India is a country where caste, class, religion and tribes are always treated as an instrument for the game of thrones. In socio-cultural settings, they play a very sensitive role whereas, in political issues, they are merely treated as anything apart from a vote bank. Two days back when the entire country was celebrating the 132nd birth anniversary of Dr. Baba Saheb Bhimrao Ambedkar as “Equality Day” with huge enthusiasm, the nation also evidenced some ruthless incidents of violence and discrimination against the tribes. Recently, four Scheduled Tribe women named Martina Kisku, Shiuli Mardi, Thakran Soren and Malati Murmu, residents of Tapan Gofanagar of South Dinajpur district of West Bengal were forced to do “Dandavat Parikrama” by a local TMC leader as a punishment and penance for joining BJP. It is also reported on various media platforms that it was done to visualize the “show of strength” by the local TMC leader. BJP on April 6 conducted a political event on Badsankair of Balurghat municipality area of Dakshin Dinajpur. Fascinated by the political programme, many women joined the party. As an expression of aggression, the local leader forced the women to crawl near TMC office. The husband of one of the above-mentioned women was a TMC worker, who also reported being under enormous pressure from the local higher authorities not to unveil the happenings to the media. The person was pressurized to rejoin the alleged ruling party i.e., TMC, and reportedly also denied the news of joining the BJP by his wife or any of the women as they follow Christianity and hence are not a part of the BJP in a fear of being tortured more.
As the video of Dandavat Parikrama uploaded by Sukanta Majumdar, West Bengal’s BJP chief on his Twitter account, went viral, people from tribal organizations sat on a Dharnawith bows and arms, in a demand to arrest the culprits.
This case is not the only one. Previously also, some tribal people have marched to Raj Bhavan in Kolkata in protest against the fear of being thrown out from their land as a result of the DeochaPachami coal block mining project, undertaken by the West Bengal Government in Mohammad Bazar in the Birbhum district. The region is home to almost 21,000 Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. On April 14, they travelled 200 miles on foot under the banner of the Adivasi Adhikar Mahasabha to deliver a memorandum demanding an end to the involuntary takeover of tribals’ lands. Simultaneously, on March 31, hundreds of indigenous people from around 25 Adivasi groups assembled in Purulia of West Bengal for a mass protest against issues affecting the rights of indigenous communities. The demands for the cancellation of “false” Scheduled Tribe (ST) certificates as well as the inclusion of Kurmi in the Scheduled Tribes, were one of the most crucial items on the agenda. The issuance of illegitimate caste certificates ultimately results inthe deprivation of enjoying their rights in areas where there is discrimination, such as in the sectors of education and employment.
These cases of discrimination or acts of violence against marginalized communities like tribes indicate that there is an immense need to review the existing policies that often act against indigenous propriety. Dr. Ambedkar in his book “Communal Deadlock and Ways to Solve It” (1945) already showed his concern about the infringement of tribal rights and predicted that in the future, the political institutions would turn the tribes into mere institutions instead of contributing towards their development. Therefore, Baba Saheb has also advised to follow the paths of the South African constitution and establish various statutory committees for “Excluded Areas.”Dr. Ambedkar also proposed the approach of “Shared Sovereignty” for them so that the tribes can maintain their autonomous lifestyle and preserve their ethnic identity.
The country even after its 75 years of independence is also not free from discrimination. The cases of violence against marginalized communities can be witnessed even after the enforcement of strict laws like the SC / ST Prevention Act of 1989. The major reason behind this is the education and unawareness of such provisions among tribal communities. The literacy rate of tribals consists of 59% out of which just 11.02 % of all students are enrolled in higher education. Occupation wise 67.1% of tribals are still engaged in agriculture which is traditional in the method. Accordingly, 47.4% tribal population in rural areas and 24.1% in urban areas live below the poverty line. The data clearly shows the time is to focus on the holistic and infrastructural development of the tribes. The Central government is taking various steps from opening new Ekalavya Residential Model Schools to developing Ashram schools for the tribal children. But to strengthen their condition, it must be ensured that the enrolment ratio of the tribal population in higher education should be increased and there should be free skill development courses especially meant for the tribal population. Developing vocational courses as well as training them in modern processes of agriculture can increase their gross income and will be helpful in enhancing their economic conditions.
Social upholding is a follow-up process of economic progression and hence creating higher educational and economic opportunities can ultimately result in the social strengthening of the tribes. Education can lead them to know their rights, and the laws meant against discrimination and thus can safeguard them from being exploited. NEP 2020 has already included various provisions to ensure upliftment in tribal education. Various local voluntary organizations, NGOs, and academia can play a very important role in this regard to aware the tribal communities about indigenous rights. In order to fully emancipate the oppressed classes, Ambedkar’s fundamental vision to “educate, agitate and organize” for social, economic, and political freedom must be instrumentalized. Further to secure the socio-economic and political dignity and rights of the tribes, the constitutional measures of Dr. Babasaheb Bhim Rao Ambedkar must be at institutionalise in all spheres of life for the holistic development of the tribes.
We the people of India should understand tribes are also human beings. They are made of blood and flesh like us. They have emotions, feelings, love, and hate also. They look like poor, but they are not poor. They are the happiest people. They love to live in forests, love to live with animals, love to safeguard our minerals, love to safeguard our habitats, our water bodies. They are above all any religion because they have a religion of motherhood, they have a religion of nature, they have a religion of save the whole things, protect everything for future generations. They are a great believer of Aparigrahai.e., we are self-contended. Whatever necessary today we have, tomorrow we will earn our livelihood by working only. So let us allow them to live. They are above any political ambitions. Let usgive them the quality education, give them the best medical facilities, and allow them to live in their own tribal habitat.
Prof. T. V. Kattimani is Vice Chancellor of Central Tribal University of Andhra Pradesh.