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Environment

Slow Violence and the Displacement of India's Indigenous

Flickr: Environmental Change and Security Program

The relentless demand of economic development has led to the unlawful displacement of the Adivasi a collective name for indigenous peoples of India.  Amnesty International reported last Wednesday that over the last century, the Adivasi have been consistently denied their land ownership rights and have had their way of life destroyed to support India’s economy.

In the race to industrialize at the same destructive pace as the global north, India has become the fourth largest greenhouse gas emitter (though it accounts for only 4% of global emissions compared to 16% by the United States). Coal makes up 60% of India’s electricity capacity and the government has plans to double its annual output by 2020.

With ambitions to open a new mine every month, the government and industry have effectively displaced the Adivasi tribe from their ancestral lands. Nearly all Adivasi live in rural areas and more than half depend on forest produce to support their livelihood. Of the 87,000 Indians displaced over the last 40 years by state-owned Coal India Limited, one in six is Adivasi. Many tribal regions have been declared as “development sites” to build mines, thermal power stations or paper factories. Since the wave of nationalization and industrialization in the 1970s, the Adivasi have faced systematic displacement from their land for the extraction of coal and other raw materials.

As India’s economy has grown over the last several decades, the gaps in poverty, literacy and mortality between tribal and non-tribal groups have only widened. The environmental devastation wrought upon Adivasi communities in the central and eastern states of Chhattisgarh, Jharkland and Odisha stands as yet another example of the slow violence of climate change and its toxic imperialist roots. The long neglected effects of rapid industrialization by the global north at the cost of exploitation of the global south are appearing all around the world. Since 1850, certain communities have been treated as disposable and disempowered for reason of profit by colonial powers.

In its report, Amnesty International outlines the ways in which Coal India subsidiaries, along with central government ministries and state government authorities, violated Adivasi rights by neglecting to communicate their intentions of land acquisition, population resettlement, and deforestation.

In each of the three Coal India mines investigated by Amnesty International, the central government seized the land without informing the families or addressing their inevitable relocation. Under the Coal Bearing Areas Act of 1957, authorities are free to acquire land without seeking the consent of the land’s inhabitants or even consulting the affected communities-- a stark violation of international law.

However, the failure of the government to respect the rights of its own people does not shield Coal India from blame. As a corporation, Coal India holds a responsibility to respect human rights and carry out due diligence in conducting proper consultation with the affected populations. As Aakar Patel, Executive Director of Amnesty International India says, “Coal mining is described as being integral to India’s economic progress. But development is hollow without dialogue and respect for human rights.”

The corporate invasion of indigenous land happens all too frequently around the world. Rather than being viewed as a form of climate violence, it is roundly overlooked and indigenous people rarely receive justice.

The Paris Climate Agreement aims to change this by advocating for greater protection of indigenous rights. Climate change is an attack on the world’s poorest by the world’s wealthiest. The Adivasi may have been displaced by Coal India Limited, but they may have just as well have been displaced by the global north. Climate change disproportionately affects women, disproportionately affects minorities and requires an international response proportionate to the harm inflicted.