Comprehensive policy prepared to unify tribals with the people of the country
After coming to power in 2014, the Modi government seems to be occupied in implementing policies that are detrimental to the poor, farmers and the adivasi-community (indigenous, tribals). The policy is to grab land and forests and to lease it out to corporate. At times, the NDA toiled hard to pass such bills by which the poor and the unpriviledged can be deprived off their land rights. The central government tried to pass Land Acquisition Bill first but due to strong protests by the Congress, it was compelled to withdraw the bill. After the failed attempt to acquire land of farmers, the Modi government took another course of action. It tried to pass Forest Bill, 2016 by which 25 crore forest-dwellers would be directly affected. A new provision has been incorporated in the bill which mentions that in place of mandatory twothird forest area, only one-third forest area will be kept reserved in hilly areas and thus forest rights of adivasis will be curtailed.
Such steps have already been taken in some of BJP-ruled states. It clearly indicates BJP’s anti forest dwellers character. The Chhattisgarh government has repealed the Community Forests Rights Act in 2016 and by snatching the community land of an adivasi- village, it handed over the land to an industrial house. In the same manner, a proposal of Gram Sabha was disregarded and its land measuring 1400 hectares was handed over to another industrialist. If the Congress does not protest against the policies adopted by the BJP government, the poor forestdwellers and adivasis will be uprooted from their native places.
The Congress Party has been trying to bring tribals (adivasis) into the mainstream since the era of national movements. The Congress governments worked diligently to safeguard the rights of forest-dwellers, tribals and the indigenous. Today, BJP is trying to deprive the tribal people from their rights and the Congress Party is acting like a shield for them. In this context, it is essential to understand the Congress Party’s persistent endeavours to bring the tribals into the mainstream comprehensively.
The amalgamation of tribals was indeed a difficult task since they belonged to different parts of the country and at the same time, their language, culture and customs were also different from one-another. Their social and economic conditions were also different. Their economic activities co-insisted of hunting, forest produce collection and jhum (slash and burning) cultivation. There are more than 400 tribes in India. During the British rule, these communities dwelling mostly in forests and on hills were largely isolated.
Their traditions, culture and lifestyle were entirely different from their non-tribal neighbours. Except Northeast, between both these neighbours, social, economic, political and cultural exchanges had been taking place since time immemorial.
problems for them but at the same time their isolation was being diminished and they were being made a part of administration of the British as well as of local estates. Moneylenders,traders, middlemen and low-ranked government officials began to grab tribal-land. These people put an end to their traditional lifestyle. They became victims of loans and thus lost their land to outsiders.
As a result, they became landless labourers, share-croppers and tenants. Several tribal-communities were compelled to limit themselves on hills. Colonialism also changed their relationship with forests. They were dependent on forests for their food, fodder, fuel and raw materials. Farmers from the plains needed more land for farming. Their hunger for more land destroyed forests. In this way, the means of livelihood of tribals were lost. The British administration kept large parts of forests as reserved area so that they can exploit it commercially. Jhum-cultivation was stopped to a large extent and collection and use of forest-produce were prohibited.
Loss of land, burden of loan, ban on collection of forestproduce and exploitation by middlemen, police and forestofficials caused many tribal uprisings during 19th and 20th centuries. As a consequence, tribals began to participate in farmer and national movements.
After independence, the PM of India, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and the Congress Party were of the opinion that a comprehensive policy should be prepared to unify tribals with the people belonging to rest of the country without causing any harm to their social and cultural heritage. Pandit Nehru himself has written, “The first problem in tribal areas is to instil confidence and realisation into them about their unification with Indian people. Have to make them feel that they are an integral part of India and they owe honour here. For them, India should not only a country which provides security but a power also for their liberation.” Nehruji realised that Indian nationalism had the required capacity for providing a distinguished place to tribal-communities.
Now the question was What sort of approach should be outlined in order to provide them proper respect in Indian society and politics. There were mainly two kinds of viewpoints. The first was they should be left as and where they led their lives so that they might not be affected by the ills of the outside world. The other opinion illustrated that they should be inter-mingled in Indian society as quickly as possible. There should not be any repentance at the disappearance of tribal culture. On the other hand, it should be welcomed as it will certainly be a symbol of their overall development.
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru rejected both these viewpoints. He was determined to make them an integral part of India without destroying their indigenous culture. All the top leaders of the Congress Party were agreed to the Nehruvian outlook. It consisted of two ideas the tribal areas should be developed and this development should not merely be based
on an imitation of the model for rest of India. They should themselves adopt the good things slowly and steadily. Apart from this, the much needed changes should be determined by the tribal-communities themselves.
Blending of these two contradictory approaches was a challenge as without doing any harm to their fundamental values of life, they had to be made an integral part of social, economic and political system of our country. Nehruji firmly believed in overall development of tribal-communities. Communication, modern medical facilities, farming and education sectors were among his priorities. In this context, he laid down some directives for government policies.
Under the leadership of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and the top leaders, the Congress government adopted some specific policies for the development of tribal-communities. The first was to let them pursue development according to their wisdom and consciousness. External pressure or force should not be applied. The non-tribal people should not approach them thinking that they were superior to them. They should ensure that tribals must contribute for the rise of social and political life of our country. The second directive was to honour tribal-rights on land and forests and their land should be safeguarded against grabbing by outsiders. The third was to encourage languages of tribal communities. Those circumstances should also be protected which were necessary for their proper development.
The fifth directive was that tribals should be less administered and they should be governed by social, cultural and community based institutions as far as possible. Under the leadership of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, all these policy initiatives were based on principles which had been adopted by national movement since 1920 as an approach towards tribals. By this time, Gandhiji started establishing Ashrams in tribal areas and encouraged tribals to do constructive works. Going by the Nehruvian model, the state governments took several steps one after another to ensure development of tribals along with safeguarding their social, cultural and political autonomy.
Under the leadership of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the Congress government added a provision in the constitution. Under article 46, the state governments were directed that there must be some special provisions to encourage economic and educational development of tribal-communities and to protect them from exploitations of every kind and social injustice. Governors were specially empowered to protect tribal-interests and if necessary to amend central and state laws according
to local requirements. They were also empowered to lay down directives to protect the rights of tribals and to safeguard them against the exploitations of moneylenders, middlemen and outsiders. Keeping this aim in mind, procedural amendments were made for the implementations of fundamental rights.
During the making of our constitution, the Congress Party provided equal rights to every citizen of India. Additionally, provisions were made for the reservations of seats in legislature and in administrative services for schedule tribes in line with that of schedule castes. For the welfare of tribals, the provision for a Tribal Advisory Council in every state was also made. The President of India appointed a commissioner for SCs and STs so that a close eye can be kept whether laws meant for their protection were being violated?
The state governments ensured legal and administrative initiatives so that their land-transfers to outsiders be stopped and their exploitations by money-lenders come to an end. The central as well as state governments formulated special programmes for the development of tribal areas. Efforts were made to generate employment opportunities through rural and cottage industries. Large funds were allocated for these programmes and especially after 1971; there has been a continuous increase in allocated funds meant for the welfare schemes of tribal areas.
Overall, it can be said that after 1947, through the directives of the central governments, many positive outcomes have taken place in tribal areas. These directives included statutory provisions, Panchayati Raj system, rise in literacy, schemes of ST welfare departments, reservations in government jobs and The fourth directive was related with the idea that the responsibility of administration should be given to tribalcommunities.
The administrators should be selected among them and they should be trained. Less and less outsiders should be sent as administrators as far as possible and if necessary they should be selected with great caution. Their approach should be prudent and sympathetic. They should not consider themselves as different or superior. They should try to mingle with tribals for which they were working.
in higher educational institutions etc. Elections also played an important role. Tribals were awakened, their confidence was fortified and their political engagements increased. They kept on demanding more and more active participation
in political system. They continued to get more and more representations in various political structures and at the same time kept on demanding more and more share in national economic development.
But in the context of tribal-communities, the situation of the north-eastern states was somewhat distinct and hence challenging. These people belonging to more than 100 communities mostly resided on hills. Though their situation was not entirely different from tribalcommunities belonging to rest of India, but one thing was very clear they were majority in these states. Nontribals didn’t hold high positions but a sort of economic relationship was in the process of making between tribals
In the latter part of 19th century, these states came under the British rule. These areas were parts of Assam but they got distinct administrative status. Their social and economic structures were not disturbed and there was a ban on outsiders belonging to plains to settle here. The British government allowed and encouraged Missionaries to work in these areas. These missionaries while establishing schools, hospitals and churches also did religious conversions. In the process, a large number
of youths came to know the modern world and developed modern outlook. Missionaries maintained continuous cooperation with the British government and tried hard to keep these areas out of influence of the national movement. They encouraged maintaining a safe distance from the people belonging to rest of India. When India got freedom, some of these missionaries and some foreigners conspired to blow separatist emotions into flames in north-east India.
The third important thing was almost no direct impact of political and cultural life of the rest of India upon tribal communities of the north-eastern states. The struggle against imperialism was the most important factor for the making India as a nation. But even this struggle had little impact on north-eastern states. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was a great visionary. He knew very well that the interaction of the people of north-eastern states was limited to only the British officials and missionaries who kept on pursuing tribals to go against India. On account of this, tribals never needed to be closely associated with India or its freedom struggle and other movements. In these circumstances, the unification of these states with the newly-constituted nation was very challenging. The policy adopted by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and the Congress government towards these tribal communities was more relevant in the context of north-east India. In October 1952, Pandit Nehru observed, “The whole north-eastern region demands our attention. It needs the attention not only of the government but of all the people of India also. Our close ties with them would benefit both. It would strengthen power, diversity and cultural richness of India.”
The policy of Pandit Nehru and the Congress party was reflected in the sixth schedule of the constitution which is applicable only to the tribal areas of Assam. District and regional councils were constituted and it provided selfgovernance to a large extent to tribal-communities. In some matters relaxations were provided to these councils from the provisions of the constitution and Assam legislature. The aim of the sixth schedule was to enable tribal-communities to lead their lives as they wish. Besides, the Indian government was ready to amend the provisions if tribal-communities needed more autonomy. But Pandit Nehru emphatically clarified that the government will not accept the sedition or making of an independent state under any circumstances and will not tolerate any such demand.
Since independence, the aim of the subsequent Congress governments in the context of tribal-administration was to give them more power. Arrangements were made to ensure that the tribals would not be displaced from their land. Due to an increase in population, other means of livelihood had to be developed. The Congress governments followed the policy laid down under Nehruvian model. The Congress governments invested heavily in northeastern states; for the overall development and for creating employment opportunities.
Pandit Nehru implemented his north-east policy first in North East Frontier Agency (NEFA). The frontier part of Assam was made a union-territory in 1948 and was kept under a special administration. The administration was handed over to a specially-trained cadre having expertise in implementing developmental schemes without making any disturbance in the social and cultural life of the common people.
The policies adopted by Pandit Nehru and the Congress government succeeded so much in NEFA that a British scholar of indigenous communities wrote in 1967, “A progressive administration with sympathetic and visionary policies succeeded in creating such a healthy environment which is unparalleled in India.” In 1987, NEFA was made a separate state and was named Arunachal Pradesh. It was a contribution of the Congress Party. On one hand, NEFA was progressing in line with India, some problems crept in the tribal areas of Assam where people living on hills had no affinity the Bengalis or the people living in rest of Assam. The top leadership understood this intricate but practical thing. Finally in 1969, through a constitutional amendment, “a state within a state” was constituted and was named Meghalaya. The new state was given autonomy in every respect except law and order which remained with Assam.
Assam and Meghalaya had High Court, Public Service Commission and Governor in common. Later, when northeastern states were being reconstituted in 1972, Meghalaya was made a separate state which included Garo, Khasi and Jayantia communities. Manipur and Tripura were also made separate states. In this way, the process of making Meghalaya, Manipur, Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh as separate states was completed smoothly. Some problems surfaced in Mizoram and Nagaland. Violent protests which were separatist in nature threatened the process but the Congress government put forward a solution and at last in 1963, Nagaland came into existence. In the same manner, the government of India
accepted the demand of a separate Mizoram state in 1973. It was granted full-statehood only in 1987.
The Congress government addressed the separatist movements of Nagaland and Mizoram very effectively. In accordance with Nehruvian tribal policy, the subsequent Congress governments proposed many concessions and facilities. Tribals were given the freedom to follow their traditions, customs and above all land-laws. The approach of top leaders of the Congress party and the Congress government was very sympathetic towards the interests of tribal-communities. Consistent efforts were made by
the Congress party to give them ample representation in Indian democracy. The Congress party was of the opinion that the poor and the exploited should be brought into the mainstream of society.
The Congress government initiated several welfare schemes like “Tribal Sub Plan”, “Tribal Special Plan” meant for tribalcommunities. The central government allocated special funds for these programmes. The Congress government established “Tribal Cooperative Marketing Development Federation” in 1987. The aim was to save tribals from traders and middlemen. The government proposed to purchase agricultural and forest produce directly from tribal-communities. In 1980, National Forest Policy and Forest Conservation Act were reviewed. It was found that tribals are dependent upon forests, so clean drinking water and medical facilities should be provided in their own vicinity. If tribal-communities would have to be displaced, proper arrangements should be made for their rehabilitation. On the whole, it can be said that it is a milestone what the Congress government, its leaders and the Congress Party have successfully contributed in bringing the tribal-communities into the mainstream of our society.