Indigenous peoples in Asia share same stories of oppression


MANILA – Indigenous woman Thangjam Manorama of Manipur was raped and murdered by paramilitary forces of India on July 11, 2004. Until now, despite the positive identification of the perpetrators, justice remains elusive.

Manipuri women refuse to forget the brutal rape and murder. It is one of the many violations committed by India’s state security forces, courtesy of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).

The AFPSA conferred special powers on the Armed Forces of India in what the language of the act calls as “disturbed areas” in Manipur and seven other states. Manipur is located in North East India.

Speaking at the forum, July 6 in Quezon City, Jitten Yunman of the Forum for Indigenous Perspectives and Action (FIPA) said the AFPSPA is one of the many forms of military response by the Indian government on the assertion of their right to self-determination.

The law authorizes the military to shoot at or otherwise use force – even to the point of causing of death – against any person who is acting in contravention of the law” against “assembly of five or more persons” or possession of deadly weapons; to arrest without a warrant and with the use of “necessary” force anyone who has committed certain offenses or is suspected of having done so; to enter and search any premise in order to make such arrests, among others.

Yunman said before the Indian occupation in October 1949, Manipur had an independent political setup. In 1947, Manipur adopted its Constitution and elected its officials in 1948.

Yunman deplored the exploitation of the natural resources of Manipur by foreign corporations in collusion with the Indian government. At least 169 mega-dams are being constructed. Oil drilling and mining operations are also underway.

Yunman added that highways and railways funded by World Bank and Asian Development Bank (ADB) have negative impacts on the lives of indigenous peoples.

The indigenous people of West Papua, the Dani people, share the same experience of subjugation by the Indonesia government. Since 1969, Indonesia took over West Papua and the region has been declared as Military Operations Area since.

“Many from among the Dani people were killed,” Leonard Imbiri of the Yayusan Anak Dusun Papua said, citing the military’s massive killing in 1978 that victimized up to 1,500 Dani people.

Imbiri said many Dani organized themselves to wage an armed struggle to fight the government.

Even after the fall of the Suharto regime, Imbiri said, the rights of the indigenous peoples are still not being recognized. “There is an autonomy law but it is not being implemented,” said Imbiri.

In the Philippines, the Bangsamoro people, was also granted autonomy but they remain oppressed.

Bai Ali Indayla, secretary general of Kawagib, discussed the history of subjugation suffered by the Bangsamoro people. They resisted Spanish occupation. Under the American colonization, more than 2,000 Moro, mostly women and children, were murdered in the Bud Dajo and Bud Bagsak massacres.

Such oppression compelled the Bangsamoro people to take up arms and the Moro National Liberation Front and eventually the Moro Islamic Liberation Front were formed.

Indayla said that landlessness and the absence of social justice continue. In addition, the natural resources in Muslim provinces are exploited by transnational corporations.

Indayla also deplored the presence of US troops in Moro areas. “In the guise of humanitarian aid or sugar-coated bullets, the US troops and its government is trying to win the hearts and minds of Moro people by building schools, roads, bridges and engaging civil society and non-government organizations,” she said.

According to Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP), indigenous peoples/national minorities suffer all over Asia from denial of their rights to ancestral lands, territories, and resources. Often, states refuse to recognize their collective socio-cultural and political systems/customary laws.

There are at least 200 million indigenous peoples in Asia, comprising two-third of the world’s total IP population. The AIPP said they have the lowest literacy level, lesser access to health and education services, lesser access to electricity, communication, water facilities, etc and have higher incidences of poverty based on national poverty line standards.

In the era of globalization, land and natural resources, especially those within the ancestral domain, are rapidly commodified, privatized and controlled by a few big landlords and big capitalist business interests, often in collusion with governments. “Globalization accelerated the intrusion of large-scale resource-extractive ventures and so-called development projects into their ancestral lands and territories. These include large-scale mining operations; agricultural mono-crop and biofuels plantations; commercial logging, agroforestry and industrial tree plantations; commercial fishing; oil and gas exploration and development; special economic zones and export processing zones; military reservations and bases; large dams and energy-generation facilities; and infrastructure development such as oil and gas pipelines, roads, ports and transportation networks,” the AIPP said.