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Indigenous People

One year of bifurcation: Not Chinese, Ladakhi are concerned of losing identity


A year after Ladakh celebrated Union Territory status, the mood has changed
Residents want protections under the Sixth Schedule and job security. The autonomous hill councils feel undermined by the Central administration.

Safwat Zargar:

On August 5, there was celebration on the streets of Leh, the main city of Ladakh. The Centre had just announced that the state of Jammu and Kashmir was stripped of special status under Article 370 and was going to be split into two Union Territories. The Ladakh division was going to be a separate Union Territory without a legislature. Union Territory status had been an old demand among Buddhists in Ladakh, who form 40% of the population.

While Leh celebrated, the residents of Kargil district protested. Mostly Shia Muslims, they greeted the bifurcation of the state with dismay.

A year later, there is gloom among both communities in Ladakh.

“People are happy that we became a Union territory but our demand was UT with a legislature not like this,” said PT Kunzang, president of the Ladakh Buddhist Association. For decades, the powerful socio-religious group had agitated for Union Territory status which would separate Ladakh from the political fortunes of Kashmir.

“There should be protections for our land, jobs, culture, environment and businesses,” Kunzang said. “The Indian Constitution has a number of safeguards for other tribal areas.”

These sentiments were echoed by Rigzin Spalbar, Congress candidate from Ladakh for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and former chief executive councillor of the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council

“We understand it’s still a new phase and they need time to put in place a system,” Spalbar said. “But everyone is worried here. People in Ladakh want a constitutional guarantee that will protect their identity, culture, land and jobs. We are just three lakh people and cannot withstand an inflow of 1.3 billion people from across the country.”

With the August 5 decisions, the inhabitants of the former state of Jammu and Kashmir lost certain Constitutional protections. Apart from hollowing out Article 370, Parliament also repealed Article 35A. The latter had enabled the legislature of the former state to define “permanent residents” of Jammu and Kashmir. The legislature was empowered to reserve for them certain rights, such as the right to hold government jobs and own land in the state of Jammu and Kashmi

When the law was repealed, permanent residents were those who were state subjects of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir in 1954 and their descendants, and those who had lived for 10 years and owned land in Jammu and Kashmir in 1954 and their descendants.

With these protections gone, Ladakh was open to people and investors from outside the region, waiting to buy land or set up industries.

Last September, the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes had recommended that the Union Territory of Ladakh be brought under the Sixth Schedule, which offers protections and a degree of autonomy for tribal areas. Over 97% of Ladakh’s population belongs to Scheduled Tribes.

“But the government has made a U-turn on that and that’s why people are apprehensive,” said Spalbar. “No such guarantee is being talked about by the government of India.”

There have been murmurs of a domicile law for Ladakh on the lines of the law notified for the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir recently. The rights previously reserved for “permanent residents” are now available for “domiciles”, a much broader category including those who have lived in the region for 15 years, studied there for seven years or written Class 10 or 12 board examinations there. It also includes exemptions for Central government employees and their children

Spalbar said such an arrangement would not be acceptable to people of Ladakh. “By issuing a domicile law you are saying that don’t die today but die after 10 or 15 years,” he explained. “The thing we want is complete protection and security of our land, culture and identity. It shouldn’t be that someone will live in Ladakh for some time and then become a citizen of this place. Ladakh has a scarcity of resources and any change in demography will mean a disaster.”

Kunzang said that in February, the Ladakh Buddhist Association, along with other organisations, had held a mass rally in February demanding constitutional safeguards.

“We were expecting the start of many things but then Covid came,” he said. “The government actually didn’t get the chance to do anything. After that government attention got diverted to Chinese incursions. We are hopeful that once everything normalises, the government of India will accept our demand.”

Buddist monks in Leh district vote in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Crowding out the hill councils
Many feel the transition to Union Territory status has also crippled the independence of the hill development councils, which were an answer to Ladakh’s demands for greater autonomy from Kashmir. There are two autonomous hill development councils in Ladakh, one in Leh district and one in Kargil, each with its own chief executive councillor.

Feroz Ahmad Khan, chief executive councillor in Kargil, said there had been clashes over jurisdiction between the councils and the Union Territory administration. “Sometimes the hill development council gives one order and the UT administration issues another order,” he said. “All of this is happening because of the absence of business rules defining the roles and functions of both the setups.”

Unlike Jammu and Kashmir, the Union Territory of Ladakh lacks a legislative assembly. In such a situation, Khan said, the powers of hill development councils should be increased and not curtailed. “There’s also the issue of the downgrading of financial powers of hill development councils by the ministry of home affairs,” Khan said.

According to Khan, the matters had been raised with the Union home ministry, which had promised to find a solution and strengthen hill development councils.

Not everyone was content with the assurances. In May, Cheering Dorjay, president of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Ladakh unit, quit the party. While the immediate cause was the BJP’s and the Union Territory administration’s failure to bring back Ladakh residents stranded in various parts of India after the coronavirus lockdown was announced, it was not the only reason.

“Another reason was that there was no clarity on the role and responsibility of hill development councils and the Union Territory administration,” said Dorjay, who served as a cabinet minister in the government of the former state. “There’s confusion over which setup should handle what. That’s why everything in the administration has become highly confused.”

According to Dorjay, the Union Territory administration’s influence is now writ large in Ladakh. “They [the Union Territory administration] interfere in everything,” he said. “Since they are more powerful, the UT administration is taken more seriously by government officials.” When he tried to raise these concerns with the Ladakh administration and senior BJP leaders, Dorjay claimed, no one took him seriously. “That’s why I resigned from the party,” he said.

Kunzang, for his part, felt the hill councils should be given legislative powers. “Hill development acts were formed under J&K state acts in the past,” he said. “Now, it’s time to change these acts and strengthen these hill councils. These hill council acts should be passed through Parliament.”

A shrinking pool of jobs
Before special status was revoked and Article 35A scrapped, government jobs were reserved for permanent residents only. “Since these are far-flung areas, candidates from Leh and Kargil had reservations in state government jobs as well,” explained Sajjad Kargili, who contested the 2019 Lok Sabha elections as an independent candidate from Ladakh.

With those reservations gone, insecurities have grown. “You can say that our jobs have diminished not increased since we became a Union Territory,” Kargili saii

Earlier, residents of Ladakh often found jobs in Jammu and Kashmir divisions. Now, all government jobs in Jammu and Kashmir are reserved for domiciles of that Union Territory, leaving no space for the youth of Ladakh. Najm ul Huda, a lawyer based in Kargil, has moved the Supreme Court against the 100% reservation for domiciles of Jammu and Kashmir.

“In J&K domicile laws notified in March, they have provisions for the children of Central government employees to become domiciles and be eligible for government jobs there,” he said. “There is no such mechanism for the children of state government employees who were from Ladakh. We, too, were permanent residents of Jammu and Kashmir before August 5. But they are giving job opportunities to those who come from outside and not those who were previously permanent residents of the state.”

This is the fourth part in a special series on the legacy of the sweeping changes made by the Modi government to the status of Jammu and Kashmir on August 5, 2019. Read the full series here.

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Indigenous People

‘Our only concern is our identity; we do not want Ladakh to be like Assam’ : Ladakhhi Leader

Gyal P. Wangyal heads the 30-member Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council and holds the status of a cabinet minister. He talked to the journalist on the changes that have come in Ladakh since it became a Union Territory, challenges ahead, Chinese incursion and more. ———————————————– Q/It’s been a year since Ladakh became a Union Territory. How do you see the development? Despite its strategic significance (shared border with Pakistan and China), Ladakh has been the most neglected part of the country under the erstwhile J&K government. Infrastructure developmental work was absolutely on low priority for Srinagar-run government. After becoming Union Territory, Ladakh has got actually its identity. It is the foremost thing for us. For developmental work, Union government has already allocated Rs 6,000 crore for Ladakh. Earlier, having funds for the development was a big problem for us because of stepmotherly treatment by J&K. Now, we need to start from the scratch. We need to begin from zero unlike J&K, and it will take time. Q/Are you saying J&K discriminated against Ladakh? Yes. Ladakh has always faced discrimination by the political class of Kashmir, who used to rule on us from Srinagar or in Jammu. We need to beg to J&K for funds, despite being largest in area, as Ladakh is 65 per cent while Jammu and Kashmir is only 35 per cent of total land area of the erstwhile state. And Leh district itself is 45,000 sq km. Development is to be done for the area not its people. Ladakh has a population of close to three lakh. J&K used to ask money from Planning Commission in terms of area, but while distributing, it was always on the basis of population. Due to this, Ladakh used to get only 2 per cent of the total budget of J&K. So, we had to face issues on the development as our area is vast. Q/How has the development work progressed in the past one year in Ladakh? Since, we have become UT, our budget has increased four times—Rs 232.43 crore for Leh and similar amount for Kargil district. But, it is our bad luck that due to COVID-19 pandemic, we could not utilise it. Due to the restrictions, no meeting of general council of the Ladakh Hill Development could take place in the last five months. So, no planning was made on the disbursement of the allocated fund. Now, we need to follow MHA rules for financial planning. Our biggest problem is availability of labour, as they come from Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh and even from Nepal. There is a big uncertainty on return of these labourers to Ladakh. Now, we are afraid that whether we will be able to utilise this allocated Rs 232 crore for development. Moreover, from October, winter will set in the state and it brings to halt all infrastructure work due to heavy snow. COVID-19 and tension on border with China have badly affected the development of Ladakh. Q/Are you satisfied with the development on the border area in view of the Chinese incursion? In 2015, there was a proposal from MHA of Rs 600 crore to develop the border area. Unless we provide basic facilities to residents of border villages, they will migrate. In recent past, hundreds of migrants have come down and settled in Leh. Union government could not implement its own plan of border development. Now, we are pushing to revive as it becomes important in terms of Chinese incursion. If we manage to stop migration, these people will always be the eyes and ears for the security agencies. With better road connectivity, border tourism can also be promoted in remote areas. Q/How do you see the abrogation of Article 370 ? To have a separate Union Territory was long-pending demand of people of Ladakh. The demand was legitimate on the various grounds—geographical, cultural and linguistic. Many Ladakhi leaders, including Kushok Bakula Rimpochee, have led the movement for the separation from J&K state. Thupstan Chhewang, former member of Parliament, who founded the Ladakh Buddhist Association that spearheaded the agitation, ultimately led to the setting up of Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC ) in 1995. But due to Article 370, we were not allowed to have separate status of Union Territory. Now, Modi government has removed Article 370 and both J&K and Ladakh have made UTs. With abrogation of Article 370, Ladakh should integrate the region fully with the rest of the country as an equal stakeholder in building the nation. Q/Do you fear change of demography? Yes. Fear of the influx of outsiders that would lead to a change in the region’s demography is very much there in every Ladakhi’s mind. Now, anyone can settle here. With no special status, Ladakh will become open for all, especially in terms of real estate. That is why, we need protection of land. Domicile rules also need to be considered for Ladakh, too, if residents of J&K can get it. Essentially, the Ladakhi identity needs to be protected through safeguards. We don’t need everything defined under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. Based on Articles 244(2) and 275(1), the Sixth Schedule provides for the administration of tribal areas in the states of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, and Mizoram after setting up autonomous district and regional councils. But, we are asking for safeguards in employment, land, environment and heritage. Q/What are the challenges ahead for Ladakh? We are well aware of it that we do not have any issue of funds after becoming a UT. Our only concern is our identity. We should not lose it. We do not want to be like Assam. Our upcoming generations should not blame us for wrongdoings. Government of India has given us the status of a UT with Hill Development Council, which is unique. But now, there is a need to amend the legislative powers of Hill Development Council at UT level to avoid any friction between UT administration and Development Council. Both need to work together for betterment of Ladakh otherwise tug-of-war will start. We (Development Council) are an elected body and represent the people. Accountability of voters is on us, as nobody will ask questions to the district administrative body. So, we need an amendment to bring us at par with UT administration to work jointly for developmental task. Hill Development Council has 30 body members, of which 26 are elected and four are nominated. PM Modi-led government at the Centre has fulfilled the long pending demand of Ladakhi people. People cannot forget what he (PM Modi) did for Ladakh. Centre had that option to disband Hill Development Council, which it did not do. Q/How do you see the issue of nomads in Ladakh? We have been constantly working on issue of pasture land for nomads. Earlier, we did not have the required fund. Now, we have no dearth of funds. Nomads on border villages suffer the most when it snows. So, we are creating a fodder bank and identifying pasture lands for them. We need to develop the border infrastructure as we are lacking it hugely. Lack of communication system is also an issue. Our executive councillors have made a couple of visits to the remote border villages after tension on the border with China and listened to their grievances. Q/What is your take on incursion by Chinese military? It is not the first time, Chinese have intruded into our territory. They have been doing it for the last five decades. Now, it has come to the limelight because our forces have shown firmness and retaliation on the border, which never used to happen earlier. There is a buffer zone, which was never contested, and both sides used to patrol. Earlier, we never objected to Chinese incursion. We cannot trust China. Ladakhi people are not scared of Chinese military.

idrw.org .Read more at India No 1 Defence News Website http://idrw.org/our-only-concern-is-our-identity-we-do-not-want-ladakh-to-be-like-assam/ .

Human Rights, Indigenous People

Civilian Who Died in Custody in Myanmar’s Rakhine State Killed Himself, Military Says

SITTWE, Rakhine State—One of six residents of Alel Chaung Village in Rakhine State’s Yanbye Township detained by Myanmar army troops on Saturday killed himself while being held for interrogation, according to the military.

Alel Chaung Village administrator U Myint Lwin told The Irrawaddy that Yanbye (formerly Ramree) Township Police Station told him to pick up the body of U Soe Myint Tun on Tuesday.

“Yanbye Township Police Station phoned me and told me that he killed himself by hanging. So, together with his family members, we brought the body from Ma-Ei Hospital,” he said.

Many Rakhine people have expressed doubts about the claim that the 37-year-old man took his own life. His relatives asked in vain for a postmortem examination report from the hospital. His funeral was held on Wednesday.

According to local residents, Myanmar military (or Tatmadaw) troops, including some from Kyaukphyu-based Light Infantry Battalion No. 34, arrived in Alel Chaung Village on Saturday and detained six men, arresting them at their homes or at the farms where they worked, U Myint Lwin said.

“[The troops] didn’t tell me why they arrested them that day. They only said they had things to ask them, and would release them after interrogation, and that we would be informed,” he said.

The soldiers reportedly arrested U Soe Myint Tun while he was working on his farm. Still in detention are U Maung Tun Win, 44; U Zaw Lwin, 35; U Maung Myint Tun, 37; Ko Myet Wun, 25; and Maung Nyein Chan, 20.

All the detainees are farmers, and they are not involved in unlawful activities, local villagers said. Family members of the five other detainees have not been allowed to visit them.

The head of the Yanbye Township Police Force, Police Major Zaw Win, said he did not know about the case, other than being asked by Taungup Police Station to inform U Soe Myint Tun’s relatives of his death.

“We were not involved in the arrests. And we were not told about it, and we therefore do not know about the case. We just informed [the relatives] because Taungup Police Station asked me to do so,” Police Maj. Zaw Win told The Irrawaddy.

In a statement on Wednesday, the Myanmar military-run Tatmadaw True News Information Team said the military kept each of the six detainees in isolation at Ma-Ei Police Station. It said U Soe Myint Tun was found dead at around 6.30 p.m. on Monday, having untied his restraining rope and used it to hang himself.

The military said that according to security personnel, two suspicious men had arrived in Alel Chaung Village on a motorbike via the Minchaung Bridge at around 8 p.m. on June 23. It was confirmed that the two men are members of the Arakan Army (AA), according to the statement. Based on the accounts of the two, the Myanmar military arrested the six from Alel Chaung Village for interrogation, it added.

During the Tatmadaw’s conflict with the AA in Rakhine State, 18 civilians have died during interrogation by the Myanmar military in Kyauktaw, Mrauk-U, Minbya and Rathedaung townships.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko

Indigenous People

Communities Clash with Conservation Efforts in Northern Myanmar

Emily Fishbein–
PUTA-O, Myanmar — In late 2018, following a series of demonstrations and confrontations, indigenous communities primarily from the Rawang ethnic minority expelled the Myanmar Forest Department and its international partner, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), from an area known as the Hkakaborazi Landscape, amid mounting dissent over a potential UNESCO World Heritage nomination.

The 11,280–square-kilometer (4,355-square-mile) area, located in Myanmar’s northernmost Puta-O region, encompasses roughly 4,000 people who depend on hunting, foraging and shifting cultivation.

The expulsion of the Forest Department and WCS came following years of mounting grievances. The communities say that Forest Department management, under a WCS-supported national park designation, resulted in a breakdown of customary practices passed down generationally, and opened up a resource grab, while destroying local livelihoods.

World Heritage plans are suspended indefinitely, and communities continue to bar outsiders from entering, maintaining they are best-placed to conserve the forest themselves.

In interviews for Mongabay with two Rawang villagers, two Rawang community workers, two Kachin civil society groups, one local researcher, and representatives from WCS and the Forest Department, there was a common theme that Rawang communities in Hkakaborazi had built up a growing mistrust of WCS and the Forest Department. This mistrust appears to have contributed to strong resistance to a World Heritage nomination.

View from above of Ta Su Htu village in Hkakaborazi, Myanmar. Image by Sanlu Ram Seng. Myanmar, undated.
View from above of Ta Su Htu village in Hkakaborazi, Myanmar. Image by Sanlu Ram Seng. Myanmar, undated.

Chief among local grievances are feelings of neglect, loss of livelihood, and a breakdown of customary practices accompanied by environmental destruction since Hkakaborazi came under Forest Department management as a national park in 1998.

WCS was the first international conservation group to initiate long-term programming in Myanmar, where it has partnered with the Forest Department since 1993, when the country was under military rule. Prior to Hkakaborazi, WCS garnered local criticism for its close collaboration with the central government in relation to Kachin state’s Hukaung Valley, where, in 2004, WCS’s director of science and exploration, Alan Rabinowitz, supported the Forest Department to establish a 6,300–km2 (2,430-mi2) wildlife sanctuary.

Two years later, 810 km2 (312 mi2) of the sanctuary was conceded for biofuel production to a company with close ties to the military, and in 2008, a Russian energy company was granted oil exploration rights to parts of the sanctuary. Nonetheless, in 2010, Rabinowitz and WCS supported the Forest Department to expand the park’s boundaries by a further 11,000 km2 (4,250 mi2). At the time, despite documented local reports of forced relocation and environmental destruction, WCS’s Asia director, Colin Poole, said the expansion marked “a cornerstone of tiger conservation.” By 2014, less than 50 tigers remained.

Rabinowitz, who passed away in 2018, made his first expedition to Hkakaborazi in 1996. Two years later, the 3,810-kms (1,470-mi2) Hkakaborazi National Park was established, and in 2003, neighboring Hponkanrazi Wildlife Sanctuary, at 2,700 km2 (1,040 mi2).

Villages inside the conservation area lack basic infrastructure, while government schools end at fourth grade and villagers must walk days to access health care or buy basic items such as rice, oil and salt.

A community worker who requested anonymity told Mongabay that in the park’s early years, WCS would support small infrastructure projects and donate rice and basic supplies to villagers.

The Forest Department’s U Thein Aung, who established Hkakaborazi National Park and served as its warden from 1999 to 2007, said that he and WCS’s education team regularly visited villages to explain about the park regulations, and up until his transfer, faced “no problem” with communities.

Yet at some point, this relationship soured, with widespread allegations that WCS and the Forest Department had promised educational, food, infrastructure and financial assistance which was never delivered.

“When the organizations came in, they promised to fix our difficulties, but they didn’t,” said Sanlu Ram Seng, a climbing guide from a village inside Hkakaborazi National Park. “They neglected us.”

Similar grievances were also portrayed in the locally produced 2019 documentary Tears Beyond the Icy Mountain.

WCS declined to comment to Mongabay on this issue, while U Thein Aung of the Forest Department told Mongabay, “I did not promise local people [anything], because I had no chance to give funding, I can only share techniques.”

Communities also say that park regulations – which banned commercial hunting, logging, and the commercial trade of wildlife, wild plants and other forest products, as well as hillside cultivation – restricted their livelihoods.

Morning market in Puta-O, Myanmar. Image by Hkaw Myaw. Myanmar, 2020.
Morning market in Puta-O, Myanmar. Image by Hkaw Myaw. Myanmar, 2020.

“People had been searching for forest items and animals for their survival, only taking what they needed. Suddenly, they had to report all their actions and face interrogation. They were living in fear,” said Phong Phong, a youth from a village inside Hponkanrazi Wildlife Sanctuary.

Restrictions on planting non-native seeds also cut them off from growing the cardamom and walnut trees upon which many depended, he said.

“It’s not that we don’t accept environmental conservation,” Phong Phong said. “The reason we willingly agreed [to a protected area designation] is because the government said they would support and protect it. The truth is, our precious ecosystem is being destroyed. The way they managed it was not successful … They just said, ‘Don’t do this. Don’t do that.’ We have been conserving [the forest] and depending on it for our survival but now it’s almost gone.”

U Thein Aung said he was aware of local mistrust of Forest Department management and restrictions. “The Rawang understand the Puta-O region including Hkakaborazi is their land, and they want to manage it. They do not like management by the central government,” he said.

Yet a dissonance appeared in perceptions of local conservation awareness.

“Rawang people want to manage Hkakaborazi themselves, but they do not understand how to conserve or manage it,” U Thein Aung said. “They do not understand the importance of biodiversity and its sustainable use.”

In contrast, ethnic Rawang interviewed by Mongabay asserted that they understood this importance most, having lived sustainably in the forest for generations.

Ram Seng said that before Hkakaborazi became a government protected area, “Families valued the living things in the streams. They cut the trees when the time came. When they went hunting they only caught male animals, and released the females … They acknowledged each family’s territory, and didn’t touch or destroy another family’s things. That’s why it is still one of the most beautiful places and has many rare species. Communities cared for the environment with so much love.”

Dried meat and honey at the morning market in Puta-O, Myanmar. Image by Hkaw Myaw. Myanmar, undated.
Dried meat and honey at the morning market in Puta-O, Myanmar. Image by Hkaw Myaw. Myanmar, undated.

He said this sentiment was lost when the area came under Forest Department management. “The Forest Department said, ‘It doesn’t relate to your community anymore. We took responsibility over this area … although this stream used to belong to me, I don’t own it anymore, so I will destroy it,’” became the mentality, Ram Seng told Mongabay. “The environment was destroyed. The community got angry and blamed [the Forest Department] for that.”

Hpong Ri Minn, who from 1999 to 2016 served on the Rawang Literature and Culture Association, a leading actor in opposing the World Heritage nomination, said that under Forest Department management, communities felt like “This place doesn’t belong to you anymore. It belongs to the government.”

“Since they couldn’t manage it, it became, ‘If I can cut, I will cut. If I can take out, I will take out.’ Not only outsiders but also the villagers took out forest items randomly, and the trees and wildlife decreased. The community didn’t have an ownership mindset anymore,” he said.

When environmental destruction followed, communities came to doubt the effectiveness of being a national conservation area, he said. “The community said all the medicinal herbs and wildlife was taken during 20 years of conservation [as a protected area]. Nothing was left, so the community questioned what environmental conservation referred to … There are many restrictions though nothing is being conserved well,” he told Mongabay.

Contested boundaries
In 2013, UNESCO commissioned a scoping study to identify sites in Myanmar with a potential for natural World Heritage nomination. To increase the elevation range and biodiversity of the Hkakaborazi and Hponkanrazi protected areas, and hence strengthen claims to outstanding universal value according to UNESCO’s 1972 convention, a 4,778–km2 (1,845-mi2) “southern extension” was added to the proposed nomination area.

The Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry (MOECAF), which includes the Forest Department, submitted intent to nominate this area, which it called the Hkakaborazi Landscape, in late 2014. In 2015, UNESCO subcontracted WCS to support the ministry with some aspects of the nomination process.

The area includes tropical evergreen, mixed deciduous, and pine-rhododendron forest, snowcapped mountains and alpine meadows, and an estimated 6,000 plant and 750 animal species. Hkakaborazi and Hponkanrazi mountains, among Southeast Asia’s tallest, serve as the watershed for the N’Mai and Mali rivers, which join to form Myanmar’s largest river, the Irrawaddy.

Roughly 4,000 people live within the area, including 1,900 in Hkakaborazi National Park, 2,000 in Hponkanrazi Wildlife Sanctuary, and 170 in the southern extension.

The tentative listing of the Hkakaborazi Landscape on the UNESCO website lists logging and mining as threats to the area, as well as infrastructure development plans around the town of Puta-O which “could result in in-migration and increased human impacts.” The listing also mentions commercial wildlife hunting and the gathering of non-timber forest products within the park’s boundaries as environmental threats.

In late 2016, UNESCO conducted a series of visits to northern Kachin to introduce the concept of World Heritage and its potential implications, while the Forest Department and WCS began sharing information about World Heritage in villages.

Those interviewed by Mongabay say that initially, communities supported the nomination, but problems arose over the southern extension, where villagers strongly opposed coming under Forest Department management.

“The Forest Department should have negotiated with villagers before demarcating the boundaries of the southern extension, but they didn’t,” said Min Seng of Nam Shani Social Development Organization, which supported mediation efforts between communities, the Forest Department and WCS.

‘They kick out anyone who comes’
Local media reported that the Rawang Literature and Culture Association submitted letters to the government in March and May of 2017, asking that plans for the southern extension be dropped, but said it received no reply. On July 28, the natural resources and environment ministry announced plans to proceed with the nomination, according to local media.

Tensions escalated and on Sept. 28, 2017, led by the Rawang Literature and Culture Association, thousands demonstrated across four towns, calling for the withdrawal of WCS from the area and an end to the World Heritage nomination.

The association’s leader, Marip Yaw Shu, declined Mongabay’s request for an interview.

Min Seng said that over the following year, meetings and public hearings were held to bridge rifts between the groups, but with little progress. Instead, 2018 saw a series of incidents, including communities’ expulsion of a WCS and Forest Department research team from Hponkanrazi Wildlife Sanctuary, the burning of a Forest Department guard post in Hkakaborazi National Park, and further demonstrations.

Communities have blocked outsiders from the national park and wildlife sanctuary area since late 2018. “The villagers said, ‘We won’t accept you anymore as nothing happened as you had promised,’” said Ram Seng. “They kick out anyone who comes.”

The Forest Department evacuated its guard posts inside the parks, and the WCS office in Puta-O remains shuttered.

“Following the community demonstrations, it was clear that consent was not forthcoming and WCS restricted its activities,” said Rob Tizard, who has served as technical adviser to WCS Myanmar since 2006. “We continue to hold an open discussion with local leaders,” he added.

Min Jeong Kim, UNESCO Myanmar Head of Office since early 2017, said she found a silver lining in the fallout over the nomination, in that it helped bring issues into the open. “It was perhaps not what we had hoped for,” she said, “But in the end, with the community coming up and strongly [conveying] how they wanted to manage the site, and how they wanted to have more say in what was going to happen to the place where they live and are actively engaged, I think was a positive outcome.”

“That’s what’s supposed to happen according to UNESCO’s policy on Free Prior Informed Consent and respecting the rights of indigenous people. It was absolutely normal for these issues to be raised, and for the government to respond, for there to be dialogue and a proper process of FPIC going on before any final decision was taken,” she added.

With the UNESCO nomination indefinitely suspended and the Forest Department and WCS expelled more than a year ago, the question remains whether the communities, the Forest Department and conservation groups can find common ground. Mongabay’s interviews with local Rawang revealed a cautious interest in coming together under certain conditions.

Hpong Ri Minn said that in the face of commercial interest, communities may need outside support to protect forest resources. “Forest items have gradually become valuable. In the long term, there will be resource trafficking and the trees will be cut down. [Communities] might be able to control it for the moment, but there will be difficulties the in long term,” he said.

At the same time, he emphasized that conservation efforts must incorporate local inputs and value customary practices. “The Forest Department should welcome the participation of communities and work together with them,” he told Mongabay. “The public welcomes any organization doing environmental conservation, but it must find methods which do not create any difficulty for the community.” To do this, he said, they should only make promises they could fulfill, and not impose regulations that infringe on local livelihoods.

Phong Phong also welcomed engagement with the Forest Department and conservation groups, as long as communities could lead the conservation process. “If [the Forest Department] allows people who live in the park to manage it, there will be a greater chance to succeed,” he said, adding that the Forest Department and conservation groups must first “explain and show the people who are living on this land about the methods, and then cooperate with communities in the conservation process.”

U Thein Aung of the Forest Department seemed open to engagement as well. He told Mongabay that if Rawang communities accepted it, he hoped to organize training sessions on biodiversity conservation and sustainable livelihoods. “Most of the people rely on natural resources for their livelihood. They do not like legal prohibitions,” he said. “I think if most people could manage their livelihoods, no one would go hunting or poaching.”

“The answer is community collaboration,” said Ram Seng. “Local communities should have equal rights to manage [the forest]. [The Forest Department] should respect communities and value their ways of conservation … To conserve this area, the best solution is to allow the community to manage it as they used to do with technical support from organizations.”

“Only locals know when a forest deer gives birth, whether a plant is edible, and when is the right time to cut a tree,” he said. “From generation to generation, we have been conserving nature. Communities should manage [the forest], because we are the ones who know it best.”

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Emily Fishbein’s picture
EMILY FISHBEIN
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Emily Fishbein is a freelance writer who has been based in Myanmar since 2015. She seeks to share diverse stories and perspectives, especially from Kachin State. Prior to writing, she worked with…

Indigenous People

Genophobia engulfs Meghalaya after death of Khasi Students Union leader

Shillong: Amid the unrest in Meghalaya, MLAs from neighbouring Assam on Thursday met the Meghalaya home minister and leader of the opposition to seek a safe passage for the stranded labourers from the state.

MLAs Nandita Das, Rupjyoti Kurmi and Kamalakhya Dey Purkayastha sought an appointment with chief minister Conrad K Sangma but were not able to meet him due to his busy schedule. The MLAs from Assam who were concerned about the unrest in the state wanted the Meghalaya government to make arrangements for the stranded labourers so that they can reach home safely.

The MLAs also met the leader of opposition Mukul Sangma and apprised him of the same.

Another person was seriously injured as he was stabbed at Mawkhar near YMCA in Shillong on Thursday.

The injured has been identified as 21-year-old Sanidul Islam.

The fresh incident of stabbing has brought further fear among the people as it happened after the normalcy started to return to the Shillong city.

Police are yet to identify the perpetrator(s) involved in the crime.

Meanwhile, the district magistrate of East Khasi Hills district has under Section 144 CrPC promulgated curfew in Shillong agglomeration and its adjoining areas with effect from 9 pm Thursday to 5 am on Friday.

The areas under curfew include the whole of Municipal and Cantonment areas, all reas under Mawlai and Mawpat Blocks including their census towns areas under Mylliem Block from Umshyrpi bridge up to 7 Mile Upper Shillong.

The other areas which will also remain under the curfew are Madanrting, Mawblei, Laitkor, Nongkseh, Umlyngka, Lawsohtun, Mawdiangdiang, Diengiong and Siejiong.

Another person stabbed in Shillong, curfew promulgated again 1

The sub-divisional magistrate of the Sohra civil sub-division has also relaxed the curfew in areas under Sohra police station with effect from 8 am to 6 pm on Friday and the curfew will be extended again from 6 pm until further orders.

At Ichamati, the curfew has been relaxed from 8 am to 10 am on Friday, and will be extended again from 10 am until further orders.

However, all areas under Shella police station, Tyllap police outpost and Bholaganj police check post, curfew has been relaxed with effect from 8 am to 2 pm on Friday, and it will be extended again from 2 pm until further orders.

The sub-divisional magistrate of Sohra civil sub-division further informed that special escort will be provided to students outside Mawlong village who are appearing in the SSLC examination at Mawlong Centre.

Indigenous People

Mizoram: Concern over deletion of Gangte tribe from ST list

Aizwal: A Manipur based Gangte Students’ Organisation (GSO) on Thursday expressed concern over the deletion of the ‘Gangte’ tribe from Mizoram’s Scheduled Tribes list.

A statement issued by the organization said confusion was heightened when the Gangte tribe hitherto included under ‘Any Kuki tribe’ of the Schedules Tribe list 1950 and Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Lists (Modification) Order, 1956 was allegedly deleted from Mizoram’s tribe list as contended by the State Government following a resolution passed in the state Legislature in March 2011.

It said that the Gangte tribe having their own distinct social, cultural and ethnic identity, which have been maintained and preserved from time immemorial, have been recognized as distinct tribe in Manipur and elsewhere in the country.

The students’ body, headquartered in Manipur’s Churachandpur claimed that Gangte is a distinct ethnological tribe to denote a cohesive group of people who have a rich cultural heritage with a separate language of their own.

“Like other cognate tribes, the Gangte tribe, by virtue of being a Gangte first, has the freewill to choose Mizo or Kuki or Chin as a generic name for their ‘national entity. However, choosing any of Kuki/Chin/Mizo as their generic name/nomenclature does not warrant the ‘merger’ of Gangte tribe per se into that particular group or entity,” the statement issued by the organization president S. Paulallien Gangte said.

Upholding its stand for maintenance and preservation of Gangte as a distinct tribe, the student organisation said no individuals or organizations other than the Gangte apex bodies such as the Gangte Tribe Union (GTU), Gangte Youth Organisation (GYO), and Gangte Students’ Organisation (GSO) have the mandate to speak or act for and on behalf of the Gangte tribe.

It further appealed to all concerned to consult the Gangte associations on matter concerning the Gangte tribe and said that any decision arrived at concerning the tribe without the knowledge and consent of the associations will stand null and void.

In March 2011, the Mizoram Assembly had adopted a resolution recommending the Gangte tribe, which hitherto came under ‘Any Kuki tribes’ to be placed under ‘Mizo tribe’ of the Mizoram scheduled tribe list along with renaming of Zo ethnic tribe-Pawi into ‘Lai’.

Indigenous People

Indigenous lands hold 36% or more of remaining intact forest landscapes

Children watch as a group from the Saginaw Chippewa Reservation in Mount Pleasant, Michigan enter an encampment where hundreds of protestors have gathered on the banks of the Cannon Ball River to stop construction of the Energy Transfer Partners’ Dakota Access oil

 

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More than one-third of the world’s remaining pristine forests, known as intact forest landscapes, exist within land that’s either managed or owned by indigenous peoples, a new study has found.