Post Independent India: Examining Tribal Issues

Tribal issues in India is a very important topic for the UPSC civil services exam. It figures in multiple subjects including polity and governance, social issues, history, economy, internal security, etc. Hence, it is important to cover this topic thoroughly for the IAS exam. It has repercussions on the national identity of India and is frequently seen in the news in some form or the other. This article talks about the post-independence issues faced in this area.

Post Independence, India adopted the policy of integrating the tribals with respect to their personal development such as education, sanitation, health, women’s upliftment. At the same time, it was never an agenda to integrate them in the mainstream which hampers or destroys their distinct culture. In this respect North East Frontier Agency (NEFA) was created.   It clearly held:  

  1. The protection of tribal land and language
  2. Development of the tribals on their own genus
  3. Participation of tribals in local administration
  4. No over administration in tribal areas

NEFA was first applied in the remotest areas of north east India and in 1987 these areas were known as Arunachal Pradesh. This policy of integration and positive separation of the tribals from the mainstream has resulted into making Arunachal Pradesh as the most peaceful state of the country. However, this could not be applied in other parts of tribal locations as effectively as in Arunachal Pradesh and the effects could be seen till today. Other legislative measures were introduced by the Indian government post independence under the Nehru leadership and vision:

  1. Article 46 of the constitution emphasized the promotion of educational and economic upliftment of the tribal people. At the same time provided for their protection from exploitation.
  2. The application of fundamental rights was amended for providing power to the governor of the states with tribal areas to amend laws for the protection of tribal interests.
  3. Reservation of seats in legislature as well as administration.
  4. Setting up of Tribal Advisory Councils in all states.
  5. Commissioner for scheduled tribes appointed by the President – to investigate whether the safeguards provided to the tribal people are reaching as targeted.

The executive measures that were undertaken were:

  1. Substantial amount was kept in the five year plans.
  2. Promotion of cottage and village industries that helped increase employment.

Approaches to Tribal Problems

North – East: The integration of these tribal areas into the mainstream was difficult in certain ways:  

  1. Difficult topography
  2. Since they got isolated even during the freedom struggle movement, it was difficult to integrate them
  3. The Christian missionaries played a key role in creating anti – national feelings among the people of the north east
  4. In the 1950s, the local Assam government was in the process of preparing a bill to be imposed in the peripheries of Assam to make Assamese language compulsory

The tribal leaders reacted sharply to this ‘Assamisation’ and called for an All Party Hill Leader Conference. The government of India later took some steps in the favour of these tribals:

  1. Autonomy to Garo, Khasi, Jaintia hill tribals (1969). In 1972, these regions were combined into one and given the status of a state ‘Meghlaya’
  2. Other states such as Manipur and Mizoram were also declared as states

The Naga’s declared themselves as a separate country in 1955 under the leadership of A.Z Phizo and also the support of external agents. However, the Indian army took control in 1956 and took control of the situation. Although temporarily handled by the army, the movement could not be rooted away. Hence, the Indian government then decided upon a political stance. It was after the talks with Dr. Imkong Loba Ao, a liberal from Nagaland, that talks started for a solution with Nagaland being a part of India. Hence it was proposed that a new state of Nagaland would be formed and there would be no fear of ‘Assamisation’. This way the issue of Nagaland was resolved and a new state ‘Nagaland’ was formed in 1963. Again in the north east, a similar violent movement had started during the 1950s and the 60s under the leadership of Lal Denga. The government of India again handled the situation diplomatically and created a separate state of Mizoram in 1987 with Lal Denga as the Chief Minister.

Central India: The integration of these tribal areas into the mainstream was difficult in certain ways:

  1. They were economically and educationally very backward as against the tribals of north east
  2. They were living in acute poverty and although being central in terms of geographical location, they were cut off in terms of delivery of goods and services

These were major issues especially in the regions of modern day Jharkhand and Chattisgarh.

Jharkhand: Jaipal Singh started the demand of a separate state of Jharkhand out of Bihar. The tribals of southern Bihar in the Chota Nagpur region such as the Munda, Ho, Santhal were in sizeable number and hence demanded a separate state. For this reason, Jaipal Singh formed a political party in 1950 called the Jharkhand Party. However, not being distinct in terms of language and the fact that language was the basis of reorganization of states then, the States Reorganisation Commission rejected their demand. The demand was revived in 1970 through the formation of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) under the leadership of Shibu Soren. He strengthened the movement by incorporating the poor non-tribals in the demand of a separate statehood. He collaborated with Maoist Communist Centre. Initially a violent movement, it cooled down with the diplomatic stance by the government of India and thus in the year 2000, a separate state of Jharkhand was carved out of the state of Bihar.

Chattisgarh: The areas of Chattisgarh were the most isolated, backward and the most neglected by the Indian Union. It can be said that these areas were run by the communists till the time government reached here. With the passage of time, development in selected spheres did reach the area, but in no way did it benefit the tribals. Rather they lost the traditional rights over their land. This land was now owned by upper caste people and the tribals were left merciless. They now took to arms under the inspirations of ideas of Mao, Karl Marx, Lenin etc. This violent movement is since known as Naxalism. It is so called as it originated in the region of Naxalbari in West Bengal in 1967. The areas under the Naxal control are today referred to as the Red Corridor. The government has been trying to fight this problem and in this regard had started a policy of Salwa Judum. Under this policy, some of the local tribals were given arms to fight against the naxals. However, this policy failed and was also declared as illegal by the Supreme Court. The state of Chattisgarh was also created out of the state of Madhya Pradesh in 2000, but the issue of Naxalism still persists. The problem of Naxalism, as suggested by intellectuals and historians, could be tackled by tackling the land issue as land is the core of the Naxal movement.

Why is the progress so slow?

  1. Weak execution of the programmes and policies
  2. Disconnect between the central and the state governments
  3. Funds allocated are misappropriated or simply do not yield result
  4. The Tribal Advisory Councils have not functioned effectively
  5. Ill-trained administrative personnel
  6. Ignorance of the tribal people regarding the laws of the land leading to their easy exploitation along with the denial of justice
  7. Deforestation, exploitation, loss of land leading to unemployment and curtailment of their traditional right to access the forest
  8. Negation of tribal languages in education has led to slow process of education
  9. Tribal development has been confined to the tribal elite group and hence has not penetrated further

The situation today in the tribal areas indicates the coexistence of both the tribal and the non-tribal population and their common demands of economic and social development as well as justice. It is important to understand the aspirations of the tribal areas with respect to the region as when the region develops, all elements integral to the region inevitably develop. However, care must be taken to ensure the distinctiveness and uniqueness of the tribal people is not infringed upon in the name of development.  

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