250 million traditional people in India need protection of land and water rights

Picture from the field. Photo and copyright: Purabi Bose.

Some 250 million people in India on the margins of society are threatened by outside interests. They need recognition of their traditional rights to land and water resources they have used for generations, a young Indian scholar and filmmaker says. ‘The Indian government is not properly protecting India’s traditional peoples, who are hunter-gatherers, nomadic pastoralist and herders, or dwellers in forest,’ Dr. Purabi Bose says. ‘They and their lands face constant inroads, from powerful corporations pushing for mega projects in mining, oil palm plantations and deforestation, to urbanization and even to wildlife conservation projects that decry traditional users as causing human-animal conflicts. The traditional users of Indian forests, lands and water resources end up being called “encroachers” on their own land’.

To begin to address this problem, Bose proposes that in India these millions of people be recognized as ‘forest citizens’ with legitimate claims to the resources they have used in common or with individual rights for so long. She notes that the government of India has failed to identify these people as ‘indigenous,’ with the kinds of resource rights recognized by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, even though India is signatory to that declaration.

Picture from the field. Photo and copyright: Purabi Bose.

Bose’s research and her proposal are unique because she pulls together data from a wide ethnic diversity of indigenous, tribal and local communities living in distinct landscapes all over India, from desert grasslands to mountainous bamboo forests. She notes that the lands and waters traditionally used by these peoples provide them with an informal food security system difficult to replace and deserving of protection; its value amounting, in food and nutritional value alone, to USD 2.5 billion a year.

Purabi Bose, e-mail
Personal website
Purabi Bose’s LinkedIn page

IASC involvement

The IASC is not directly involved in this initiative, but Purabi Bose has been a regular participant at IASC-conferences since 2000. This case story is based on the press release on her presentation at the XVI Biennial IASC Conference, held in Utrecht, the Nteherlands, July 10-14, 2017.

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Authored by: Purabi Bose, PhD, Social Scientist. She is visiting scholar at Wageningen University, the Netherlands. Purabi is also using documentary filmmaking to discuss India’s stand on forest and land rights of marginal populations or ‘forest citizens’.