Tribal travails

Published : Sep 21, 2012 00:00 IST

A useful analytical framework to study the deprivation and development of Adivasis in the larger Indian context.

THE selection of papers in this volume, presented at the International Seminar on Adivasi/Scheduled Tribe Communities in India: Development and Change in August 2009, captures diverse facets of the predicament of Adivasis today. As stated by the editors, development is invariably a form of change, but not all forms of change can be termed development. There are forms of change that lead to deprivation and dispossession, which leave communities at a lower level of well-being than before. In the language of social exclusion, this is a process of adverse inclusion with negative results compared even with the state of exclusion.

Then there is relative deprivation compared with absolute deprivation arising out of growing inequality during a period of rapid economic growth. The editors argue that a discussion on well-being and deprivation and change in the condition of Adivasis necessarily calls for a relational analysis. The Adivasi regions are excluded for provision of services, but they are not excluded for extraction of minerals or exploitation of water resources for electricity generation and irrigation.

Thus, exclusion and the remoteness that is supposed to result from exclusion are not absolutes, nor do they exist for all purposes. As pointed out by the editors in their introductory overview, the tribal areas are not remote for electricity generation, but they are remote for electricity provision. Thus, where exclusion of Adivasi regions has been overcome, it has been in order to extract resources. In the process, Adivasis are being displaced and subjected to adverse incorporation as the lowest rung of the urban poor. In the majority of Adivasi areas, change brought about by development has represented movement from exclusion to adverse incorporation.

The papers in the volume deal with many facets of Adivasi deprivation and development. The inaugural address by Dr M. Hamid Ansari, the Vice-President of India, referred to the multiple deprivations of Adivasis and their very low Human Development Index (HDI) resulting from the loss of land and habitats and from the fragmentation of homelands due to dams, mines and industry. This is absolute deprivation as a result of adverse inclusion. There is also the relative deprivation resulting from lack of opportunities social exclusion from the processes and benefits of growth in the rest of the population.

In his examination of government policies and programmes for tribal development in independent India, Virginius Xaxa situates the problem of Adivasi development in the relational context of the larger political economy of the country and its regions. He identifies appropriation of resources and alienation of tribal land as crucial to the development problems of Adivasis.

Development and displacement

Despite post-Independence India having aimed at both integrating the tribes into Indian society while also protecting and safeguarding their distinct social and cultural identity, the nature of the development pursued in tribal areas has consisted of expropriating the tribal people of their land, forest and other resources in the name of national and regional development. Instead of enabling them to enjoy the fruits of development, tribal people have largely been deprived of their livelihoods and left without any alternative avenues of employment and food security.

The most important impact of such development has been the drastic change in the relationship of tribal communities with the natural environment, that is, land, forest, minerals and other resources.

A.K. Nongkynrihs chapter examining the government promotion of broom grass cultivation in Meghalaya highlights the unacknowledged and un-understood ecological and social impacts of top-down economic interventions. While the better off are earning higher cash incomes from the sale of broom grass and have also become bigger landlords, the return on investment to the poor is minimal, with many of them becoming landless owing to increasing privatisation of community lands. The quality of land has deteriorated, as have water resources and forests.

Violation of rights

Alex Ekkas chapter discusses the violation of human rights by the sheer scale of Adivasi displacement in Jharkhand in the name of development. According to conservative estimates, about 8 per cent of the total landmass of the region has been acquired for development projects, the largest chunk of which consisted of constitutionally protected private Adivasi land. Instead of showing greater sensitivity to Adivasis relationship with their land, the creation of Jharkhand has only made things worse; the State government has signed as many as 74 memorandums of understanding with industries promising them large chunks of Adivasi lands without either seeking the Adivasis consent or even consulting them as required under the Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act of 1996. Even the mandatory notifications under Section 4 and 6 of the Land Acquisition Act are often kept secret from the public.

Bhangya Bhukiyas chapter traces another type of adverse inclusion resulting from state collusion in the displacement of Adivasis from their lands by non-Adivasis in West Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh. Highlighting the duplicity in the stated intentions of the state and its practices, he points out the problems faced by Adivasis while approaching the courts because of the absence of title deeds and the phenomenal costs of court proceedings.

The exclusion is not only external but also internal, and this aspect is discussed in Rosemary Dzuvichus chapter. Her discussion on women in Naga society should be an eye-opener for those with the misconception that women in the north-eastern region of India have a better status than their counterparts in the rest of the country. Under Naga customary law, women have no land, property or inheritance rights, and women who are divorced are denied maintenance rights. On the death of a male with no heir, the property and lands are inherited by the nearest male relatives and not by the wife or daughters.

The sex ratio in Nagalands Zunheboto district is 909 and in Mon district it is a shocking 881, close to that in Punjab and Haryana. However, education, other dynamics of change and increasing assertion by women are leading to changes such as political representation of women in some institutions. Malabika Das Guptas chapter deals with the growth of internal differentiation in the Mog tribe of Tripura, leading to an increase in landless labourers within the community.

Breaking ties with land

Four chapters discuss the outcome of exclusion among Adivasis. Maitreyi Bordia Das, Soumya Kapoor and Denis Nikitin focus on child mortality. The authors point out that contrary to conventional analysis, it is not poverty status as such but tribal status that explains the high level of child mortality among the tribal people.

Meena Radhakrishnas chapter highlights the impact of forest policies on primitive tribal groups. They are deprived of nutritional resources and this leads to starvation among the hunter-gatherers. Amita Shah discusses the high level of poverty in the Koraput region of Odisha, arguing that the dynamics of forest and development need to be understood better.

Anvita Abbis chapter draws attention to tribal societies being storehouses of information about ecological and cultural diversity which, in turn, is transmitted through language. Neglect of tribal languages is leading to the loss of transmission of cultural beliefs, values, knowledge and behaviour in relation to the environment. Arguing that this is a sure process of decimation of these societies, she suggests an approach to impart education to tribal children in a multilingual setting.

Brigitte Leduc and Dhrupad Choudharys chapter discusses the poor understanding of indigenous peoples management of forests, land and natural resources and the negative impacts of government policies aimed at replacing shifting cultivation with settled cultivation. This is leading to the privatisation of community lands, thereby reducing poor peoples access to land for cultivation and thus the loss of the rich agro-biodiversity, nurtured by local communities over centuries.

Govind Kelkar draws attention to the greater vulnerability of women to climate change and advocates gender equality and womens participation in climate change-related decision-making. Phrang Roy argues that indigenous people are the historical custodians of most of the biological and cultural diversity existing in the world today. Yet, their histories have been stories of suffering and betrayal. Roys and Kelkars chapters point to a double exclusion being at work: of indigenous people and of women among them from climate change policies.

The last five chapters examine the possibilities beyond exclusion and adverse inclusion. One of these chapters summarises the strong plea for more democratic and inclusive development by representatives of the community who attended the conference. Tenurial security with regard to land and forests, equal access to various services, and representation and voice in policy-making and project design were all seen by them as important for the development of Adivasis.

The volume provides a useful analytical framework for studying the deprivation and development of Adivasis in India in relation to the larger context and should be of interest to students, scholars of development studies, administrators and policymakers alike.

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