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Will Draupadi Mumru’s presidency finally push the BJP to walk the talk on ST and Forest Rights?

The former Jharkhand governor had fearlessly sent back anti-tribal forest legislations in 2017

Sabrangindia 24 Jun 2022

Draupadi MumruImage: PTI


Former Jharkhand governor, and noted tribal rights activist Draupadi Mumru could become India’s first President hailing from a Scheduled Tribe. Mumru, from Odisha’s Mayurbhanj district, will also be only the second woman to become President of India. She is National Democratic Alliance (NDA)’s candidate for President.

And while, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) might feel they are checking all the right boxes by nominating her, they would be foolish to ignore how Mumru has exercised her agency, authority and wisdom in the past to protect and defend the rights of Adivasis (India’s indigenous tribes).

One can therefore hope that the government will honour their presidential candidate by finally delivering on several pending promises made to Adivasis and forest workers.

Who is Draupadi Mumru?

Draupadi was born on June 20, 1958 to Biranch Narain Tudu in Uparbeda village, located about 25 kilometers from Rairangpur in Mayurbhanj district of Odisha. She excelled in school and went on to graduate from Ramadevi Women’s College in Bhubaneshwar. Before joining politics, she was a teacher. She also advocated for rights of tribals, women and children at this point. Tragedy struck when she lost her husband Shyan Charan Mumru and two sons.

As a politician, Murmu was elected councilor in the Rairangpur Nagar Panchayat in 1997. She also served as vice-president of the Scheduled Tribes Morcha of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). She has been elected Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) twice, from Rairangpur – once in 2000 and then in 2009 on a BJP ticket. She has also led the state ministries of Commerce, Transport, Fisheries and Animal Husbandry during the tenure of the BJP-BJD coalition government.

However, it was during her tenure as governor of Jharkhand, that Mumru truly distinguished herself.

Defending tribal rights

In 2017, while serving as Jharkhand governor, she refused to give her assent to two bills approved by the state legislative assembly seeking amendments to the Chhotanagpur Tenancy Act, 1908, and the Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act, 1949. There had been widespread protests when it was discovered that the amendments could enable use of tribal lands for commercial purposes. Mumru did her research, listened to the people and sent back the bills!  

She told Down to Earth, “Three things are needed for development: education, money and power. But tribals only have land. They feel when land is there they can work and will be able to live. But if land is taken away, tribals will not be able to survive.” Further explaining why tribal lands needed to be protected, Mumru told the publication, “They (tribals) consider land as God. For centuries, tribal people have been closely linked with their lands, forests and rivers. It has always been their way of life. To alienate them from this ecosystem would be a crime. Development agenda should not lose sight of this fact. Tribal communities should not be alienated from their lands.”

While most people see the post of Governor as a rubber stamp position, Mumru used her power to prevent exploitation of tribal populations.

It is noteworthy that nearly a quarter of the population of both, her home state of Odisha and that of Jharkhand falls under the Scheduled Tribes (ST) category.

Mumru has also been a vocal supporter of the Forest Rights Act (2006), as well as legislations and reforms pertaining to Adivasis and forest workers.

In 2017, when she was Governor of Jharkhand, she had told DTE, “According to the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006, tribals should be given patta (land rights documents).” She had also raised important issues pertaining to forest produce, “The government should directly purchase minor forest produce (MFP) from tribal people. They should be allowed to collect mahua and tendu,” adding, “I suggested otherwise. We must approach MFP as a source of income for tribal people.”

Laws requiring BJP’s urgent focus

When it comes to land and forest rights of Adivasis, tribals, forest dwelling communities and forest workers, the law that needs the Centre’s immediate attention is the Forest Rights Act (FRA) 2006. Though the legislation has been around for over 15 years, its implementation has been slack.

But grassroots movements led by groups formed by Adivasis and forest workers themselves, such as the All India Union of Forest Working People (AIUFWP), with which CJP works closely, have been at the forefront of a sustained campaign to reclaim land rights by filing community land claims. The Centre needs to expedite the process for clearing such community land claims if it truly wants to empower Adivasis and forest workers.

The second matter that requires urgent focus is Minor Forest Produce (MFP). The Centre needs to step in and formulate policies that enable economic empowerment of forest workers and people who collect and sell forest produce for a living. If the government were to directly purchase forest produce from tribals at predetermined rates, it would prevent their exploitation by middlemen and vested interests.

This would be particularly helpful when it comes to Non Timber Forest Produce (NTFP) such as nuts, leaves, berries, nectar, honey etc. Many of these commodities are used in production of other processed and unprocessed food items, thus making them valuable. Then there are other commodities such as rubber, resin, lac, wax, fibre etc. that are in demand as raw materials for manufacture of industrial products.

Another matter pertaining to Scheduled Tribes (ST) that requires urgent focus is reservations. In some states, there are reservations in education and employment for certain STs, but not in others. This becomes inconvenient when ST families migrate to states outside their home states as it impacts their mobility in a day and age when everyone else freely explores greener pastures. It also impedes their ability to access schemes that benefit tribal communities in the state where they work. This imbalance needs to be corrected immediately to ensure implementation of social justice schemes specially designed to empower tribal communities.

If the BJP acts on the above it could reap rich political dividends in states where Assembly elections are due this year such as Gujarat, that also has a significant tribal population.

Related:

Forest Land Claims filed in Chitrakoot: AIUFWP and CJP make history!

Only 8 states use the Institutional Support for Tribal Produce scheme

MHA exempts MFP and NTFP from lockdown

Will Draupadi Mumru’s presidency finally push the BJP to walk the talk on ST and Forest Rights?

The former Jharkhand governor had fearlessly sent back anti-tribal forest legislations in 2017

Draupadi MumruImage: PTI


Former Jharkhand governor, and noted tribal rights activist Draupadi Mumru could become India’s first President hailing from a Scheduled Tribe. Mumru, from Odisha’s Mayurbhanj district, will also be only the second woman to become President of India. She is National Democratic Alliance (NDA)’s candidate for President.

And while, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) might feel they are checking all the right boxes by nominating her, they would be foolish to ignore how Mumru has exercised her agency, authority and wisdom in the past to protect and defend the rights of Adivasis (India’s indigenous tribes).

One can therefore hope that the government will honour their presidential candidate by finally delivering on several pending promises made to Adivasis and forest workers.

Who is Draupadi Mumru?

Draupadi was born on June 20, 1958 to Biranch Narain Tudu in Uparbeda village, located about 25 kilometers from Rairangpur in Mayurbhanj district of Odisha. She excelled in school and went on to graduate from Ramadevi Women’s College in Bhubaneshwar. Before joining politics, she was a teacher. She also advocated for rights of tribals, women and children at this point. Tragedy struck when she lost her husband Shyan Charan Mumru and two sons.

As a politician, Murmu was elected councilor in the Rairangpur Nagar Panchayat in 1997. She also served as vice-president of the Scheduled Tribes Morcha of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). She has been elected Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) twice, from Rairangpur – once in 2000 and then in 2009 on a BJP ticket. She has also led the state ministries of Commerce, Transport, Fisheries and Animal Husbandry during the tenure of the BJP-BJD coalition government.

However, it was during her tenure as governor of Jharkhand, that Mumru truly distinguished herself.

Defending tribal rights

In 2017, while serving as Jharkhand governor, she refused to give her assent to two bills approved by the state legislative assembly seeking amendments to the Chhotanagpur Tenancy Act, 1908, and the Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act, 1949. There had been widespread protests when it was discovered that the amendments could enable use of tribal lands for commercial purposes. Mumru did her research, listened to the people and sent back the bills!  

She told Down to Earth, “Three things are needed for development: education, money and power. But tribals only have land. They feel when land is there they can work and will be able to live. But if land is taken away, tribals will not be able to survive.” Further explaining why tribal lands needed to be protected, Mumru told the publication, “They (tribals) consider land as God. For centuries, tribal people have been closely linked with their lands, forests and rivers. It has always been their way of life. To alienate them from this ecosystem would be a crime. Development agenda should not lose sight of this fact. Tribal communities should not be alienated from their lands.”

While most people see the post of Governor as a rubber stamp position, Mumru used her power to prevent exploitation of tribal populations.

It is noteworthy that nearly a quarter of the population of both, her home state of Odisha and that of Jharkhand falls under the Scheduled Tribes (ST) category.

Mumru has also been a vocal supporter of the Forest Rights Act (2006), as well as legislations and reforms pertaining to Adivasis and forest workers.

In 2017, when she was Governor of Jharkhand, she had told DTE, “According to the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006, tribals should be given patta (land rights documents).” She had also raised important issues pertaining to forest produce, “The government should directly purchase minor forest produce (MFP) from tribal people. They should be allowed to collect mahua and tendu,” adding, “I suggested otherwise. We must approach MFP as a source of income for tribal people.”

Laws requiring BJP’s urgent focus

When it comes to land and forest rights of Adivasis, tribals, forest dwelling communities and forest workers, the law that needs the Centre’s immediate attention is the Forest Rights Act (FRA) 2006. Though the legislation has been around for over 15 years, its implementation has been slack.

But grassroots movements led by groups formed by Adivasis and forest workers themselves, such as the All India Union of Forest Working People (AIUFWP), with which CJP works closely, have been at the forefront of a sustained campaign to reclaim land rights by filing community land claims. The Centre needs to expedite the process for clearing such community land claims if it truly wants to empower Adivasis and forest workers.

The second matter that requires urgent focus is Minor Forest Produce (MFP). The Centre needs to step in and formulate policies that enable economic empowerment of forest workers and people who collect and sell forest produce for a living. If the government were to directly purchase forest produce from tribals at predetermined rates, it would prevent their exploitation by middlemen and vested interests.

This would be particularly helpful when it comes to Non Timber Forest Produce (NTFP) such as nuts, leaves, berries, nectar, honey etc. Many of these commodities are used in production of other processed and unprocessed food items, thus making them valuable. Then there are other commodities such as rubber, resin, lac, wax, fibre etc. that are in demand as raw materials for manufacture of industrial products.

Another matter pertaining to Scheduled Tribes (ST) that requires urgent focus is reservations. In some states, there are reservations in education and employment for certain STs, but not in others. This becomes inconvenient when ST families migrate to states outside their home states as it impacts their mobility in a day and age when everyone else freely explores greener pastures. It also impedes their ability to access schemes that benefit tribal communities in the state where they work. This imbalance needs to be corrected immediately to ensure implementation of social justice schemes specially designed to empower tribal communities.

If the BJP acts on the above it could reap rich political dividends in states where Assembly elections are due this year such as Gujarat, that also has a significant tribal population.

Related:

Forest Land Claims filed in Chitrakoot: AIUFWP and CJP make history!

Only 8 states use the Institutional Support for Tribal Produce scheme

MHA exempts MFP and NTFP from lockdown

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