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Saving indigenous peoples

indigenous peoples

The world community on August 9 observed a very special day – the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. Also called the World Tribal Day, this particular day, so designated by the United Nations, has a very special significance for Assam. United Nations has estimated that there are about 370 million people in the world who belong to various indigenous communities, and they are spread over as many as 90 countries. The indigenous people make up less than five per cent of the world’s population, but then they account for about 15 per cent of the poorest people. What is most amazing is that these 370 million indigenous people speak an overwhelming majority of the world’s estimated 7,000 languages and represent over 5,000 different cultures. The International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples also recognizes the achievements and contributions made by the indigenous people in order to improve certain burning world issues, the most important among them being environmental protection. It is also celebrated with the intention of strengthening international cooperation in order to solve problems faced by the indigenous peoples in areas such as human rights, environment, development, education, and health, economic and social development. The International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples was first pronounced by the General Assembly of the United Nations in December 1994. The date marks the day of the first meeting, in 1982, of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations of the Sub commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights. What is also of grave importance is that indigenous peoples are the actual inheritors and practitioners of numerous unique cultures and ways of relating to people and the environment to which they belong. Indigenous communities and peoples have retained social, cultural, economic and political characteristics that are distinct from those of the dominant as well as migrant societies in which they live. There may be certain cultural differences among the different indigenous peoples or communities. But then, despite those differences, indigenous peoples from around the world share common problems related to the protection of their rights as distinct peoples. One such issue that the United Nations has been always highlighting is the growing threat to indigenous languages. According to reports, about 2680 indigenous languages across the globe are currently in danger, and some of them are even on the verge of becoming extinct. To safeguard the loss of these indigenous languages, the United Nations has designated 2019 to be the International Year of Indigenous Languages. This celebration or observance, as has been envisaged by United Nations, will help in persuading, convincing and creating awareness to people about the Indigenous Languages. Though the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples was not observed in a significant manner, the fact remains that this Day as designated by the United Nations has a lot of significance for Assam, especially in the backdrop of large-scale infiltration from erstwhile East Pakistan and present-day Bangladesh. Assam, and for that matter the entire Northeastern Region is one of the largest concentration of indigenous communities of the world. Yet, even as these indigenous people have been largely living in peace and harmony and have been enriching one another’s culture and language, it is the massive immigrant population of erstwhile East Bengal, erstwhile East Pakistan and present-day Bangladesh – all of whom speak a particular language which is definitely dear to them – which has been posing a huge threat to the indigenous communities and indigenous languages of Assam and the Northeast. The very premise of the anti-immigrant movement that has been in existence in various forms for more one century and a half, is that the indigenous languages of Assam and the region need to be protected. The very premise of the Assam Accord, and more particularly of Clause 6 of the Accord, is also the same. Given this backdrop, the High-Powered Committee that the Government of India has recently constituted to suggest and recommend measures to implement the provisions of Clause 6 must take note of the fears expressed by the United Nations about the threat of extinction faced by the indigenous languages and communities. People of Assam and the Northeast should observe this day, the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples more vigorously. With United Nations designating 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages, organizations like Axam Xahitya Xabha, Bodo Sahitya Sabha, Arunachal Pradesh Literary Society, Garo Literary Society and all other such organizations should examine the scope of organizing various events to make the people aware of the emerging threat to indigenous languages, especially in the backdrop of the Bangladeshi influx.


Also read: Indigenous tribes of NE to celebrate World’s Indigenous Peoples day