The most vivid feature of the Indian society that evolves on the plurality of its myriad ethnic and social groups is the co-existence of these socio-ethnic groups at the same region under the umbrella of the national frame-work and the constitution. The role of various tribes in India have received prominence even before the advent of the nation itself. The pages of history very willingly testify that the first resistance to the imperial exploitation of forests in India was put forth by the Indian tribes under the leadership of Birsa Munda that forced the then government to change its Indian policy of managing raw materials from the forests. The ethnographic scene of India is so diverse that the contribution of these tribes to the broader aspect of Indian nationalism remains unnoticed. The major tribes of the country primarily include the Garo, Khasi, Jayantia, Nagas and Mizo of the North-east, the Santhals of Bengal and the Bhils, Mundas and Chanderis of the Chota Nagpur plateau. In the western provinces of Rajasthan there are several nomadic tribes along with the herding tribes of Ladak and the Kumaon region who are collectively referred to as the DNTs or denotified tribes of India. These tribes were noted under the list of criminal tribes in 1871 by the British Government and on the 31st of August, 1952, they were denotified as criminal tribes and was brought under the Indian constitutional framework. This is the reason why 31st of August, and not 15th of August, is celebrated as the ‘Mukti Divas’ or ‘Day of Freedom’ by the nomadic tribes of India. The brief historical background does indeed go a long way in recognising the rich cultural heritage of the various tribal groups in the country. Throughout the world, several tribal population groups such as the Mongols and Huns of Central Asia, The Masaai tribe of Africa and the Inca and Myan tribes of South America have left their omnipotent footprints on the demographic and cultural history of the world at large.
The primary problem with a social group that has registered a mammoth influence on the socio-economic practices of the world remains that of social integration. Most of the tribes of India and the world at large, seem to move further away from mainstream society and remains ignored from the welfare of the state. The imperial policy of considering the tribes as ‘savages’ and a conscious effort to ‘westernise’ them instead of ‘modernising’ them go a long way in laying the foundation of the problems that plague the tribes in the twenty first century. For instance, the ‘Jarwa’ tribe of the Andaman Islands had resisted contact with civilisation for a long time because of the attempts to forcefully westernise them over a short-span of time instead of gradually integrating them into the mainframe of society. The flawed policy of disrespecting the cultural heritage of the tribes not only led to their isolation but also built up a strong resistance to the later attempts to modernise them. New Zealand however leads with a very prominent example where the colonising population attempted to modernise the existing tribal population by not only introducing western ideals but integrating the traditions of the local tribes into the culture of the colonisers. Even the most progressive democracies of the world, including the United States of America, is no exception to this rule. The strongest protest for the respect of the local tribal culture in America perhaps came in the form of Marlon Brando, who refused to accept his Oscar and instead sent an Indian American junior actress to accept it and therefore sent out a strong message against the marginalisation of the colonising tribes. This was one of the most crucial reasons why New Zealand became the first nation to establish the universal adult franchise. Today, not only the government of new Zealand have successfully brought about economic development in the country but has also ensured that the Caucasian rugby team performs the Maori war dance – Haka – everytime they play a game at the national and international arena. This type if a lucid integration policy is often seen missing from most of the nations and hence they fail to initiate a complete social integration of the tribal population. and subsequently makes them lose faith on the social frame-work of the country. This has been a chief cause for the rise of extremist political groups in the mineral rich tribal regions of the Chota Nagpur plateau. The tribal groups along the western borders are often targeted by smugglers for the illicit drug trade and the illegal cross-border infiltration. The tribes are easily lured to such tasks because often the government schemes are either insufficient to the needs of the tribes or inefficient in nature and does not reach them due to improper means of distribution. Also, forces them to lose their sustainable livelihood and makes them search for either immoral or illegal chores to meet their dire need of wealth. The other major problem with some tribes is the fact that they do not often have requisite certificates and proof of either nationality or their ethnicity or both, which ultimately leads to them losing out on the various government policies.
The problem, although deep rooted, can easily be weeded out by changing the established norms of the government schemes. There can be an immediate review of the census for one and instead of having one umbrella policy, the government should opt for choosing targeted policies for the various tribes and be more specific in catering to their needs. The government must also encourage rural banking schemes and the long and rich heritage of the tribal handicrafts that have a huge market demand. A scheme similar to Grameen Bank by Dr Mohammad Younis could be initiated to provide interest free loans to these tribes to help them build assets which would allow them to have a stable economic and social existence. The government and the forest policy should find means to engage these tribes to make more ‘sacred groves’ that would also help in the ecology of the country at large. Finally, the political representation and the healthcare benefits of these tribes should not only be efficiently planned but also distributed properly to remove the blocks that exist. It is imperative that the problems of the tribes are addressed to as soon as possible so that the gap between ‘bharat’ and India is bridged.
Author: Souma Shekhar Gangopadhyay, Catalyst Class of 2017,
Masters in Public Policy & Governance, Tata Institute of Social Sciences.