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What Can India Do To Bring Tribal Communities Into The Mainstream?

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India has the largest population of tribal people in the world, approximately 104.54 million. However, they are amongst the most marginalised groups in society even after more than 70 years of independence. The National Family Health Survey 2015-16 indicates that 45.9% of scheduled tribe members are in the lowest wealth bracket. It is worth noting that 92% of Adivasis live in rural areas and face numerous problems like loss of control over natural resources, lack of education, displacement and rehabilitation, lack of health and nutrition, gender issues, erosion of identity and many more.

Dayamani Barla, a tribal journalist from Jharkhand, provides a beautiful perspective from a tribal viewpoint that “for us tribals, the forest is sacrosanct. It is where we are born and nurtured, and our culture and identity is shaped. The tribal is connected to the forest with an umbilical cord”. Even the National Advisory Council of India has observed that particularly vulnerable tribal groups (PVTGs) are losing customary habitats and livelihood resources because of the lack of recognition of their rights. It is leading to, as NAC observed, “hunger/starvation, malnutrition and ill health and erosion of traditional occupations, which is threatening their very survival and some of them are even on the verge of extinction”.

In addition to these existing problems, an Expert Group Report to Planning Commission assessed that the extremist affected tribal areas suffer from the deficient development and unaddressed grievances of the people. Moreover, the report argues that “the scale, intensity and approach of security operations cause considerable collateral damage leading to greater alienation of common people” especially in Naxal affected districts. The Mungekar Committee Report, submitted in 2012, states that “a knee-jerk sort of response with police action cannot be the right approach to tackle a complex problem arising out of socio-economic exclusion and the control of outsiders over natural resources”. The Bhuria Commission Report has observed that lakhs of tribal families have been categorised as “encroachers” on their own land without considering their hold over the land for many generations. It needs to be acknowledged that the forest land is the primary source of livelihood for them and taking away their lands arbitrarily goes against the spirit of Article 21 of the Constitution of India which provide right to life and liberty of citizen, as has been interpreted by the Supreme Court of India. These above-cited reports are an indication of the some of the problems faced by the tribal inhabitants of India. They have shown just the tip of the iceberg; the prevalent problems and issues runs deeper than we can imagine.

Some of the below-mentioned suggestions can help to deal with discrimination against tribal communities and in providing them with the rights they truly deserve.

Soni Sori, a teacher and tribal rights activist, with founder of the Narmada Bachao Andolan movement, Medha Patkar. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Attitudinal Change

Soni Sori, a tribal activist, has been awarded Front Line Defenders Award of 2018 for her immense struggle to bring justice for Adivasi people in Chhattisgarh. Representing the tribal voice, she speaks of the plight of tribal communities, saying “we belong to jungles and when we go there, we are being killed. Even when we sleep, we are picked up from our homes in the night, killed and then declared as a part of Naxal movement. We are not free. We don’t feel any Aazadi even today”. The suspicious attitude of the police towards tribal people disconnects them from the administration. Moreover, people belonging to tribal backgrounds are seen as backward by society due to their customary habits and beliefs. In such a context, there is a need to bring positive changes at the societal, regional, and national level towards tribal communities as they deserve special priorities for their welfare and upliftment. Besides institutional measures, attitudinal change in society as well as among the police is needed to bring discrimination-free environment and further integration of the tribal community in the mainstream.

Tribal Administrative Service

According to prominent tribal leader Shibu Soren, the basic issues of the tribals since Independence have remained the same till now- water, forests, and land. There is a need to introspect upon the efforts made by the Indian government for the tribal areas of our country. The National Commission for Scheduled Tribes argued that officers and staff are generally reluctant to get posted in tribal areas on account of their lack of housing, and medical and educational facilities, in addition to rampant political interference. The Mungekar Committee has recommended the formulation of a Tribal Administrative Service under the Ministry of Tribal Affairs to select enthusiastic and committed officers for the development of tribal areas. If this recommendation is implemented, it can transform the lives of the tribal people of India.

Adivasi farmers with fish in their cage. Photo by Sakil, 2009. Image Source: WorldFish/Flickr.

Traditional Wisdom To Employment

On the issue of displacement, former Jharkhand Chief Minister Arjun Munda remarked that the government needs to understand the ground reality and should not displace tribal people from their lands without winning their trust and convincing them. However, the government also needs to respect their decision to say no to the developmental projects at the cost of their displacement and plight. Inclusive development of India cannot take place without the contribution of inhabitants of tribal areas. In fact, tribal communities have a vital legacy of knowledge about traditional medicinal system. Their traditional wisdom and practical knowledge of the usage of herbal medicines can become a source of livelihood for tribal groups if the government supports them. The production of indigenous medicines can also assist the Indian economy to prosper in harmony with tribal communities and further mainstreaming of the tribal communities.

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)

Due to an overburdened judiciary, numerous cases are pending in courts all over the country, often defying the dictum that “justice delayed is justice denied”. In this context, an ADR mechanism can prove to be effective as it uses a neutral third party to communicate, discuss, and resolve the differences in a time-bound manner. It is cost-effective, efficient, and mutually beneficial for both the parties involved in a dispute. Moreover, as a large number of the tribal communities have remained out of the ambit of the mainstream Indian justice delivery system, statutory recognition can be given to tribal courts. It will enable tribal communities to codify their customs and would be included under the tribal courts’ institutional framework.

Specially Designed Education System

Prof. Achyuta Samanta, founder of the Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences (KISS) in Bhubaneswar, has been running a fully residential tribal institute without charging a fee from the students. He argues that besides inadequate enabling infrastructure, other things like language, food, clothing, and healthcare also become a barrier for tribal students to avail education. It is worth noting that tribal people live in an entirely different atmosphere in comparison to the urban areas. Therefore, there is a need to design the school curriculum which not only acknowledges but also appreciates tribal culture and traditions. There is a need to devise a mechanism which can be of interest to tribal students so that they can relate to the curriculum, which in turn can increase their prospects of employment and life in mainstream society.

Adivasi woman. Image Source: /Flickr.

Improvement In Healthcare

There are many factors responsible for the poor health of inhabitants of tribal areas ranging from insanitary conditions, ignorance, lack of health education to the poor access to healthcare facilities. The health workforce in India’s tribal areas is inadequate, demotivated, ill-equipped, and without leadership. Health personnel consider a posting in tribal areas as a punishment. Therefore, there is a need to make postings in tribal areas more lucrative by using monetary and non-monetary incentives. Traditional healers can be sensitised as well as trained to “deliver simple interventions like ORS for diarrhoea and anti-malarials as well as to refer patients to the Primary Health Centres in a timely manner”. Moreover, interested school graduates (both boys and girls) can be trained as community health workers, which can resolve the complaints regarding insensitive, dismissive and discriminatory behaviour by non-tribal health care personnel.

As India is aspiring to become a developed country, it needs to rethink and redefine its definition of development to incorporate the discourse of inclusive development. This necessarily includes the welfare of marginalised tribal society as well. Tribal discontent is widening the trust deficit between the tribal communities and the government. Therefore, genuine demands and issues need to be taken in account while framing and implementing policies for the tribal areas of India. Additionally, tribal communities need to be empowered socially, educationally, and financially, so that they can make their own path to make a better, smiling India.

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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