After Independence, National Tribal Policy was the first
attempt at the national level to bring Scheduled Tribes into the “mainstream”
society through multi-purpose projects for their development in all areas
without disturbing their “distinctive” culture. It was first proposed by the UPA
government in 2004, while it came into existence in 2006, formally.
As per 2011 census, there are 104.5 million Scheduled Tribes
constituting 8.6% of India’s population. There are 698 Scheduled Tribes spread
all over the country barring States and Union Territories like Chandigarh,
Delhi, Haryana, Pondicherry and Punjab.
According to the act, even though there are several
provisions in the Indian Constitution for the protection and development of
Scheduled Tribes in Central and State Acts, there wasn’t any single policy
which looked at this issue in an integrated and holistic manner.
The issues that concerned lower Human Development Index, poor
infrastructure, diminishing control over the natural resource base, persistent
threats of eviction from their habitat, exclusion from mainstream society and
economy in distribution of wealth and opportunities, and non-empowerment had
been the driving factors for creating this policy as well as to include STs in
the wholesome development of the country, the nation building. – 1
The first and the foremost thing to notice about the concept
of tribe in today’s academic world is that the notion of the tribe
internationally and the notion of the tribe in India are utterly different
concepts. Defining tribe in Indian context has been very challenging since the
beginning. The authority to give the status of Scheduled Tribe rests with the
President under article 342 of the Constitution and following are the criteria based
on which the decision is taken:
with the public at large
and economic backwardness
The policy mainly describes the tribes based on these criteria,
which if we take into consideration are the same since 1921 set by the British
official committee during the census of India. It’s been almost a century and
the criteria still hasn’t changed. These conditions were set based on the
internationally applicable definition of tribe, but what the policy
makers didn’t understand is how different the tribes of India really are.
They fail to give any separate definition to Scheduled Tribes
and rather adopted the one which was already at hand and had been exploited for
years without thorough rectification.
The colonials at the time were focused upon finding the
developmental stages of how the human society evolved and reached the Victorian
stage which was considered to be at the top of the developmental hierarchy.
Thus, they began classifying different societies on the different stages of
evolution and that’s how the term primitive struck a label with the
tribal society at that time. Thus, the use was merely temporal and should have
theoretically died with the decline of social evolutionism. But, rather their
image stuck as the primitive contemporaries existing alongside the modern
developed folks. Long gone are those days, now is the era where these terms are
looked upon with scrutiny and are highly controversial.
Although, the draft itself acknowledges that using the term ‘primitive’
for them is pejorative as per today’s standards but the constitution still
doesn’t shy away from keeping it as one of the criteria, moreover, it is a
distinctive part of this policy as well. Their description of ‘primitive’ isn’t
very clear as what they describe as the primitive traits are at times also
mixed up within the rural culture of India and sometimes seen as a part of
Great Tradition as well and when found in the later, they’re seldom treated as ‘primitive’.
The second, third and fourth
points also don’t make sense, since the distinctive culture that they’re
talking about has very much disseminated now and most the tribes are classified
as Hindu tribes on a broader level. There are many over-lapping features of
this ‘distinctive’ culture, which have been there since the beginning as the geographic
isolation that this draft is talking about is not a very common feature of
tribes in India, in fact, they have always been in contact with the rulers of
the area as is evident from their inclusion in the Hindu epics Ramayana and
Upnishads. There have been few, however, who actually lived in isolation, but
that has changed greatly with the changing times. It seems that most of the
draft has been constructed upon the assumptions of them not being
well-reachable and out of the reach of ‘modern’ communication. As this part of
the draft so clearly specifies:-
“The STs live in far-flung
areas and, quite often, outside the reach of modern means of communication.
This results in the STs being deprived of much important and crucial
information regarding development initiatives, employment programmes, etc.
Vested interest groups often spread dis-information resulting in
dis-enchantment and dissatisfaction with the system. The increasing trend of violence being witnessed
in the Scheduled Areas makes it all the more necessary to communicate with STs
on a regular basis.”
What policy makers don’t realize
is that just because the ‘modern’ society, itself has not been in regular
contact with them, doesn’t make them entitled to call the tribal as the one
which have been out of reach. The ‘modern’ society has been cocooned and enveloped
in their ‘modern’ communication that it has forgotten that for any
communication to be successful it has to both ways. If for “us” they are the
estranged ones, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that for “them”, we have been the
ones who haven’t maintained proper relations with them in the first place.
The intentions, however,
have been of their inclusion. The draft fails to notice that the earlier
existing state and national policies have somehow made a huge change in them
not being connected in the ‘modern’ way. They took the old apocryphal stories
and accounts of travellers or perhaps anthropological accounts of the past
which made them see the Scheduled tribes in a static picture. They
failed to notice that the situation of these people has drastically changed
over the years. They have always been part of the society, as they had been
connected with the people, mainly peasants with respect of trade or by
Even if these people were
ever even slightly distinctive, isolated or shy, the British made sure
that they come out of their hiding after they snatched many of their lands and
killed them in thousands. Many of the tribal revolts in history provide a
concrete proof for that.
The steps mentioned in this
draft, in every field of their development and inclusions have been noble ones,
but seem to be constructed immaturely. Some of these have actually come into
effect, but the officials fail to see that whilst preparing this draft they
have constructed a wall of “us” and “them”; Us pertaining to the ‘civilized’
folk and ‘them’ pertaining to the ST’s, without realizing that the continuity
between tribes and caste in India is very indistinctive and with advent of
time, demarcating between tribes and castes has become a mammoth task.