WAYANAD (Kerala), August 13 (PTI) – Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Sunday accused the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of attempting to confine indigenous communities to forests and to derogatorily replace the term ‘Adivasi’ with ‘Vanavasi’, thereby depriving them of their ancestral land rights.
During an address at a ‘High Tension (HT) Connection’ inauguration event at the Dr. Ambedkar District Cancer Center in the Mannathavady area of Wayanad, Gandhi reiterated his allegations made at a recent rally in Rajasthan. He had stated that the BJP disrespects tribal communities by referring to them as ‘forest dwellers,’ and takes away their forest lands to give them to industrialists.
Gandhi, the Member of Parliament from Wayanad, stated that labeling tribal communities as ‘Vanavasis’ reflects a twisted argument behind the terminology. He remarked, “This means that you (tribal communities) are being deprived of your rights to the ownership of land, and the intention is to limit you to the forests only.”
He explained that this terminology implies that tribal communities have a connection to the forests and should not move away from them. He emphasized that the term ‘Vanavasi’ was detrimental to their relationship with the land and equated it with a “strike against” their history and traditions.
Gandhi conveyed that the Congress party does not accept this ideology because the term ‘Vanavasi’ distorts the historical significance of tribal communities and reduces their role to being mere inhabitants of the forests.
He assured, “For us (Congress), you are Adivasis, the original landowners.”
Gandhi emphasized that since tribal communities are the original landowners, they deserve rights over their land and forest resources and should be allowed to envision their own possibilities.
He stressed that these communities should be provided opportunities in education, employment, and professions like anyone else in the country.
He stated, “You (tribal communities) should not be restricted or categorized. The entire world should be open for you.”
Gandhi pointed out that the term ‘Adivasi’ encompasses a specific knowledge of understanding the environment of the Earth they inhabit and their relationship with the planet, a wisdom that they have carried for thousands of years.
He highlighted that while the modern society now uses terms like ‘environment’ and ‘environmental conservation’ after degrading forests through deforestation and pollution, the tribal communities have practiced environmental conservation for centuries, indicating that there is much to learn from them.
Gandhi further said that with deforestation and environmental degradation due to modern society’s actions, the term ‘environmental conservation’ has become prevalent, but tribal communities have been practicing it for thousands of years. He added, “This is why we have much to learn from you.”
He expressed hope that the foundation of the Cancer Center, named ‘Dr. Ambedkar District Cancer Center’, would help address issues faced by doctors and patients due to consistent power cuts in the region.
He assured that his party’s contribution of ₹5 million (INR) from the Local Area Development Fund (MPLADS) would help the district officials continue their good work. He further mentioned that as a result of the district officials’ good work, the hospital would receive an additional ₹50 million (INR).
Gandhi said, “I believe this will increase productivity.”
He also proposed the establishment of mobile units for breast cancer detection, which would reach women in their homes and facilitate early diagnosis.
He said, “Mobile units for screening would prove helpful in promptly identifying illnesses and saving lives.”
Gandhi concluded his two-day visit on Sunday evening and is scheduled to depart for Delhi from Calicut International Airport at around 10:30 PM.
Gandhi arrived in Kerala on Saturday for a two-day visit. This visit marks his first trip to the region after taking oath as a Member of Parliament from Wayanad.