Rita Toto – the first woman graduate from the dwindling Toto Tribe
Guarani Indians continue their fight

Rita Toto – the first woman graduate from the dwindling Toto Tribe
(vide Evolve: The Sunday Statesman 27 November; author: Ajitha Menon)

The Toto tribe has till date 4 graduates; three of them male while twenty two year old Rita is the only woman graduate.

The first graduate was Jagdish Toto, who became so in the year 1920. Rita, daughter of Sugrib Toto, a group D employee in the Uttarbanga Kshetriya Grameen Bank and Urmila, a homemaker got her graduate degree in Arts from Prasanna Deb Women’s College in Jalpaiguri. Now she works in an IT company in Kolkata. On her travail in securing higher education she says ,“ There are facilities for studying till Madhyamik (class 10) at Totopara, our village in North Bengal, but access to higher education is difficult. The tribe elders set in their ways, are not keen on education as they feel no opportunities open up for the educated youngsters.” “ A government policy promising a job for every educated youth would go a long way in convincing tribe elders to send their children to schools” In Kolkata, she feels , “ I have realized the opportunities available to educated women. My dream is that every girl child in my tribe gets a proper education. I want to complete my post graduation, become a teacher and go back to Totopara to teach.” Rita is proficient in Nepali, Bengali, Hindi, English besides her mother tongue Toto.


Guarani Indians continue their fight
(based on material from Survival International)

Guarani are South American tribe spread over countries like Brazil, Paraguay, Bolivia and Argentina. In Brazil there are 46,000 Guarani people living in its seven states and are considered as the most numerous tribe in the country. The Europeans, who arrived in South America almost 500 years ago, first sighted them. The Gurani people are divided into three groups viz., Kaiowa, Nandeva and M’bya. Kaiowa means ‘forest people’ and it is the largest group. Guarani people are deeply spiritual people. 

Guarani children work on the sugar cane fields which now cover much of their people’s ancestral lands in Mato Grosso do Sul state

As the story goes the Guaranis’ ancestors after a long search for a ‘land without evil’ where they would live free from pain and suffering finally settled at Mato Grosso do Sul state occupying a homeland of forests and plains totaling some 350,000 square kilometers. Presently they are forced to live in tiny patches of land surrounded by cattle ranches and vast fields of soya and sugar cane. Some live in camps by roadsides, as they have no land. The resistance to cattle ranchers by Guarani against eviction is still going on. They are even trying to retrieve their ancestral land from the possession of the cattle ranchers. One such attempt has succeeded when a group of Guarani Indians returned in early November this year to that part of Mato Grosso do Sul state from which they were evicted by the cattle ranchers thirty years ago. But hardly a fortnight had passed that the gunmen alleged to be Paraguayan assassinated on 18th November 2011 the leader of this group 59 year old Nísio Gomes.

Nísio Gomes's last words were to his son.

Brazil’s Human Rights Secretary condemned the murder as ‘part of the systematic violence against indigenous people in the region’. Brazil’s Indian Affairs Department, FUNAI, and the federal police have opened an investigation. But what is remarkable is the urging of dying Gomes to his son Valmir: ‘Don’t leave this place. Take care of this land with courage. This is our land. Nobody will drag you from it. Look after my granddaughters and all the children well. I leave this land in your hands.’ This is possibly the wish of every older generation tribe for the younger generation to fulfill.

Photographs: Survival International