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A “Consultation meeting for preparation of 2nd National Indigenous Women’s Conference”  was organised by Adivasi Women Network from 25th to 27th  April 2017 at Scepter  ,Kolkata, India . It was a preparatory meet of National Indigenous Women’s Conference. It was a programme supported by Samajik Seva Sadan Odisha  and AIPP ,Thailand . It was attended by 20 indigenous women from different parts of India.

They all shared their challenges as a women in their respective local areas. As they shared their individual tales, one thing that stood out was that though apparently there is progress in terms of education, work opportunities, when it comes to rights- especially that which relates to land and property rights, the traditional mind-set comes to play. Another aspect which was common to all the regions was that, any adverse changes in the socio-economic situation has direct impact on women.

Kirti Nileshwartha from Mumbai ,Maharashtra proclaimed that equality of men and women was inherent in their community. But the increasing  influence of non tribal  communities around have brought changes in their culture too . There was a time when women had equal rights in the family and that meant equal ownership too. But now the trend has changed. Every family wants a son so a to be the inheritor of the property. In fact social vices like dowry system has come into existence which was not there earlier.

Due to increasing caste division  has led to a feeling of insecurity- about life as well as livelihood. And this has a direct effect on the lives of women.

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But she was hopeful about the future of women’s rights issues. According to her, the Adivasi Mantralay (the Ministry of Tribal Afairs) in Mahrashtra are now taking active initiatives to enrol woman’s name on land patta (land document). Which means more and more indigenous women would be ensured of their right over their land.

Sonal Rathwa from North Gujrat shared a very interesting aspect. She said that there are about 29 different types of indigenous people in and around Gujarat. Some of them are now facing a huge threat of landlessness due to land encroachments. Thus the youth are compelled to go to other states as to work as labourers. On the other hand, there is the culture of ‘Bride Money’ among some communities. This means that the groom’s side has to pay a huge price to the bride’s family. This has resulted in a strange situation. Since the economic condition of the grooms are often very poor, once married, the groom often push the young brides towards flesh trade. They are often compelled to go into small time prostitutions to bring home money. This has also led to  sharp increase HIV patients in region. This has now resulted into a misconception that education for girls is a curse  because more educated the girl is, the higher the bride price they take  and thereafter worse becomes the condition of the newly-wed girl. These days domestic violence is also a regular feature due to drinking and less job opportunities .

Similarly the represntative from Odisha rued the fact that the indigenous communities were required to renew their caste certificates every six months – which is often a delayed process. This leads to missing out on several government aided privileges and support. This has a big negative impact on women.

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Overall the entire consultation was very important as it gave myriad of problems that indigenous women face all across the nation. Most of it is due to regressive social systems and traditional mind-sets. Like many women participants themselves were hesitant to believe that lack of rights for women over land or property was the violation of a basic human right. Women’s rights are often measured only in parameters like education or job opportunites and not rights as a whole. The entire programme was very well planned and gave a wonderful scope to exchange ideas.

(Reported by : Smita Kongari Mukherji – Convenor-Women’s Working Group- Swadhina)

(Photo Courtesy: AWN)

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