The talk will present a rough outline of a book based on my PhD research on: Access to justice, which remains uneven and elusive for indigenous peoples dispossessed of their lands in India. The Forest Rights Act of India (2006) promises land security for forest peoples displaced from ancestral lands by the combined forces of colonial forest resource extraction and contemporary free-market economic development, which have disregarded customary indigenous land rights. This research challenges the assumptions that land rights legislation necessarily contributes to access to justice, and that governments serve the interests of citizens in a democratic system such as India.

I posit that justice is subverted by: a legal chronology of land expropriation during colonial occupation; contemporary neoliberal policies; and subversive forest governance. These issues encouraged legal violations and exacerbated land dispossession. Socio-economic and gender inequalities and marginalization of mobile indigenous peoples compounds their land dispossession, and economic, social, legal disenfranchisement.

Offering evidence that indigenous peoples have inadequate access to justice, I examine the tension caused by this backdrop of disenfranchisement, and that of the Forest Rights Act being able to revolutionize the potential of challenging land dispossession, and introducing  substantive rights, which become a metaphor for indigenous empowerment. I contend that economic policies need to collaborate with and reinforce political and judicial aspects.

Indrani Sigamany has a PhD, from the Centre for Applied Human Rights, York Law School, University of York, UK, focusing on mobile indigenous peoples, land displacement and forest rights legislation. Her background has mainly included social justice and poverty alleviation in international development.