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Forest furore
Authorities and indigenous people at odds over National Parks

Park rangers are pitched against nomadic people at the Rajaji National Park (RNP) in India. The Van Gujjars are a nomadic pastoral people inhabiting RNP and other forest stretches over an area of 80,000 hectares across western Uttar Pradesh and the Shivalik ranges. They are now involved in an ongoing struggle to retain access to the area which is being closed off by park authorities.

Recently Van Gujjars held a protest meeting at the town of Mohand to express their opposition to ‘oppressive methods’ adopted by RNP authorities to force them to move into a claustrophobic resettlement colony built at Pathri, a marshy stretch of land without any vegetation. Saini Bibi, a Van Gujjar women fighting for their future, reveals that RNP authorities are forcing people to sign papers saying they are leaving the forest of their own free will.

One Van Gujjar elder pointed out that they are prevented from grazing cattle in the area and are insulted and beaten up by RNP authorities for no reason. Another Van Gujjar chief denied the allegation by the park authorities that the community is responsible for environmental damage. He blamed corrupt forest officials in league with the loggers for starting forest fires. Talib Pradhan, a Van Gujjar elder, says: ‘We cannot bring any harm to the forest because our work is looking after the buffaloes and trees. When we cut the fodder for our buffaloes, we cut in such a way as to have fodder increase its growth.’

Studies by London University say that the park is ‘relatively unaffected’ by the Van Gujjar people’s activity. And the Van Gujjar are a source of information about biodiversity as they know every species of tree, its quality as fodder, the timing of its leaf-fall and various medicinal properties. They are familiar with a large stretch of land because they move down to the plains of the Shivaliks with their herd of buffaloes in the winter and return to the Himalayas during the summer.

‘Their knowledge about animal husbandry, milk production, environment and nature is unquestionable,’ says Avadesh Kaushal, Chair of the Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra (RLEK) which supports Community Forest Management, putting indigenous communities at the apex of forest management. Kaushal says the Van Gujjars are an example of successful local control of resources: ‘We are quite sure that wildlife will prosper if the Van Gujjars are allowed to manage a part of RNP on an experimental basis.’

Radhakrishna Rao

Torture condemned

Torture condemned
Israeli human-rights watchdog Betselem has lamented Israel’s human-rights record. In the report, the Israeli authors asserted that between 1,000 and 1,500 Palestinians underwent interrogation every year and that 85 per cent of them were subjected to torture. It also stated that the routine practice of torture was not merely contrary to Israel’s obligations under a variety of international conventions, but also pointless – many of the victims of torture are subsequently released without charge.

Middle East International No 580

Names hurt
Tanzania’s Chief Justice has described as ‘stupid’ a magistrate’s ruling that a dog must be killed because it was named ‘Immigration’. Police forced Mr Anatoly Kachela to club his dog to death after a magistrate in the town of Sumbawanga ruled that the dog’s name offended the country’s Immigration Department. Tanzania’s Society for Prevention of Cruelty of Animals had sent a team to Sumbawanga seeking to appeal the sentence, but the magistrate refused to grant a stay of execution.



No-nuke millennium
A group of member countries at the UN is promoting a resolution that calls for the total elimination of nuclear weapons. Ireland and Sweden took the initiative in June by announcing a joint declaration ‘towards a nuclear-weapons-free world’. The declaration was also signed by Brazil, Egypt, Mexico, Aotearoa/New Zealand, Slovenia and South Africa.

These countries call for the Governments of the five nuclear-weapons states – the US, Britain, France, China and Russia – and the new nuclear states of Israel, Pakistan and India to commit themselves to the elimination of their stocks and capability. Michael Hoey of Ireland says: ‘We are looking for a millennium free of nuclear weapons.’

Thalif Deen/Third World Network Features



Let's talk
Words not weapons are needed in Uganda

‘We gaze stupefied by the paralysis of the Government and its powers,’ says Ugandan priest Jack Morris. ‘Something drastic is wrong.’ His comments add to the outcry of the Church against government response to a 12-year conflict between the army and rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda. The Government has tried to suppress the rebels by force and President Museveni says he cannot understand why churches want the Government to be ‘soft’ on the rebels by engaging in dialogue. But many say the time is right for negotiation.

Bishop Onono Onweneng of Gulu diocese urges that ‘channels of communication’ are needed with the rebels. ‘Let’s see how we can bring them back into the flock,’ he says. ‘Relationships between human beings should be based on love rather than on power structure.’

His diocese is in an area of the north where LRA rebels operate. The rebels blend elements of Christianity with traditional beliefs of the Acholi ethnic group. They have a dedicated following but also recruit by terror – mounting raids from their bases in southern Sudan to seize boys to fight as soldiers and capturing girls to be concubines. The fighting between rebels and the army has killed or injured 300,000 people, displaced 400,000 and had a devastating effect on the social and economic life of the Acholi people who live in the north.

Recently, Gulu church representatives met and decided to press for negotiations between the Ugandan Government and the rebels, an improvement in relations between Ugandan and Sudanese Governments, and the discouragement of Ugandan support for the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), a group of rebels fighting for the autonomy of southern Sudan.

Major Francis Acaka, responsible for relations between the army and civilians, says the ideas of the clergy are not wise: ‘When a person suffers for too long, he looks for the easiest solutions to the problem, which may not be logically correct.’

Crespo Sebunya/Gemini News Service

Tree love

Tree Love
Marriage ceremonies in the Indian Himalayas now have a new feature – tree-planting. A new custom involves the planting of a tree and sometimes payment of money to Maiti Sangathan, an organization of unmarried girls dedicated to reforestation. Newlywed Shuba says the plant will provide produce for her parents and keep the village green. The scheme also helps counter the effects of local logging. Biology teacher and initiator of Maiti Sangathan Klyan Singh Rawat describes himself as ‘a son of the hills’. He says the tree-planting custom is built on the Chipko movement whose female members hugged trees to protect then from commercial loggers in the 1970s. ‘I wanted to amalgamate environmental protection with sacred feelings and traditions.’

Mukul Sharma/Gemini News Service


Big Bad World [image, unknown] Polyp cartoon


Shock treatment
Abuse of Chinese minority provokes fears for the future

Indonesian-Chinese have been forced to ask the question: ‘Do we have a future in Indonesia?’ The answer is ‘no’ for the tens of thousands who have fled the country. Many more are considering flight or are making desperate preparations. A company selling stainless-steel and leather chastity belts has received hundreds of orders from people horrified by the experience or reports of gang rapes of Indonesian-Chinese women during rioting in May. Scattered incidents of the rape of young Indonesian-Chinese girls are still being reported in Bandung and Solo. One shopkeeper in the area said he recently attended a funeral of a 14-year-old relative who was gang-raped in front of her parents. The girl later committed suicide.

The Chinese minority – which comprises 3.5 per cent of the country’s population and controls much of its wealth – has been the target of arson, looting and beatings in past years. But the scale of the May violence, including the rapes, has left the Chinese community in shock. Many of them say that now is the time to speak out. After decades of keeping a low profile, their emancipation is being discussed openly in public seminars, the press, political parties and mixed-race community groups.

Some indigenous Indonesian groups want to resuscitate the economy using affirmative action to help their livelihoods. They’d like the Indonesian-Chinese to teach them business know-how. Indonesian-Chinese hope this would allow their full participation in society and national life. Both groups say that a new partnership depends on the Government investigating the role of everyone – including high-ranking military officers – in the violence. Evidence that the rapes and brutality were carried out by organized gangs has increased suspicion that the Government was involved.

Shopkeeper Sigit Sugiharja says he has heard that the army did little to prevent riots in Jakarta. ‘What do we pay taxes for?’ he asks bitterly. He is worried about the safety of his two sons. Like most Indonesian-Chinese, he does not have the money or connections to emigrate.

If Indonesian-Chinese want a future in Indonesia they will have to wake up, urges Rachmat Santoso, a community leader. He says economic success ‘lulled us fast asleep’. ‘People felt satisfied. They forgot about defending their rights. Now, whether we like it or not, we’re forced to wake up. If we keep quiet, like before, we’ll be trampled completely.’

The Indonesian-Chinese have taken some steps towards securing their rights. On 15 July President Habibie issued a statement of ‘deep regret’ over the rapes and sexual assaults. The Government has abolished special identity cards for the Chinese, which previously made them easy targets for corrupt officials.

One Indonesian-Chinese financial adviser confessed: ‘My greatest fear is not being able to live in my own country.’ But change is possible, he says: ‘I feel invigorated that we will probably be allowed to participate in all aspects of life in Indonesia.’

Margot Cohen/Far Eastern Economic Review Vol 161 No 31

Deadly threat
Tuberculosis (TB) is the biggest infectious killer of women in the world, claiming more lives than war, HIV and heart disease. The World Health Organization says the levels of infection are unprecedented. Over 900 million women and girls are infected with TB worldwide, and this year one million will die and 2.5 million will get sick from the disease. Most of these women are in the Majority World.

In wealthy countries the disease is most commonly found in elderly men, with 25 per cent of all cases occurring in the over-65 age group, compared with only 10 per cent in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

World Health Organization

Tax-free - trash buried under golf courses.

Shifty polluters
Britain’s first ‘green tax’ is under attack. The tax on waste buried in the ground, introduced in late 1996, was designed to penalize polluters, minimize waste and encourage recycling. But since then enough waste to fill 4,500 Olympic-size swimming pools has ‘gone missing’, according to landfill operators. They believe it has been spread on fields or buried beneath new golf courses and housing estates.

More than half the local councils in Britain have reported an increase in illegal dumping since the introduction of the tax. The Quarry Products Association, which digs landfill holes, says that up to 23 million tonnes have been dumped at unlicensed sites.

New Scientist Vol 158 No 2136

Anniversary scorned
The US annexed Hawaii a hundred years ago. This year Hawaiians have hit the streets demanding the right to self-rule.
US President Clinton has signed a bill apologizing for the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii. But words are not enough – activists say they are the sole Native Americans without the tribal rights accorded to the 500 Indian nations and Alaskans. Many Hawaiians want the same self-determination and rights as these other indigenous peoples. But some, such as the Nation of Hawaii, want more than that – their chant is: ‘Not a state in 98.’

Ed Rampell/Gemini

‘I’ll be in Jamaica on the 29th. I’m giving advance
notice to all those organisations of assassins.’

Cuban President Fidel Castro giving directions to the CIA.

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New Internationalist issue 306 magazine cover This article is from the October 1998 issue of New Internationalist.
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