Modi and Bolsonaro: twin threat to tribal peoples

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Brazilian President Jair Messias Bolsonaro met in New Delhi Jan. 26, pledging a “new chapter” in cooperation between their two countries, especially naming counter-terrorism and exploitation of minerals, hydrocarbons and other natural resources.¬†(India Today, PTI) The juxtaposition of security concerns and extractivism is telling, as both leaders prepare to repress opposition to their plans to open the traditional territories of¬†indigenous peoples¬†to industrial interests.

The meeting comes as protests are sweeping India over Modi’s new citizenship law‚ÄĒwhich has grave implications for the status of India’s tribal peoples, or Adivasis. The newly passed¬†Citizenship Amendment Act and plans for a¬†National Register of Citizens together amount to¬†“legislative genocide,”¬†according to Survival International‚Äďan attempt to extinguish Adivasi peoples through laws and policies. The CAA sets a religious test for citizenship application‚ÄĒand Adivasis generally do not conform to any of the recognized major organized religions. State governments are preparing mass detention camps for those on Indian territory but unable to prove citizenship.

“The CAA/NRC will have terrible effect on the Adivasis,” said¬†Adivasi activist and writer¬†Gladson Dungdung. “Adivasis will be denied their citizenship, detained in the detention camps and intruders will be rehabilitated in their land and territories. This is unacceptable. Adivasis are first settlers of the country, they must be kept out of the CAA/NRC, and their land, territories and resources must be protected.”

Constitutional challenges to¬†‚Äčthe CAA are still pending before India’s Supreme Court. But the high court last February upheld a government order calling for the mass eviction of people dwelling in forested territory who have failed to prove their legal ownership or tenancy of their lands under the¬†Forest Rights Act. The order was made in the ironic guise of a conservation measure, and has the support of groups such as the¬†Wildlife Trust of India. Up to 8 million Adivasis could be displaced by the order, according to Survival International.

The meeting also comes just as Bolsonaro, also facing accusations of genocide for aggressive opening of the Amazon rainforest to industrial interests, is under fire for yet another of his many statements¬†portraying indigenous peoples as sub-human. In a live Facebook presentation made just before he left for India, Bolsonaro said: “O indio mudou, t√° evoluindo. Cada vez mais o indio √© um ser humano igual a n√≥s. Ent√£o vamos fazer com que o indio se integre¬†na sociedade e seja realmente dono¬†da sua terra.¬†√Č isso que queremos aqui.”¬†Our translation: “The Indian is changing, he is evolving. The Indian is becoming all the time more like a human being equal to us. We want the Indian to be integrated into society and become a true owner of his land. That is what we want here.”

This obviously refers not to indigenous title, which Bolsonaro is trying to exterminate, but to “fee simple” ownership, which can be alienated.

Sonia Guajajara, leader of the Association of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB), tweeted in response to the quip that “we will bring charges against Jair Bolsonaro for the crime of racism. We indigenous people, who are native to this land, demand respect!¬†Bolsonaro¬†once again tears up the Constitution by denying our existence as human beings. This perverse man must be stopped!” (Brasil de Fato, Carta Capital, Folha de Sao Paulo, Estadao, Sao Paulo, VDigital, Lisbon, Jornal de Noticias, Porto,¬†Infobae, Buenos Aires, ¬†El Tiempo, Bogot√°)

Photo: Survival International