By Thangjam Ranjit
In India tribals and indigenous people are not recognised as synonyms/ equals but UNO does. Tribals may be indigenous or non-indigenous. Indigenous people are tribals but all tribals are not indigenous. The non-indigenous tribal people/tribes are nomadic in nature and cause most of the demographic imbalances in different parts of the world. According to World Bank the term ‘Indigenous people’ means ‘Scheduled tribe’ or Adivasis in India.
International Labour Organisation (ILO) a specialised agency of UNO started to take interest in this category of people almost since its inception in the 1920s that only possible future for the indigenous and tribal peoples are integration into the larger societies of their respective countries. The very idea /concept of integration or assimilation of smaller tribal societies into larger societies of their respective countries was, however, objected to and challenged by indigenous and tribal peoples from all over the world since 1960s onwards with the argument that they are distinct human societies and it is for them to choose the kind of life they would like to live. Further, they protested that they should not be compelled, as a matter of ‘policy’, to be integrated into other societies, however, even they are good or advanced, and demanded for revision of the earlier resolution of ILO (Convention No. 107).
After the world-wide protests by indigenous and tribal peoples, for revision of the earlier resolution of ILO, a committee of experts was set up in 1986 by the Governing Body of ILO, and concluded that the “integrationist” approach of the convention No. 107 was ‘obsolete’ and that its application was ‘detrimental’ in the modern world. Consequently, after long 32 years of controversy/ debate, ILO adopted Convention No. 169 on June, 7, 1989 and the same was in force on Sept., 5, 1991. In the various provisions of the Articles of the convention No. 169, it is mentioned that the indigenous cultures, way of life, language, customs, enjoyment of general rights of citizenship, institutions, properties, beliefs, economy, spiritual well beings, etc. of the indigenous / tribal peoples should be respected and safeguarded, and that they should not be discriminated by dominant or majority communities in different countries of the world. This convention also stipulates compatibility of its provisions with the provisions of the United Nations Organisation on the Rights of Indigenous People. The convention also requires that these people are able to engage in free, prior and informed participation in policy and development processes that affect them. This historic resolution of UNO (ILO Convention No. 169 of 1989) was arrived at by concerted efforts of the indigenous / tribal people together with social scientists, historians and philanthropists, who had humanist vision, all over the world.
According to this fundamental assumption of UN that tribal/ indigenous people, irrespective of their religion and country, will be called ‘permanent societies’, if they practise the traditional way of life and cultures of their fore-fathers. By the same logic, Meeteis/Meiteis of the state living in India and embracing Hinduism will be treated as Permanent Indigenous/ Tribal society as long as they continue to practise their old cultures and traditions of their fore-fathers from early times.