: Thursday, 02 October 2014, 10:43 GMT

State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2012 - India

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 28 June 2012
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2012 - India, 28 June 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4fedb3fdc.html [accessed 2 October 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

As elsewhere in South Asia, the pursuit of natural resource development without full consultation with predominantly indigenous local communities continued to exacerbate tensions in India. In one prominent project in India's Odisha state (formerly known as Orissa), which is home to more than 100 indigenous groups, South Korean steel giant POSCO has been granted rights to a US$12 billion steel project in the area.

Opponents were bolstered after Tribal Affairs Minister Vyricherla Kishore Chandra Deo publicly denounced the project, saying it would come at the expense of tribal peoples' rights. Still, tensions simmered throughout the year as authorities moved in to acquire land for the controversial steel plant. In December 2011, rights groups said non-violent protesters demonstrating against the POSCO project were injured after a private force confronted them.

By the end of the year, Abhay Sahoo, a local political leader who had rallied farmers against forcible land acquisition in Odisha, had been arrested. Amnesty International claimed that the authorities falsely charged him in a bid to silence his campaign. Increasingly large demonstrations calling for his release continued into the new year.

The POSCO project was one of many controversial development plans throughout the country. Many of these proposed projects are putting local indigenous groups up against corporations. In Arunachal Pradesh province alone, authorities are planning for a network of 168 individual hydroelectric projects, according to media reports. The rush to develop the province's hydro potential has drawn criticism from advocates for indigenous people as well as authorities in downstream districts.

Yet, as the year progressed, Indian authorities pushed forward with new plans for further development. In March 2011, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) deplored plans for a power plant project in Madhya Pradesh. The proposed project, the AHRC warned, would deprive local indigenous communities of vital access to food and water supplies. Indigenous people had earned a hard-fought victory in 2010 when the Dongria Kondh tribe managed to convince Indian authorities to block plans by the UK's Vedanta Resources to build a bauxite mine in Odisha province. But that decision is under appeal and was scheduled to be revisited in mid-2012.

In August 2011, Shehla Masood, an environmentalist who campaigned for the rights of indigenous people, was shot dead at her home in Madhya Pradesh state. Her murder remains unsolved. Local media have questioned whether her death was linked to her advocacy against diamond mining in her state, involving the world's second largest mining company, Rio Tinto.

In 2011, the government's response to the ongoing conflict with the Maoist movement, known as the Naxalites, continued to be a major human rights issue. By the end of the year, the government claimed an 'historic low' in Maoist-related violence. Officials said the number of civilians who died as a result of the conflict was at its lowest level in two decades. Yet violence continued to blight 2011. In May, rebels killed and dismembered the bodies of 10 policemen. In July, Maoists in central India blew up a bridge, resulting in the deaths of four people. At the same time, government forces also bear responsibility for deadly violence. In March, security forces in Chhattisgarh state were accused of killing three indigenous people in a week of violence that saw almost 300 homes burned, according to Amnesty International. Three women were sexually assaulted and 300 homes were destroyed and looted. Amnesty also deplored the killings of 25 Maoist suspects, including 10 indigenous people, in Odisha during the early part of the year. Police have claimed the suspects were armed combatants, though rights activists dispute this.

The government's handling of the Maoist insurgency is critical to minority rights. While the rebels claim to represent some of India's most marginalized, including Dalits and indigenous people, it is often these communities that get caught up in the violence. A positive move came in 2011, when the Supreme Court declared that the Chhattisgarh state authorities should disarm and disband the notorious Special Police Officers (SPOs), also known as 'Salwa Judum' or 'Koya Commandos'. The poorly trained militias are alleged to have committed serious human rights violations.

Across the north-east, including Assam and Meghalaya States, a worrying scarcity of communal land in the area is one of the drivers of what has become a rarely reported ethnic conflict. According to a report by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre and the Norwegian Refugee Council, almost 50,000 people were displaced during violent clashes between the Rabha and Garo peoples as the year began. Monitors say at least 76,000 remained homeless as of November 2011.

Dalits and indigenous people continue to suffer from the poorest health statistics in the country, caused by poor sanitation and inadequate access to safe drinking water and health care facilities, according to a report published by an NGO coalition in December 2011. The survey report found that nutritional indicators for Dalits and some indigenous groups dropped below the general population as children grew up. Girls, too, were more likely to have stunted growth or be underweight, the report stated. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called child malnutrition 'a national shame'.

In a positive move, however, the state of Madhya Pradesh in July became the first in the country to set up a specialized court tasked with prosecuting crimes against scheduled castes and tribes. But, in an example that illustrates the problem of unaccountability for perpetrators of such crimes nationwide, it was reported that Andhra Pradesh state has a backlog of as many as 1,600 cases.

In July, more than 20 people were killed in a series of bomb blasts in Mumbai. Another bombing at the Delhi High Court in September killed 17 people and injured more than 90 others. But right groups are also warning that authorities' pursuit of terrorism suspects is snaring innocent civilians from religious minorities, particularly Muslims. An HRW report documented the alleged use of torture and coerced confessions of terrorism suspects.

In a related example, authorities released seven Muslim youths in November, who had been convicted of bombing a mosque in 2006. The case had become an embarrassment for investigators, who now blame Hindu extremists for the attack. In November, an Indian court sentenced 31 people to life in prison for their roles in the deaths of 33 Muslims who were burned alive during the 2002 Gujarat riots.

In August, the State Human Rights Commission of Jammu and Kashmir State revealed the discovery of more than 2,000 unidentified bodies found in mass graves in northern Kashmir. HRW urged India to investigate the long-standing claims of enforced disappearances in Indian-administered Kashmir.

During 2011, questions were raised over exploitative tourism practices in indigenous communities in parts of India. Survival International called for the closure of a main highway in the Andaman Islands, which passed through land occupied by the endangered Jarawa tribe. Tourism in the area, critics warn, amounts to little more than a 'human safari'. A video showing a local police officer commanding Jarawa girls to dance for tourists later sparked outrage.

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