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Indigenous Peoples Occupy World Bank Premises in New Delhi
Protest against the Destruction of Livelihoods and the Environment by the World Bank and the WTO
More than 300 Adivasis [i.e. indigenous peoples] from the Indian state of Madya Pradesh, representing all mass-based Adivasi movements, jumped over the fence of the World Bank building on the 24th of November at 12:00. They blocked the building, covering it with posters, grafitti, cow shit and mud, sang slogans and traditional songs at the gate, and went back only after Mr. Lim, country director of the World Bank in India, went out to receive an open letter signed by all their movements.
The letter, reproduced below, denounces the destructive impact of World Bank investments in forestry and of the liberalisation in timber products enshrined in the WTO system, which range from the commodification and destruction of the forests to increasing violence, rape and assassinations. The letter also clearly states their stand in relation to these institutions: "We fought against the British and we will fight against the new form of colonialism that you represent with all our might."
The attempts of the country director of the World Bank to deliver a speech were refused by the Adivasis, who said that after talking with World Bank officials for the last 5 years they had concluded that such 'dialogues' had the only objective of betraying, misleading and deceiving the Adivasis while pushing through commercial and industrial interests.
Adivasi organisations in Madhya Pradesh have repeatedly denounced the highly destructive, so-called 'eco-development' programmes that the World Bank has been funding for the last five years in their forests. Those programmes involve the violent forced eviction of Adivasis from their lands (where all means of force were used, including several killings), which as so many other aspects of the 'eco-development' programmes of the WB goes against the Operational Directives of the Bank, as well as a remarkably awkward combination of bans on the activities on which Adivasis have based their livelihoods since millennia (shifting cultivation, fishing, extraction of forest produce, etc.) on 'environmental grounds', combined with the liberalisation of commercial activities to 'make conservation a good business'. A great business not for the Adivasis, but for the corrupt administrative system exploiting the forest and the commercial and industrial interests behind this sort of 'eco-development'. Hence, the Adivasi communities see themselves forced to buy in the market the products that they are not anymore allowed to extract from their forests.
The other target of the action was the WTO regime, an increasingly important tool for the interests that are destroying the lives of indigenous peoples all over the world. The attempts to include in the WTO system a new agreement aimed at boosting timber extraction and trade were highlighted, and the Adivasis expressed their determination to fight against it.
The open letter to the President of the World Bank concludes:
"For the World Bank and the WTO, our forests are a marketable commodity. But for us, the forests are a home, our source of livelihood, the dwelling of our gods, the burial grounds of our ancestors, the inspiration of our culture. We do not need you to save our forests. We will not let you sell our forests. So go back from our forests and our country."
Pictures of the action will soon be available at the PGA website, (http://www.agp.org). In the next months more background information on this issue will be slowly added to that webpage.
Please write to the president of the World Bank demanding an immediate end to all the so-called 'eco-development' programmes in the forestry area in India. Remind him that the operational directives of the World Bank have been grossly violated and countless atrocities have been linked to the implementation of these projects, which only lead to the destruction of the forests that they are supposed to protect and of the indigenous cultures that have since millennia lived in complete balance with their environment.
The name of the World Bank President is James D. Wolfensohn and his address is The World Bank, 1818 H Street, N.W., Washington, DC 20433 U.S.A. Please send copies of the letters to firstname.lastname@example.org
To the President of the World Bank:
We, the tribal people of India, demand that the World Bank immediately stop its attempts to take over our forests. The Madhya Pradesh Forestry Project and other such projects only intensify the colonial takeover of our forests that began with British rule in our country. We fought the British and we will fight the new form of colonialism that you represent with all our strength.
For us the MPFP and other such projects have meant an increasing threat to our rights over our land, our rights to extraction of forest produce, the loss of our grazing lands our fishing rights. It has meant increasing violence against our people. It has deliberately attempted to foster conflicts among our people in the old colonial tradition of 'divide and rule'. It has endorsed rape in Hoshangabad, killings in Khandwa, the burning down of homes and fields in Mandla and Dindori, beatings, extortion, and criminal cases against our people when they have attempted to protect their rights and livelihood.
You know nothing about our forest or about how we have lived in them for centuries. You did not even consult us before you devised the MPFP and other forestry projects. You have never bothered to ask us how we have been affected by your projects. But with unforgivable arrogance you are attempting to take away our rights over our forests on the grounds that it is we who are destroying the forests that are our home, our source of livelihood. Even though it is so well known that it is the commercial and industrial interests that you represent that have destroyed our forests.
Our forests can only be saved by us, the people of the forests. You know that. That is why you talk of 'Joint Forest Management'. But your 'Joint Forest Management' is a sham - a ruse that you use to pretend that you have our consent when you wrest our forests from us.
Your Operational Directives assure us that you will seek our consent and fully informed participation in your projects. They assure us that your projects will not affect us adversely. You have betrayed that promise and violated your own Operational Directives. You have repeatedly ignored our protests. We agreed to participate in a Joint Mission with you in this regard, but you abandoned the Mission when it became clear that your project has so seriously violated our rights.
We know that in the Seattle Round of the WTO, there is a plan to hand over our forests to commercial and industrial interests. We will resist this too, with all our might. For the World Bank and the WTO, our forests are a marketable commodity. But for us, the forests are a home, our source of livelihood, the dwelling of our gods, the burial grounds of our ancestors, the inspiration of our culture. We do not need you to save our forests. We will not let you sell our forests. So go back from our forests and our country.
On behalf of our people:
The forestry projects funded by the World Bank and other international agencies are a part of a major conspiracy to take over our forests and deny the basic rights of tribals. In the last five years, forestry projects have been initiated in nearly all the states of India. The secretly planned $32 billion National Forestry Action Plan would also be funded by international agencies. On the one hand, these forestry programmes are undertaken in the name of conserving forests, wildlife and the biodiversity and on the on the other hand in the Seattle round the same agencies plan to introduce a new agenda to open up native forests to logging and to weaken environmental protection in the interests of multinational companies. All this is a part of the destructive process of globalization which is driving tribals out of the forests and reducing their rights to them. These were the conclusions reached in the two day meeting on "Debt in the Forestry Sector: its Impact on the Forests, the Tribals and the Economy" organised by the mass and tribal organizations of Madhya Pradesh on 22nd and 23rd November, 1999. On 24th November, a demonstration was organised against the World Bank at its Delhi office in which hundreds of tribals from Madhya Pradesh as well as other human rights activists registered their protest against the World Bank's interference in our forests. "World Bank go back" and "our forests belong to us" were some of the slogans through which the tribals expressed their anger against the World Bank. Ekta Parishad, Adivasi Mukti Sangathan, Shramik Adivasi Sangathan, Kisan Adivasi Sangathan, Narmada Bachao Andolan and other organizations participated in the demonstration. Besides these organizations from Madhya Pradesh, representatives from the National Alliance of People's Movements and organizations from Orissa. Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and activists from Delhi also participated in the demonstration. The World Bank funded Madhya Pradesh Forestry Project was specially focussed upon. This massive project worth Rs. 800 crores is based on the unproven premise that in order to protect and conserve the forests the dependence of forests dwellers on them be reduced to the minimum. In reality such programmes are an attempt to separate tribals from the forests, a process beneficial to neither. The ongoing MPFP has violated the basic livelihood rights of tribals as well as the World Bank's own Operational Directive 4.20 in this regard. It has also increased atrocities on tribals. This is evident from the report of the joint mission of the representatives of the World Bank, the M.P. Forest department and the mass and tribal organizations of M.P. The sudden and unexplained withdrawal of the World Bank and the M.P. forest department from the mission in its final stages and the continuation of the MPFP without resolving the problems investigated by the mission has revealed the World bank's hypocrisy. The World Bank's oft-expressed concern for people's participation, joint forest management, transparency and tribal welfare have all proved to be a major farce. In the name of joint forest management the MPFP has led to serious village level conflict in line to the British policy of divide and rule. For the last five years the mass and tribal organizations of M.P. have raised their voices at all levels within the state against the Project, the present forest policy and atrocities against the tribal, but all in vain. We are now compelled to intensify our struggle in Delhi.
Besides denying their basic rights to livelihood the project has led to an increase in atrocities among tribals. In Dainala village of the Gurungpur forest division of Khandwa district and at Katukia village of Bagli forest division of Devaas district, tribals have been shot dead by the forest department. In Mandla and Dindhori districts the hutments and crops of "primitive" Baiga tribals were burnt down and they were beaten and jailed. In Hoshnagabad district, a Ranger who repeatedly raped a tribal girl has not only not been punished but has been rewarded with a foreign trip under the MPFP. Harassment and criminal cases against tribals who attempt to protect their rights are common allover the state.
At the WTO Seattle conference there is a plan to clear the way for exploitation of the forests by multinationals. There is a plan to grab the forests from the people of the third world countries and to entrap them in the form of the "globalization" which is detrimental to their basic interests but tribals and other forests dwellers as well as their representative organisation has pledged to fight the interference of the World Bank and other international agencies and their forests and unlike an elected government refuse to become pawns in their hands.
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