Written by: Ann Maria
India is popularly known as the most diverse country with so many cultures and traditions coming together, making it a culturally rich country, on a macro level, to the outside world, and even to the people in India, according to them, the culture is restricted to the people who live in urban areas, towns, cities or in the villages, but India is more than that, these group of people constitute almost 8.6% of the national population, there are 104 million people from this group, they are none other than the tribal groups, the indigenous people who live in the forests, and who do not come under the textbook definition of civilised people according to a few. The tribal groups of India have a unique culture and separate systems, the largest concentrations of indigenous peoples are found in the seven north-eastern states of India, and the so-called "central tribal belt" that stretches from Rajasthan to West Bengal.
Definitions and Tribes under the constitution
According the Dr.D.N.Majumdar: “A scheduled tribe refers to “a collection of families or groups of families, bearing a common name, members which occupy the same territory, speak the same language, and observe certain taboos regarding marriage, profession or occupation and have developed as well as assessed system of reciprocity and mutuality of obligations”
The term ‘Tribe’ is not defined under the constitution of India, but under Article 336 (25) of the Constitution states that "Scheduled Tribes" or tribal communities or parts of or groups within such tribes or tribal communities as are deemed under article 342 (communities which the Indian President may specify under public notification) to be Scheduled Tribes for the purposes of this Constitution.
The 5th schedule (Article 244) states the provisions as to the administration of the Scheduled areas and tribes, part B of this schedule establishes a Tribal advisory council consisting of not more than twenty members and 3/4ths members to be the representatives of the Scheduled tribes from the legislative assembly from that particular state, while the 6th schedule [Article 244(2) and Article 275 (1)] refers to the provisions as to administration of tribal areas in states of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram. This schedule empowers the tribal areas of the above-mentioned states to have autonomous tribal councils for their administration. Currently there is a demand for a memorandum which is submitted to the Central Government to create an autonomous state within Assam under Article 244 (2) [Sixth schedule].
The distribution of the tribes
The tribal population is divided into three zones, the northern-eastern, central and southern zone respectively.
North-eastern zone: This zone consists of the sub-Himalayan region and the hills and mountain ranges of North-Eastern frontiers of India. The tribals of this zone mostly belong to the Mangoloid race and speal languages belonging to the Tibeto-Chinese family. Tribal groups: Gurung, Limbu, Lepcha, Aka, Mishmi, Mikir. The Central zone: The tribal groups of this zone are scattered over the mountain-belt between the rivers of Narmada and Godawari. Tribal groups: Gonds, Munds, Kandh, Baiga, Bhil, Oraon, Ho. The Southern zone: This zone falls south of the river Krishna. The Tribals of this zone are regarded as the most ancient inhabitants now living in India. Tribal groups: Chenchu, Kota, Kurumba, Toda, Muthuvan
The problems faced by the tribal people
The indigenous people of India have been facing a lot of problems ever since the British had colonized India. The tribal groups have lost their land because of the clearance of the forests, that is, the problem of land alienation. Agriculture has always been the backbone of India, but the Britishers did not allow that and made them produce opium and have very less duties imposed to export these goods, which really exploited the tribal people.
During the present times, even though there are a lot of constitutional safeguards, acts, programmes and policies which are meant to protect the tribal people, it is not satisfactory nor fulfilled. They are still not protected and always exploited either by the government or by the people from the urban areas. Due to big corporate companies, establishment of various MNCs, and industrialization have caused the clearance of forests, which was problematic for the tribal people as the forest were their natural habitats, and it was now gone. The tribal people have a different form of education, they have dormitories, where the tribal children come together and learn how to gather food, and protect their community, so when there was shift of this culture, due to the urbanisation process, it was hard for the people from these communities to cope up with the modern education system, which increased the illiteracy rate of the country. Since the people from the tribal community do not have proper health care access, they do not have proper and basic health and hygiene. The security forces had always violated the rights of these indigenous people, which has been increasing from 2020, including custodial deaths and alleged police torture under police custody. There has been a case where two Indigenous men were killed at Madhuban police station in Giridih district of Jharkhand on 5 September and at Mayakonda police station in Davanagere district of Karnataka on 6 October. The Adivasis in central India were victims of torture and extrajudicial killings during anti-Maoist operations. On 20 March, an Indigenous man was shot dead by the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) during anti-Maoist operation near Kumhardih village in Khunti district of Jharkhand. On 15 June, CRPF personnel allegedly tortured several tribal villagers during an anti-Maoist operation at Anjadbera village in West Singhbhum district of Jharkhand. A fact-finding committee from Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha (JJM) confirmed that 11 tribal villagers were tortured by the CRPF. These people were also tortured by the armed opposition groups, especially the Maoists, they have been brutally killing the people from the tribal community, because they are said to be “police informers”, from abduction to torture and assault, the tribal community have been poor victims under the Maoists simply for not obeying their rules. The government has no record on the number of tribals who are being internally displaced. The government has failed to rehabilitate Indigenous people displaced due to both conflicts and development projects over the years. Thousands of Bru (Reang) tribals continue to live in sub-human conditions in relief camps in Tripura since their displacement from Mizoram due to ethnic conflicts in 1997. The government has signed a triparte agreement with the concerned parties (Tripura, Mizoram and Bru Community) to replace the Bru community in Tripura, but this became violent when the Non-Bengalis of Tripura and the Mizo community came forward and protested against it which also led to a few deaths of the people from the tribal community. The indigenous tribal people were also repressed under the forest laws. According to information available from the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, as of 31 March 2020, a total of 4,251,545 claims had been filed under the FRA of which 41.22% were rejected. Section 4(5) of the FRA specifically states that no member of a forest-dwelling Scheduled Tribe or other traditional forest dwellers shall be evicted or removed from the forest land under their occupation until the recognition and verification procedure is complete. The Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 also provides that the Gram Sabha or the Panchayats at the appropriate level shall be consulted before acquiring land in the Scheduled Areas or implementing development projects and before resettling or rehabilitating persons affected by such projects in the Scheduled Areas. However, the Indigenous Peoples were evicted despite their claims under the FRA being under adjudication. The government continued to evict people in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, where the people were literally struggling for basic needs, such as food, water and clothing, the government evicted these people when they were vulnerable to the pandemic and was struggling to make their ends meet, according to a few sources, forest officials burnt down houses, destroyed standing crops and set fire to food grains leading to pauperisation of the evicted indigenous people’s families. During the pandemic, the tribal people had such a difficult time, if they were migrants they were forced to move to their homelands, which was impossible due to the lockdown restrictions, without proper healthcare facilities and basic necessities, they were basically stranded in the midst of a global pandemic, and government instead of helping them, were evicting them. The situation of the rights of indigenous women and girls only gets worse, in its latest report “Crime in India 2019” published on 1 October 2020, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) of the Government of India stated that 1,133 tribal women were raped in 2019. Indigenous women faced sexual assault from both civilians and the security forces. With no one by their side, these vulnerable groups of people go through horrible dehumanising situations, it is a very horrible reality that no authority is doing anything about it.
As mentioned before there are so many constitutional safeguards, bills and policies protecting the tribal people, but instead of mentioning all of that, there are three major articles, Article 14 (right to equality, and equality before law), Article 15 (Prohibition against discrimination) and Article 21 (Right to personal life and liberty). These indigenous people are human beings just like you and I. They go through so many things, the worst part about is that, they are not able to raise their voice against it, not able to fight and protest against the system. They deserve the rights enlisted in our constitution; they deserve to be treated equally like any other Indian citizen. They have gone through things which is humanely impossible for a person to endure, they have seen all types of dehumanising situations, and it has come to a point where these situations will be the new normal for them. That should never happen! The system, the government, and the people of India, should rise up, raise their voice for the voiceless, and stop violating the basic fundamental rights of these indigenous tribal people.
ISC Sociology - Manjir Gosh
Sociology (Principles of sociology with an introduction to sociological thought) - C.N Shankar Rao