By Vineeta Chawla:
8.10 percent of the nation’s total population (about 835.80 lakh), according to the 2001 census, is what constitutes the tribal population of India. This population lives in concentrations in various parts of the country, some of them being Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Rajasthan and Maharashtra and it is this very population that has been facing discrimination since long.
Tribal people have always been there in our country yet most of the people here are unaware of their existence or are simply ignorant towards their existence and their customs. The surprising thing is that Indian tribals are not backward — as many of us might assume; instead their beliefs and thinking resembles the city people. There is no system of dowry, no caste division, even divorce and widow remarriage are socially accepted among them. They are an exemplary society when it comes to social practices yet they live a life of poverty and discrimination.
Even before the British took over our country, the tribal population were looked upon as wild, barbaric and unruly. Then they were treated as untouchables and this practice still exists in many parts of our country. Independence in 1947 did not bring about any difference in their lives. Instead, because of absence of any monetary funds, these people had to leave their native places in search for work which led to the loss of their rich heritage. Many of these places today are converted into holiday destinations and resorts by contractors who are driving out the tribals and taking away their resources. Those people that have escaped such fates and still continue to makeÂ artifacts, like masks, paintings, wood cutting, getÂ meagerÂ prices for their products even though the artifacts are generally sold for large sums of money as most of it is pocketed by the middle-men. The state of the tribal people in the city is even worse; they live as daily-wage earners and endure hardships all their lives. This neglect on the part of the nation for a fraction of its population is the reason of uprisings such as Naxalism.
A recent incident in this light took place in Maharashtra, when nearly 1,960 tribals were imprisoned for demanding ration cards. They had been asking for a ration card and the implementation of the Forest Rights Act to help them claim the land they had been tilling. People from 28 villages from the Nandurbar district had gone to the collector’s office on December 13 and submitted a charter of demands. But they failed to get an assurance from the authorities; hence they staged a demonstration outside the collector’s office for two days. The tribals were protesting peacefully till the collector called up the police and got the whole group arrested. They were then produced before the court where all of them were sent to judicial custody for 7 days despite the fact that many of them were women.
Many such incidents exist where the tribal people are mistreated by the government and the corporate sector (for example, the whole Vedanta issue). It can easily be seen that in our country the tribal are discriminated against but we forget that by doing this we not only lose rich heritage and skills that have no parallel in the world but also the knowledge of how to live peacefully with nature, the way these people have been living for many centuries.
Don’t you think this is too much to lose?