Do Dailts, the most marginalised section of society, figure in the narrative of biodiversity conservation? Are they excluded like it is in the contemporary hierarchical society? What is their status vis- a-vis tribals and traditional forest-dwellers whose rights have been protected by the recent Forest Right Act ?

A side event organised at a corner of the ongoing COP-11 here on Monday by the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR) threw up interesting facets of the issue but the best argument came from S. Mohammed Irshad of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences.

Dalit struggle

In a paper on Dalit movements and the political economy of biodiversity conservation, he said pressure on conserving biodiversity on Dalit has to be considered as a struggle against exclusion. Such struggles are indeed able to regulate common-pool resource and preserve the biodiversity. “However these efforts also remain outside the domain of current biodiversity conservation as the existing legal and economic implication of such conservation model is linked to economic value of natural resources. The impact of the destruction of biodiversity is not equally applicable to all”.

With the Biological Diversity Conservation Act of 2002 weighing everything in terms of economic value and allowing destruction of biodiversity for economic purposes, the Dalits’ position on biodiversity conservation has become legally questionable, Mr. Irshad argued.

The current debates on biodiversity conservation could be considered as market debate within the “unequal development” paradigm.

“Hence, the Dalit position has to challenge both biodiversity conservation and development angles”.

The position of tribals was comparatively better after the Forest Rights Act, but whether they enjoyed the fruits of law was debatable.

Looking at the impact of climate change and biodiversity loss on such communities, Trilok Chand of Nepal brought out how Dalits constituting 20 per cent of the population and living in vulnerable areas, landless and dependent on natural resources would be the worst-affected.

Vijay Pratap of South Asian Dialogues on Ecological Demorcracy, Ravindranath of Rural Volunteers Centre, Assam and N. Paul Divakar of NCDHR spoke.

At an adjoining side event organised by the Deccan Development Society, participants emphasised on forging a broad coalition of Afro-Asian NGOs for working towards the goal of food sovereignty. Promoting millets across these countries could be the “bonding crops”.

Delegates were treated to a lively presentation by women farmers of Medak district in Andhra Pradesh, who prospered by sticking to the traditional crops, including millets, most suited to the region.