Fending for Themselves – Adivasis, Forest Dwelling Communities and the Devastating Second Wave of COVID-19


This paper was released on March 07, 2023, by the Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy, Chennai. It was co-authored by Sushmita, a researcher and journalist working in areas like environmental justice and forest governance, and Suraj Harsha, a teacher and researcher focusing on migration, citizenship and labour. It highlights the current state of Adivasi and forest-dwelling communities in relation to the effects of the second wave of covid-19.

The paper argues that Adivasi and other forest-dwelling communities have suffered significantly during the pandemic-imposed lockdown. Furthermore, the lack of focus on these communities has led to their displacement and loss of traditional ecosystems. Drawing inferences from existing research and a series of telephonic interviews and surveys, the paper suggests changes in policy that can help address health and health service issues among Adivasi and forest-dwelling communities.

The study is based on conversations with members of civil society organisations who in some cases were members of the Adivasi or forest-dwelling communities themselves. Some interviewees were also participating in relief measures during the pandemic. The states covered under the study were: Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh.

The 63-page paper is divided into nine sections: Adivasis and Forest Communities in India – A Portrait of Neglect (Section I); COVID-19: The Second Wave (Section II); Approach to the Study (Section III); COVID-19 Services – Delivery, Limits, and Policy Blind Spots (Section IV); Information, Awareness, and the Digital Divide (Section V); Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic (Section VI); Indigenous Health Systems (Section VII); Recognition of Rights and Coping in Crisis (Section VIII); and Summary (Section IX).


  1. Even prior to the pandemic, the burden of communicable diseases faced by Adivasis was “disproportionate”, the paper states. It cites the Ministry of Tribal Affairs report titled Tribal Profile at a Glance, to note that the “triple burden of diseases” faced by Adivasis included high levels of malnutrition, high incidence of malaria, tuberculosis and other communicable diseases and recent rise in non-communicable diseases like cancer, hypertension and diabetes.

  2. The second wave of the covid-19 pandemic affected Adivasis and forest-dwelling communities severely. Inadequate assessment of the impact of the first wave of infections on such communities was a contributing factor, the paper states.

  3. According to a respondent from Jharkhand, villages located near towns and cities experienced the most severe consequences of the second wave of covid-19. The study also found that all surveyed areas with high populations of Scheduled Tribe communities lacked adequate access to covid testing. A respondent from Maharashtra reported delays in arrival of test results.

  4. Respondents from all states reported a shortage of preparedness, awareness, and medical personnel, compounded by the existing inadequate healthcare infrastructure. Citing the Rural Health Statistics 2020-21, the study states that there was a shortfall of 8,503 sub centres, 1,464 primary health centres and 347 community health centres in tribal areas.

  5. Around 50 per cent of the population belonging to Scheduled Tribes experiences multidimensional poverty, the paper says citing the Global Multidimensional Poverty Index 2021. Scheduled Tribes account for 8.6 per cent of the country’s population but were allocated only Rs. 89,265 crore (2.26 per cent of the total expenditure) in the Union Budget for 2022-23.

  6. The healthcare needs of Adivasis and forest dwellers need to be engaged with together with other structural issues like forest rights, appointment of community members as liaisons and access to other public services.

  7. The paper provides the example of the Jenu Kurubas in Karnataka who organised a protest to demand the recognition of their rights under the Forest Rights Act, 2006. They were given assurances that their demands would be addressed if they discontinued the protests. However, the forest department not only destroyed their coffee plantations but also brought charges against them under the Indian Penal Code. Such obstructions against their means of earning put Adivasi and forest-dwelling communities at greater risk from the pandemic.

  8. Accessing essential resources during the pandemic was made even more difficult due to the insistence for Aadhar cards to avail of public services. The paper states that people from Adivasi communities were denied welfare services due to inadequate documents. This was an especial problem for Adivasi communities who have to rely on social security schemes after having been denied access to forest resources.

    Focus and Factoids by Daanish Narayan.

    PARI Library’s health archive project is part of an initiative supported by the Azim Premji University to develop a free-access repository of health-related reports relevant to rural India.


Sushmita and Suraj Harsha


The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy


07 Mar, 2023