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Sunday, May 26, 2024

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Sunday, May 26, 2024

Tribals At Crossroads

By The Editor

Tribals of India are not homogenous group of people and they are scattered in all parts of the Indian sub-continent, varying in population size from one region to another. In the North Eastern (NE) region of the country, they re majority in Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram and Meghalaya constituting more than 80 per cent of respective total state population. Tribals form sizable chunk in Manipur and Tripura, and certain pockets of Assam have high concentration of tribals like the hill districts of Karbi Anglong and North Cachar, and Bodoland in Western Assam. Chattisgarh and Jharkhand which were carved out of Madhya Pradesh and Bihar are tribal-majority states. There are good percentages of tribals in Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Gujarat and Rajasthan but tribal composition in remaining states is negligible. On the whole, tribals or Scheduled Tribes (STs) constitute nearly 10 per cent of India’s population. Many decades earlier, growth rates of tribals were very slow but after that because of education and health care they increased quite rapidly especially in Northeast India.

Tribals were very backward and hence were exploited and neglected for many years. But with rise in literacy level and education they began to realize and become aware about their identities and rights. Tripura was a tribal-majority state before independence while due to influx from then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) tribals have been reduced to minority constituting only 31 per cent of population at present. So also is the case with Sikkim where the native Lepchas and Bhotias were overwhelmed by Nepali settlers. Government in Tripura state was dominated by leftists for many years until 2018 when Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) captured power. Meanwhile, tribals had their own party the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) which all along had been struggling for separate statehood in order to  rule by themselves and to progress like all other advanced people. Quite a few years back, under the leadership of Pradyot Debbarma scion of the princely state of Tripura a new political party Tipra Matha (TM) has been formed with main agenda of fighting for greater separate Tripura (Tipraland) state and has appealed to BJP’s tribal ally the IPFT to join and support for common cause of tribals.

With emergence of TM, ethnic lines are drawn between tribals and non-tribals mainly Bengalis majority of whom support BJP. But Muslims who generally do not feel secure with BJP have allied with TM. During recent district council elections to Tripura Autonomous District Council (TADC), TM party won an impressive 18 out of 28 seats with aggregate vote share of 47 per cent which was clear sign that the new outfit could not be ignored by other political rivals especially IPFT. Dynamism of Pradyot Debbarma continues to attract tribals mostly new generation of tribal youths which inspire him to work harder.

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