The Tribal Context And Challenges

The Southern Region is home to 4.14% of the 90 million Adivasi population of India. This portion live scattered across the Western Ghat Mountain ranges covering the states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Out of the 73 tribal communities recognized by the state as Scheduled Tribes; 15 are common to all the 3 states and they account for a population of 28,10,852 strong and a sizeable 1.916 million are in Karnataka.

CORD was a sensitive response to the then prevailing situation where there was blatant disregard for the pride and very existence of the tribal population who had been virtually at the threshold of eviction from their legitimate abode. Identifying themselves with nature, the peace loving indigenous people living in the forest were facing total annihilation in the hands of wealthy non-tribals in the fringes of the forest who were in league with unscrupulous politicians and corrupt officials. Their traditional rights and socio-cultural identity were in great jeopardy. While Coorg District in the Western Ghat range accounts for a heavy concentration of tribal population, 90% of them subsist on their traditional economic system of hunting and gathering minor forest produces besides basic subsistence farming.

The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 and Forest Conservation Act, 1980 as well as the declaration of National Parks, Wildlife Sanctuaries and Protected Areas in sequence, came to alienate the Adivasi populations from their traditional habitats and life-support systems. The new economic policies of the government in the globalization era came to worsen the lives of tribals throughout the country.

The enactment of 73rd Amendment of the Constitution, which envisaged democracy and devolution of powers for self-governance to the grass-root levels was historic, but its effect on the Adivasi was limited. The enactment of Panchayati Raj (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, in 1996, which allowed greater recognition of the tribal traditional economic and socio-cultural systems and autonomy for local governance, did not take the right course due to ignorance not only on the part only the tribals, but also on the part of the legislators.

Prone to vagaries of nature and onslaught of the dictates of the market economy, the tribals were almost at the verge of extinction. With no marketable skills whatsoever or access to means of production, they were left groping in the dark. This is where and when CORD found itself relevant in assisting in the lives and growth of the tribal population.