Home In the News

Campaign Launched in India Challenging Prejudice against Tribal Peoples

Tribal Woman of Dongria Kondh, Odisha, India
A new 30-second short shows that tribal peoples like the Dongria Kondh are proud, not primitive. © Survival International

A ground-breaking new campaign has been launched in India in July to challenge the deep-seated prejudice that tribal peoples are ‘backward’ and ‘primitive’. Such attitudes are often used to justify the theft of their land, and attempts to force them to change their ways of life.

The ‘Proud Not Primitive’ Campaign shows that tribal peoples are not stuck in the past, but have every reason to be proud of the self-sufficient and sustainable ways of life which they have developed over generations.

A member of the Toda tribe of Tamil Nadu told tribal rights organization Survival International, “I support the Proud Not Primitive campaign. I know what the land means to our communities … We prefer to stay in the forest than being resettled in a town, because this is our homeland … We can take things from the land. Life is happier for us here than in a town.”

Descriptions of tribal peoples as ‘primitive’ and ‘backward’ are openly voiced in the media, by industry representatives and by government officials in India. This prejudice underlies much of the mistreatment that tribal peoples face: mass evictions from their lands and gross violations of their dignity and rights.

There is a prevailing view that tribal peoples are ‘backward’ and in need of ‘development’, that mega projects like dams and mines will ‘benefit’ them and that they need to be brought into the ‘mainstream’. The assumption is that tribal peoples do not know what is best for them. Their rights to their land and to choose their own futures are ignored.

Jarawa Tribal, Andaman Islands, India
Calls have been made to ‘mainstream’ the Jarawa, who live self-sufficiently on India’s Andaman Islands. © Survival International

Lodu Sikaka, a leader of the Dongria Kondh in Odisha said, “It’s crazy when these outsiders come and teach us ‘development’. Is development possible by destroying the environment that provides us food, water and dignity? You have to pay to take a bath, for food, and even to drink water. In our land, we don’t have to buy water like you, and we can eat anywhere for free.”

The ‘Proud Not Primitive’ campaign aims to challenge these attitudes. Members of the public, Indian government officials, academics and the media will be encouraged to sign up to the campaign to build a movement to change the way tribal peoples are viewed in India.

As long as these prejudices are allowed to prevail, tribal peoples’ rights will continue to be violated. Tribal peoples’ rights to their land and to choose how they live must be respected.

A new short film showing the richness of tribal peoples’ lives has also been released as part of the Proud Not Primitive campaign in India.

The 30-second short aims to challenge prevailing preconceptions that tribal peoples are poor, ‘backward’ or ‘primitive’, which are deeply engrained amongst representatives of the government, industry and the media.

The film’s provocative message – ‘No poverty, no bombs, no pollution, no corruption, no prisons, no caste system – and people call them primitive? – shows tribal peoples who have every reason to be proud of their ways of life.

The film features the Dongria Kondh and Baiga in India, Awá, Waiapi and Enawene Nawe tribes in Brazil, and the Bushmen in Botswana.

Woman of Baiga Tribe, Chhattisgarh, India
A Baiga woman works for daily wages on Vedanta’s Bodai-Daldali bauxite mine, that displaced her community, in Chhattisgarh, India. © Sayantan Bera / Survival International

Selvi, a Korumba woman from Tamil Nadu, told Survival International, “If I have land, I can grow food. We’re not very interested in money because it brings bad things. If I have land, I can have a good life. I want our forest for air, water, and firewood.”

Davi Kopenawa, a spokesperson of the Yanomami tribe in Brazil, said, “We are not poor or primitive. We are very rich. Rich in our culture, our language and our land. We don’t need money or possessions. What we need is respect: respect for our culture and respect for our land rights.”

Around the world, tribal peoples living on their own lands with the freedom to make their own choices about their lives are thriving. In contrast, tribal peoples who have been pushed off their land or no longer have access to its resources are often condemned to become the poorest of the poor, living at the edges of society.

Survival International has called on hundreds of followers of the Proud Not Primitive campaign to spread the word by tweeting, blogging and sharing the video amongst colleagues, family and friends.


Visit the ‘Proud Not Primitive’ Campaign website for more information: www.notprimitive.in


Source: Survival International.



The launch of the ‘Proud Not Primitive’ campaign comes just days after the National Advisory Council released draft recommendations on the ‘Development Challenges Specific to Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs)’, which, while making some positive recommendations, fails to put the recognition of tribal peoples’ land rights first when it comes to their ‘development’.