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Friday, May 24, 2024

Tribals continue to suffer in India

Sir

It is appalling that till today the plight of major tribals in India, especially the Adivasis and the Santhals who were described by historians as “the original autochthonous people of India” and who were the first and original settlers in India are continuing to languish and suffer from neglect, suppression,  oppression, dispossession, land alienation etc in the hands of the majority of the so-called ” more advanced and civilised people from the ” Dravidian and Aryan” stocks who came much later in this country. Even the guarantees and safeguards provided in the Constitution of India for special protection of the tribals, the existence of the Scheduled Tribe Commission and the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution have not helped and enabled them much till date to raise them to the desired levels of being classed as advanced tribal communities.

The Government of India has no national tribal policy till date though there was a draft National Policy on Tribals in 1999 but it has remained only a draft till date with no policy in place.

The Adivasis’ original religion is ‘Sarna,’ they are not Hindus or Christians and they worship nature not idols although many of them might have converted to Christianity or adopted Hinduism as their religion at later stages. They have their own way of life, religious practices and thoughts, customs, culture but unfortunately the Government of India has not recognised their religion ‘Sarna’ till today.

The Fifth Schedule provides protection to the Adivasis living in Scheduled Areas from alienation of their lands and natural resources but the provisions of the schedule are seldom enforced by the government and this also is facing imminent threat of being amended by the government to facilitate transfer of lands and the resources therein to non-tribals and corporate bodies. This has posed serious threats and implications to the survival and culture of millions of tribal people like the Adivasis, Santhals and others concentrated in mainland India like in the states of Jharkhand, Himachal  Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattishgarh, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Rajasthan.

The first National Democratic Alliance government established a Tribal Affairs Ministry by putting in charge Jual Oram, an Adivasi himself, but nothing has changed the plight of the tribals there though he had assured that the Adivasis, even if converted to Christianity or other religions will get the same benefits due to the community. The sad part was that he equated Sarnaism with Hinduism which is not at all right. The sadder part till today is that political power is still wielded by the non-tribals in majority of these above-mentioned big states. But the big  question is why this most important power has by and large eluded the tribals ?

Those who championed the cause of welfare and uplift of the Adivasis, Santhals and other tribals and who dedicated and sacrificed themselves for their welfare for years  like (Late) Fr. Stanislause Swamy, SJ, were viewed with jealousy and suspicion by the elements who controlled the powers that be and on flimsy grounds charged them of having terror links, imprisoned and they ensured that they languish in jail to die a miserable death. Then again, there was a fear among certain religious fanatics that the tribals would convert to Christianity which would preclude their assimilation into the Hindu Samaj. This fear led to the killing of Christian missionaries like Dr. Graham Staines and his two young sons in Odisha several years ago.

The tribal panchayats have been in existence in these states but they are subservient to and controlled by the state governments ruled by various political parties and run by bureaucrats. The law and order machineries are run, managed and controlled by these state governments. The question is why are the tribals, who constitute a huge chunk of the electorate there, continue to suffocate and be subjugated to the non-tribal political masters there? What is the logic ? In some of the hugely populated tribal states tribal leaders have managed to be at the helm of affairs of the state like in Jharkhand but why there was no change in the plight of the tribals even there till date ? There has to be a serious, sincere and thorough review by these state governments on how to run these tribal-concentrated areas both at the state government level and devolution of powers to the panchayat levels which include instruments of public administration on education, health and sanitation, roads and bridges, irrigation, cadastral surveys and land records etc and even the police must be made answerable to the local elected officials and should not be allowed to be a law unto themselves.

Will the Prime Minister of India and his cabinet go deeper into these vital issues of more than 12 million tribals of central India and take corrective measures to ameliorate their plight and raise them at par with the rest of Indians. Why should the tribals in India continue to be in this fate even after 75 years of independence from the British yoke?  We urge the first going-to-be tribal president of India, Draupadi Murmu, not to be contented with the post she will hold but to use the top office to ensure that the most neglected, exploited, dispossessed and downtrodden tribals of India are liberated from their suffering of years.

Philip Marwein
Shillong

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