They are backward, primitive and stuck in the past. The only way to ‘develop’ them is to bring them out of the forests, and resettle and mainstream them. This is how tribal people are stereotyped, often deliberately to evict them from their lands on which they have survived for generations.

From Jarawa of Andaman Islands to Toda of Tamil Nadu, such distorted description of indigenous tribes has been used not only to snatch their land, but to force them to change their ways of life as well.

A new campaign, ‘Proud, Not Primitive’ (www.notprimitive.in), has been launched by Survival International, a tribal rights organisation, to challenge such deep-seated prejudices. The campaign intends to show that tribal people are not stuck in the past but have every reason to be proud of the self-sufficient and sustainable ways of life they have developed over generations.

“This prejudice underlies much of the mistreatment that tribal peoples face: mass evictions from their lands and gross violations of their dignity and rights”, says a note released by the organisation on Tuesday. Such descriptions, it points out, are openly voiced in the media by industry representatives and government officials.

The 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.’

There is also 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 people do not know what is best for them, the note says.

“It’s crazy when these outsiders come and teach us ‘development,’ ” the organisation quotes Lodu Sikaka, a leader of the Dongria Kondh in Odisha, as saying. “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 do, and we can eat anywhere for free.”