A Vision for Adivasis

By Gladson Dungdung

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‘Adivasis’ literally means aboriginal, first settlers, or the original dwellers, or the indigenous folks of the land[1]. The term ‘Adivasi’ was highly popularised by the Adivasi scholar Jaipal Singh Munda during the Jharkhand statehood Movement[2]. Undoubtedly, Adivasis are the Indigenous Peoples of India[3]. In the Indian Constitution, they are classified as the Scheduled Tribes (ST), and guaranteed certain special rights and privileges under the fifth & sixth schedules, Part XVI and Article 46 of the Constitution[4]. There are 705 individual Adivasi ethnic groups notified as the Scheduled Tribes in 30 States and Union Territories[5]. However, several Adivasi ethnic groups are yet to be notified, in that case the percentage of the Adivasi population would certainly go up, which will have direct impact in the demography and politics of the country.

Unfortunately, the Indian Government had repeatedly declined about the existence of Adivasis as the Indigenous Peoples of India in front of the United Nations’ Working Group on Indigenous Populations, nevertheless, on September 13, 2007 the Indian State became party to the United Nations declaration on the rights of Indigenous Peoples, which was of course, the first official admission of the Adivasis as India’s Indigenous Peoples. Finally, it was legitimatized by the Apex Court of India on January 5, 2011, while hearing on an appeal (the special leave petition (Cr) No. 10367 of 2010 Kailas & others Vs State of Maharashtra), the Court said that the tribal people (Scheduled Tribes or Adivasis) are the descendants of the original inhabitants of India and as a group one of the most marginalized and vulnerable communities in India[6]. However, the India Government has failed to take adequate measures to protect their rights.

According to the census 2011, the Adivasis are 8.6 percent[7] of India’s total population, which is 104 million. About 85 percent of them live in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhatisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand and West Bengal. About 12 percent live in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Manipur and Tripura and the rest 3 percent live in other states[8].  The sex ratio for the overall population is 940 females per 1000 males, whereas the sex ratio of Adivasi community is 990 females per thousand males[9], manifests the status of gender based equality in the community, which is much better than the Indian society despite having more of or less the same kind of patriarchal social order. The economic liberalisation, globalization and privatization have created terrible impact in social fabric, economy, politics, culture and idea of community development. The self-dependent community has been almost compelled to become Government dependent due to various factors rising out of wrong governmental policies.

This paper is an attempt to understand and visualize a conclusive and achievable vision for the Adivasi community, based on an analysis of historical facts and the present day context. The vision would comprise of short term and long term goals, to be achieved jointly by the communities in democratic and participatory ways.

Historical facts and Present Context

The Adivasis have been living in or around the forests with the rhythm akin to nature and thus their life cycle moves round nature. They do not merely depend on the natural resources for their livelihood, but their sole identity, culture, autonomy, conscience, tradition, ethos and existence are based on it[10]. The Government’s data suggests that 89.9 percent of them still live in the rural areas, and merely 10.1 percent[11] of them have shifted to urban centers. An Adivasi legend Dr. Ramdayal Munda describes the true characters of the Adivasi community as ‘casteless, classless, based on equality, community based economic system, co-existence with the nature, consent based self-rule, dignity and autonomy.[12] Regrettably, these inherent characteristics of the community are rapidly disappearing.

The Adivasi economy could be termed as need based or community centric, with hardly any consideration shown in profit making endeavours.[13]. The rural market was more a place for sharing commodities than selling goods to gain profit. Most of the goods were produced by the community, for instance, oil from seeds, broom, mat, edibles, agricultural equipment, etc. Modernisation with all its positive impacts, on one side, has become detrimental to Adivasi community by imposing on it the profit based economic system and thus all the ills of market dominant economy. Thus, the Adivasis who produced to exchange goods for goods in the rural markets have been strangled by the profit based rural markets limiting them almost as consumers.

Historically, in the ancient period, the Adivasis possessed undisputed ownership rights over the natural resources and they judiciously used these resources for their existence[14]. Consequently, they enjoyed autonomy, peace and prosperity. The situation rapidly changed with the Aryan invasion and turned worse during the British rule in India. On the one hand, the Aryans destroyed the Adivasi civilization, denied them their indigenous identity and did not accept them as fellow human beings, and the Britishers, on the other hand, used violence against the innocent Adivasis for grabbing their land, territory and resources and even listed few of them as criminal tribes.

The British introduced a centrally organized administration, a judiciary and a police system. They also introduced the concept of private property as opposed to the traditional notion of collective usufructuary rights of the community. The communal resources were considered as the ‘eminent’ domain and taken over. Thus, forests and other individually unclaimed fallow lands were declared as the property of the state.[15]Gradually, the government enacted various policies, which induced the marginalization of the Adivasis. They were deprived from the natural resources merely for the government’s revenue yielding measures. The “Adivasi economy and identity” was destroyed by imposing revenue on land and duties on the forest produces.

It is a historical fact to be known that almost one hundred years before India’s first recorded independence struggle of 1857, the Adivasis had revolted against the British colonial rule. This is the community that has a history of struggle for more than three centuries. At the very outset, the community resisted to be ruled over by outsiders.  They had been freedom loving people and they valued their freedom to govern and to live as a community. To cite few examples, the Paharia uprising of 1772, the Kol uprising of 1832, Bhumij movement of 1832-33, the Santal Hul of 1855, etc. are against the imposition of the idea of State on them. The community could not comprehend the concept of paying taxes for lands and forest produces because they were fully aware that everything was from the bounty of nature. Nevertheless, the British government forced levy and taxes on them.

Unfortunately, even after Indian independence the status quo remains the same. The Indian rulers were not different from the Britishers when it concerned the monopoly over natural resources. The vested interests, the methods of oppression and the basic ideology remain the same.[16] The Adivasis’ rights over the natural resources were snatched away through various legislations in the name of national interest, economic growth and development. The data suggests that ‘from 1951 to 2004, over 37 million people were displaced in the name of development in India. 26 million were forcibly displaced due to dams and canals construction alone. The Government accepts a national figure of over 50 million arising from ‘development-related-displacement’.[17] Perhaps, only 25 percent people were rehabilitated in some way and 75 percent were completely left out who are still waiting for rehabilitation. [18]

At the same time, there has been a huge illegal land alienation in the community despite having special legislation for safeguarding their land. According to the Annual report of the Ministry of Rural Development (Government of India) 60,464 cases regarding 85,777.22 acres of illegal transfer of land were registered till 2001-2002[19]. Out of these 34,608 cases of 46,797.36 acres of land were considered for hearing and rest 25,856 cases related to 38,979.86 acres of land were dismissed. But after the hearing, merely 21,445 cases regarding 29,829.7 acres of lands were given possession to the original holders and rest remains with the non-Adivasis. Furthermore, 2,608 cases of illegal land transfer were registered in 2003-2004, 2,657 cases in 2004-2005, 3,230 cases in 2005-2006, 3789 cases in 2006-2007 and 5382 cases in 2007-2008[20], which clearly indicates that the cases of illegal land alienation is increasing rapidly.

However, the India’s war for natural resources continues even today in the name of cleansing the CPI-Maoist.[21] This has resulted in gross violation of civil and political rights of the Adivasis. The cases of brutal killing, molestation, rape, torture and falsely implications of innocent Adivasi men, women, girls, boys and children are countless. At a very rough and minimum estimate, from 2001 to 2016, 2,000 innocent villagers have been murdered by security forces – 1,000 in Chhattisgarh, 700 in Jharkhand and 300 in Odisha.  Similarly, at least 2,000 Adivasi girls and women have been sexually abused by men wearing government uniforms – 1,500 women in Chhattisgarh, 300 in Jharkhand and 200 in Odisha. According to various reports, Adivasis form the vast majority of 27,000 arrested as ‘Maoists’ and ‘encroachers on government land’ in these three States, under various laws, including UAPA, POTA, Arms Act, Explosions Act, 17 CLA Act and Forest Conservation Act 1980 – 17,000 in Chhattisgarh, 8,000 in Jharkhand and 2,000 in Odisha. Ironically, the Indian State regularly denies to take action against the perpetrators despite several commissions reports have exposed the naked truth.

The Adivasi community seems to be the most vulnerable and politically voiceless though there has been political participation in terms of number as there are 47 members in the Indian Parliament and more than 500 members in the Legislative Assemblies of several States, who were elected from the reserved constituencies to represent the Adivasi community. However, these representatives are either voiceless or under the burden of party politics. They are highly obelized to the political party they represent. Consequently, the Adivasi issues are not raised in the corridors of power. It seems clear that the community suffers from leadership vacuum. Most of the Gram Sabhas and other traditional bodies are also under the clutch of the political parties. The community does not possess political power in the real sense due to lack of the politicisation of the community.

The colonial concept of civilisation, and the Indian idea of mainstreaming and inclusion, has resulted in alienation of Adivasis from their land, territory, resources, identity, culture, languages and ethos. The invasion of different communities in different periods in Adivasis’ territories, and civilization and mainstreaming processes carried out by the colonial masters, and later, by the Indian government, after portraying the Adivasis as uncivilized, most backward, sub-human and so on, resulted in their cultural alienation. For instance, the Munda’s started writing their surname as ‘Singh’ and started wearing white thread similar like Brahmins to show their superiority among the Adivasi ethnic groups. They attempted to portray their group as much pure as Brahmis and attached them by writing Singh instead of Munda.

Similarly, the Kherwar and Chero used ‘Singh’ as their surname to associate themselves with the Rajput. However, later, they realized it as a blunder, and made corrections to some extent. But by and large, the cultural alienation has continued. The Adivasis have alienated themselves from Adivasi identity by not writing their surname in public places, changing their food habits, altering their life style, making a shift from community life to individual life, and from community based economy to market economy. Adivasis had inscribed their name in golden letters in national hockey. Today, their representation is dwindling in games and sports especially in hockey, which was their strength. Children tend to imitate cricketers and are seen playing cricket instead of hockey and football inside the forest to cite an example.

The constitutional provision of reservation, modern education system and mainstreaming processes, created a middle class in the Adivasi community, which took the path of huge cultural alienation. This middle class started adopting most of the cultural practices of the modern Indian society. For instance, individualism is placed above community, discrimination is created on the basis of ethnic groups in the line of caste, colour, status, race and gender etc. The community is also alienated from land, territory and resources. The idea of Adivasi development has taken backseat. The traditional health system, education system and the idea of rural infrastructure creation through community cooperation are slowly disappearing. The worst is that the modern day health facilities, educational endeavours and rural development programs have failed to enhance the life of Adivasis.

The status of education and health of Adivasis community is the worst among the lot in the country. On 1st April 2010, the Indian Government enforced the children’s right to free education through the Right to Education (RTE) Act. According to the Census 2011, the literacy rate is 59 percent, with 68.5 percent male and 56.9 percent[22] female literacy rate. The quality education is a far dream in the Government run schools. The children of Naxal affected states are trapped in violence, highly knowledgeable about the latest weapons – AK-47s, SLRs, and various other kinds of gun, pistol, bomb and landmine, which the security forces and Naxals use to target each other. But they hardly know anything from their text books. The students of class 7 were unable to read the text books of class 5 properly, nor could they even solve mathematical problems of class 3[23]. The government run schools have become food serving centres and the teachers are busy with various government programs with hardly any time to teach leading to a high increase in dropout rates from class eight to ten that is almost a staggering 70 percent.

The status of Adivasi children and women is pathetic. According to the Government data, the Neonatal mortality rate is 39.9, post-neonatal rate is 22.3, infant mortality rate is 62.1, child mortality rate is 35.8 and under five mortality rate is 95.7 in per 1000 live birth of Adivasi children[24]. This is higher than the national average of NNMR 39, PNNR 18, IMR 57, CMR 18.4, and UFR 74.3 subsequently. The Adivasi women and children are suffering from anemia and malnourishment. For instance, 85% of women and 80% of children of West Singhbhum distict of Jharkhand are anemic, and 64.3% children aged below five are underweight.[25] The availability of the health infrastructure in the Adivasis’ regions is another area of serious concern. If we see the all India data, 27,958 Health Sub-Centres (HSCs) are operational, against the requirement of 31,257, and the shortfall is 6,796, which is a huge number. Similarly, 3,957 Primary Health Centres are functional against the requirement of 4,674, and shortfall is 1,267. In terms of the Community Health Centers (CHCs), 998 are operational against the requirement of 1,156, making a shortfall of 309 (see Table 2). This data exposes the non-seriousness of the Government(s) on the issue of Adivasis’ health.

In the above situation and circumstances, the Adivasis community needs to envisage its future for next five decades or for a century. The vision could comprise of five major aspects – social transformation, economic prosperity, political empowerment, cultural revival and community centric development. The vision could be realised by the active participation of the community, the sound use of democratic institutions and constitutional and legal provisions.

  1. Social Transformation

The majority of the Adivasis, from impoverished to the well-off, living under the stigma of being the part of Adivasi community, which has been fixed as the most backward, uncivilised, illiterate, unconscious, barbarian, sub-human and wild, resulted in the loss of confidence, mental slavery, dependency, multiple alienation and breakdown of the social fabric. It happened because the Adivasi philosophy was neither scripted nor propagated though it is one of the best philosophies in India. At the same time, the dehumanisation processes continued. The Adivasi community is in much better position comparing to the Indian society in several aspects, which were never highlighted instead the so-called mainstreaming processes were carried out by the Government(s) as well as non-government organisations especially the right wings fundamentalist forces, who intend to bury the Adivasi identity.

The social transformation should take place in the Adivasi community on the basis of its philosophy. The doctrine comprises of co-existence and symbiotic relationship with the nature, community life, liberty, equality, justice, rights, inclusive development, need based economic system, consent based democracy and fraternity (caring and sharing). Coexistence with nature is the top of Adivasi philosophy. Adivasis live with nature and and care its wellbeing. The concept of ‘exploitation’ has no place in Adivasi philosophy, therefore, they do not exploit the natural resources but use it to meet their daily needs while caring for nature. Adivasi philosophy will also address the ecological crisis, the world is facing today because of the their environmental friendly attitude and dealings. Liberty is a rich human value, and it is one of the pillars of any form of colonisation. Therefore, concepts of development needs to be aligned with the liberty.

Equality is another pillar of the Adivasi philosophy. There are two parts in equality – i) general equality and ii) gender based equality. The Indian social structure is largely based on caste, race and gender based inequality whereas there is no such concept of inequality in Adivasi philosophy. A poor person and a person from a well-off family can work together in the agriculture field, share a meal, dance holding each other’s hands, drink rice beer and attend social functions in each other families. Similarly, there is no such gender based discrimination, therefore, both boys and girls are treated equally. The happy consequence is that female foeticide and dowry based torture and killing are unheard of among the Adivasis. However, the processes of mainstreaming has diluted this rich disposition by incorporating the concept of discrimination within tribal ethnic groups on the basis of caste, race and gender, which is turning out to be detrimental to the Adivasi community. Therefore, the lofty concept of equality needs to be brought back into  practice through the Gram Sabhas and other traditional institutions.

There is no such concept of competition in the Adivasi philosophy rather it encourages cooperation, caring and sharing, which results in inclusive growth and development. The community does not care only for the protection of the rights of human beings but the entrain rights of animals are also taken care with required diligence. For instance, a hunting dog is given equal share of the prey and the Adivasis do not consume milk to protect the right to food of the calf. Besides, the consent based democracy and need based economic system facilitate the Adivasi community to maintain its coexistence with nature. Thus, the Adivasis do not indulge in the evil of manipulation and exploitive practices as they hold cooperation as the mantra of their life.

The justice delivery is part of the Adivasi philosophy. However, it has been suppressed by the introduction of the modern judiciary. The Indian State has officially accepted through the Forest Rights Act 2006 that historical injustice has been inflicted on the Adivasis. But the injustice has been continuing in the same pace even today. The modern judiciary system has totally failed in justice delivery to the Adivasi community precisely because the judiciary is under the clutch of the people from the dominant class as well as the fact that the Adivasis do not have the resources to fight a case. Justice is very costly and not affordable. Within the given context, the Adivasi community has to be educated to settle all its issues, as far as possible,  in the community itself through the Traditional judiciary system cultivating a broader perspective drawn from the customary, legal and constitutional framework. An empowerment process has to be seriously initiated to empower the people on constitutional rights and the functions of the legal system in the country. Most importantly, the educated youth have to aspire and compete to participate in the Indian judiciary and legal practices.

Although the traditional judiciary system of Adivasis, which is known for delivering overnight justice, also faced heavy criticisms and was defamed as the kangaroo court for adopting illegal and unconstitutional punishment to culprits in some stray cases but the overall picture has been bright as it has done tremendous work in delivering fair justice to the Adivasis within matter of weeks in very nominal cost in cases related to land conflict, family dispute, marriage problems, cattle related dispute, etc. For instance, Parha Raja Simon Oraon of Bero block located in Ranchi district of Jharkhand is one such example, where justice is delivered to the villagers within three weeks. The Adivasis of seven villages under his jurisdiction, do not go to court for any dispute. The traditional system needs to be aligned with the Gram Sabhas under the traditional self-governance system. The enforcement of the traditional judiciary system will also have positive impact in the Adivasi economy and building up the fraternity.

The Adivasi community needs to get rid of two major social evils – witch hunting and alcoholism. Both have heavily damaged the community. (repetition)  Though, happily the community maintains gender equality, the witch killing has marred its image in its attitude towards poor women deemed witches. For instance, approximately 1500 Adivasi women were brutally killed in Jharkhand between 2001 to 2016 holding them witches. Witch hunting is a serious gender based violence in Adivasi community where women are abused, tortured and killed. Most of the victims are either widows or old women, who are really helpless. The Adivasi community has to resolve to get rid of witch hunting through dialogue and critical awareness.

The excess use of alcohol is another social evil, which has heavily blocked the progress of Adivasi community. Many women have been widowed because of the excessive consumption of alcoholism by married men. Families have been broken and the lives of children have been put at stake.  The ill has affected the Adivasi youth too to the extent of  destroying their carrier Needless to say that rice bear is part of Adivasi culture, which is offered to the deity as well as the ancestors during festivals, religious rituals and social events. However, under the cultural tag, the local and branded liquors have comfortably entered into Adivasi community resulting in accidental deaths, abuses, killings, wife battering and alienation from land. Therefore, there is a thrust need to curb alcoholism, which could be done by having a series of open dialogues in the Gram Sabhas and other traditional local bodies. Since the Gram Sabha is authorized under the PESA Act 1996 to prohibit the use of alcohol and have control over the local markets, Gram Sabhas need to be strengthened. The Adivasi community should have a vision to rebuild it on the basis of its philosophy. The doctrine teaches about liberty, equality, fraternity, respect for all, live with nature, time bound and sound justice and need based economy.

  1. Economic prosperity

The biggest economic challenge for the Adivasi community is to protect the ‘need based economic system’ or ‘community economy’ from the organized attack of the market economy. There has been constant attempt to submerge everything into the market economy, which has resulted in the centralisation of the economy in the hands of few people. Therefore, instead of handing over the economic resources to the private business entities under the government’s recent well legitimatized ‘cashless economy’, the community needs to enhance its traditional ways of cooperation, caring and sharing of goods and services by keeping the concept of ‘profit’ away from the community and market, which will bring sustainability, equity and equal economic prosperity. At the same time, the rural markets need to be maintained as a place of sharing goods and services, which presently have become highly profit making centres. Instead of ‘cashless economy’ the community could play a big role in promoting ‘community economy’, which can address everyone’s needs and the emerging ecological crisis as well.

The community needs to have control over the village economy through the Gram Sabha, precisely, because the village economy is fully controlled by the outside business class people, resulting in migration and trafficking of the Adivasi youths. Therefore, the Adivasis need to take up the micro entrepreneurship as a challenge, which will facilitate in gaining back the control on village economy in the long run. At the same time, the community should produce and manufacture necessary goods to meet its needs instead of fully depending on the market for everything, and that is quite possible as the community has a long legacy of production and manufacturing to meet its needs.

It is known fact that the Adivasi economy is based on agriculture and forest. 90 percent population still depend on agriculture, forestry and animal husbandry. However, the lack of irrigation facility, technical support and investment, the economy seems to be more or less stagnant. Therefore, the investment, technical support and availability of irrigation facility can make a huge difference. For instance, in Jharkhand; 90 mega Dams, 400 medium Dams and 11,878 smalls Dams are available but the water doesn’t reach to the agriculture fields of Adivasis rather the water has been provided to the steel and mining industries. If the water of these Dams are channelized to the farms through canal and lift irrigation facilities, there would be production of multi-crops. Similarly, the value addition on the forest produces would strengthen the Adivasi economy. The community should be given complete ownership on the forest resources.  The Agriculture, fishery, horticulture, animal husbandry and forestry need to be aliened and converted into small scale industries through cooperatives, which will enhance the village economy.

The Tribal Sub-Plan (TSP) could play a big role in stabilising the Adivasi economy. Government of India should ensure the allocation of 8.6 percent budget under the TSP from the central budget per annum as per the Constitutional provision under the Article 275. This fund needs to be spent on human resource development programmes, village development projects, welfare schemes and economic activities (animal husbandry, traditional poultry, farming, horticulture and micro entrepreneurship). The non-utilisation, diversion and misuse of TSP funds are reasons for halting economic activities. The TSP should have a strong monitoring system with involvement of the community. The most thrust need is the transformation of the Adivasi population from the State’s burden into human resources, which could be done by maximum unitisation of the TSP fund in imparting higher education, technical knowledge and entrepreneurship skills to Adivasi Youths. This will create new opportunities towards economic prosperity.

Mining and industry are other vital areas where the paradigm shift is the need of the hour. The major minerals and other natural resources are located in the Adivasi regions of the country, resulting in heavy mining and industrialisation. Unfortunately, the Adivasi population is still deprived of the basic needs. They  hardly get any benefit from industrialisation processes. Therefore, the ‘shareholder’ should be added in the present practice of compensation and rehabilitation packages. The project affected Adivasis should be made shareholders in the mining projects or industries along with compensation and rehabilitation packages, which will guarantee them livelihood possibilities from generation to generation. There would be a flow of economy into Adivasi villages, which will enhance their standard of living, health, education, nutrition, etc.

Tourism could be another area of economic activity. Since, the Adivasi regions are full of touristic hotspots with numerous waterfalls, natural sceneries, lovely lanndscapes and rising and falling hills, tourists could be easily attracted into the region, which, in turn, will create new economic opportunities. The Central and State Governments should provide the basic infrastructures like approach roads, communication facilities, enhancing the spot along with availing drinking water and sanitation facilities. The Gram Sabha should be given ownership of these spots and the members be trained in the art of tourism. Gram Sabha will collect the entry fee from the tourists and also provide them the basic facility and security. The Gram Sabha can pay 10 to 15% revenue to the State, 50% on staffs and rest could go to the Gram Sabha’s fund.  This will create new job opportunities for the Adivasis and also strengthen the village economy.

  1. Political empowerment

Politics decides the future of any nation, society and community today. However, the Adivasi community is not able to influence Indian politics for multiple reasons. There permeates the culture of silence in the community and a slavery mind set among the Adivasi political leaders. Therefore, they are not able to use the democratic institutions to the advantage of the Adivasi communities. The politicisation of the Adivasi community has not yet happened in a systematic way. For instance, there have been endless mass resistances against displacement across the Adivasi regions in the country, there were also police firing and brutalities on the public protests, but whenever there is election of local bodies, Legislative Assemblies or Parliament, the Adivasis cast their votes in favour of those political parties, whose economic policies alienate them from land, forests and other natural resources. The majority of the Adivasi population becomes the traditional voters of any political party instead of replacing them from the power on the basis of their performance, policies and programmes. Jaipal Singh Munda had brought the Adivasi politics to the centre stage, but later, he was trapped. Thus, the status quo remains the same. Therefore, the culture of silence needs to be converted into the culture of critical questioning rising out of awareness and education, sharing information and imparting analytical skill. The politicisation of the Adivasi community will bring about the necessary change in the community.

The reestablishment of self-rule through the strengthening of Gram Sabha is another critical area to work. The Gram Sabha is said to be the most powerful body in the democratic system, which has been legitimatized through various legislations like PESA 1996, Forest Rights Act 2006 and Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act 2013. However, in most of the villages, the Gram Sabhas have either become the political party centric institutions or the Government scheme delivery centres. The Gram Sabhas are unable to play a decisive role for the community. The common Adivasis do not really practice their power due to lack of information, legal knowledge and authoritarian attitude. Consequently, the political parties, corporate houses, NGOs, Extremist Groups and other vested interest groups have gained control over the Gram Sabhas. The people of each village need to be given critical awareness about the role, power and authority of the Gram Sabhas. If the Gram Sabhas are strengthened, the major issues like land alienation, corporate resource grab, trafficking, migration, etc. could easily be curbed.

Historically, the Adivasis had their own system of governance, which was free from the police system. The traditional system of Governance still exists among several ethnic groups. For instance, there is Manjhi-Pargana system among the Santhals, Manki-Munda system among the Munda Adivasis, Doklo-Sohor system among Kharias and Parha system among the Oraon Adivasis. Though majority of them respect their traditional system of Governance the imposition of the so-called modern democratic system has played down the importance of the traditional one. The voting system has overshadowed ‘consent’, which was real democracy, where everyone had a say in the decision making process. Presently, the traditional system of Governance is restricted to social affairs and its political role has been curtailed. Consequently, the political leaders are riding over the traditional system of governance to secure their vote banks and also having control on the community. This needs to be reversed. The community should have control over politics through the traditional system of Governance. It should play a vital role in selecting effective political representatives for the local bodies, Legislative Assemblies and Parliament.

The political leadership building is another core area of intervention. Needless to say that there is a complete lack of the vocal, critical, analytical, inspirational and trustworthy political leaders in the community. It is a big problem that 104 million Adivasis have no credible voice in the Indian Parliament despite having 47 political representatives. The major problem is that there is lack of perspective, lack of deep knowledge on issues and lack of skills to influence the power of corridor. There is also lack of research team and intellectual support to these representatives. Thus, the Adivasi issues are not raised in the corridor of power. The Adivasi community needs to build credible leadership, create an intellectual support group to the political leadership and create a centre, where political leadership could be trained.

The political unity is another thrust area that needs intervention. Although the Adivasis can play a decisive role in the regional politics in several states, which can have a direct impact in the National politics of India but due to multiple divisions, they have totally failed. There are clear divisions on the basis of ethnicity, religion and region as well. However, the division on the ground of religion has damaged the political unity of the community. The right wing Hindutva forces have harvested on the division in different parts of the country. The RSS and its allies have convinced sections of Adivasis that the Christian Adivasis are their main enemy. Consequently, they are engaged in religious conflicts and their votes are largely divided between mainline parties. This division has resulted in land alienation, corporate land grab, police brutalities, race based atrocities and what not? There is a thrust need of political unity among the Adivasis, which could be on the basis of the identity of being an Adivasi irrespective of religious beliefs and expressions.

The enforcement of the constitutional provisions, laws and policies need serious attention. There have been adequate provisions for the Adivasis in the Indian Constitution but due to lack of enforcement, they have not got the benefit. For instance, provisions of fifth and sixth schedule, reservation, Article 46, Article 275, Article 19(1)(5). Similarly, there are several laws like PESA 1996, SC/ST PoA 1989, Forest Act 2006, Land Laws, etc. but the fact is the Adivasis have been alienated from their lands, territories and resources. There are also policies like Rehabilitation & Resettlement policy, Domicile policy but the Adivasis do not get the benefits of these policies. Therefore, the Government(s) have to ensure that the constitutional provisions, laws and policies are enforced at the ground. At the same time, there is also need to introduce Adivasi centric laws, policies and programmes.

However, the prime long-term political vision of the Adivasi community should be the establishment of autonomy in governance within Adivasi traditions, self-determination and self-rule. It has been proved that since, formation of the India State, the Adivasis have been alienated from their lands, territories and resources forcefully by the use of guns, laws and policies. There has also been several policy level talks on the issues of their rights and justice but actually, no such strong attempt has been taken to change the status quo. The President of India and the Governors of the states were made the custodians of Adivasis through the Constitutional provisions, and the district collectors or deputy commissioners were made watchdog of their land through various legislations but these legal authorities totally have failed in protecting Adivasis’ rights. This clearly implies that the State has totally failed in protecting the rights of Adivasis and also in justice delivery. Therefore, the only way to protect the Adivasis rights is by acquiring autonomy, self-determination and self-rule in the Adivasis’ territories within the constitutional setup of Indian union.

  1. Cultural revival

The cultural alienation is one of the major areas that needs quick intervention. The cultural alienation could be seen in the alienation of Adivasis from their community life, identity, languages, religion and sports, etc. The cultural alienation is the result of a well thought out design of alienation, imposed on the community on the basis of the best vs worst, pure vs impure and civilized vs wild. Whatever the Adivasi community possesses is tagged with negative terms like worst, impure and wild, which resulted in their alienation. It has been thrust in their minds that they are worst, impure and wild therefore, they need to join the processes of mainstreaming to become a human being. The cultural alienation could be contained by cultural revolution, which could be done by the propagation of the Adivasi philosophy, which will make them to understand the actual meaning of being Adivasis. The Adivasi philosophy should be scripted as literature in different Adivasi ethnic groups and in other regional languages, which will create pride in the hearts and minds of the Adivasis. The stigma needs to be transformed into pride, which could be done through social events, mass conferences and discussions, etc. However, the Gram Sabhas should be the centres for the cultural revolution, which can reach to each and every family.

The first cultural alienation could be seen in the change of life style. Community living is the foundation of the Adivasi community but it has rapidly changed into individualism. Now the community centric activities have been shifted into individual centric, adopted from the so-called mainstream of the Indian society. The community centric activities need to be promoted even in the towns and cities. The community should be critically made aware about the impact of market economy, which is forcing them to adopt the individual centric life style. The Adivasi co-existence with nature needs to be brought back.

The second major alienation that is taking place is in the area of Adivasi identity. The majority of Adivasis see their Adivasi identity as a stigma therefore, they attempt to hide their identity by not writing their surnames. For instance, the majority of Adivasi youth mostly the girls using Facebook do not expose their surname to hide their Adivasi identity. The Adivasi women have started writing their surname like ‘Devi’ similar to the Hindu women. There are several Adivasi ethnic groups like Kharwar, Gond, Chero, etc. use ‘Kumar’ for boy and ‘Kumari’ for girl instead of using their surname. The Adivasis need to be made aware about the issue of identity. They must be told about the importance of their identity and its link with nature.

Third alienation could be seen in the alienation from traditional food. The food habit has also changed very fast. The Adivasi foods like cereals, double boiled rice, food item made of rice are called as food of the backward classes. Therefore, majority of the Adivasis have changed their food habits. For instance, the Chinese food items are served in marriage and other social functions instead of traditional food made of rice, sugarcane, sugar, etc. The city-dwellers Adivasi children do not want to eat the traditional food for its black colour rather they prefer to eat the white colour food items. The racial discrimination has impacted deep alienation in the minds of Adivasi children. The food habits could be restored by propagation of its importance, availability of nutrition in addressing several diseases. For instance, there are several herbs and cereals, which are used as vegetables and other food items, which are medicinal for blood pressure, diabetics etc.

Fourth area of cultural alienation is Adivasi languages, which are disappearing rapidly. Several ethnic groups have lost their mother tongues and adopted Hindi, Bhojpuri, Oria, Bangla and other languages as their mother tongue. At the same time, the city-dweller Adivasis especially youth and children do not know their languages because their parents didn’t teach them deliberately to get rid of the stigma of being Adivasis. They promoted their children to learn Hindi, English and other regional languages instead. The language could be made alive only by using it. The Adivasi children should adopt three tier languages – mother tongue, Hindi as national language and English as the global language. This could be done through the traditional community learning centres and educational institutions. They can learn their mother tongue at the traditional centres and Hindi and English in educational institutions. Children should also be inspired towards creative writings like poem, stories, articles in their own languages, which could be published in local magazines and journals, etc.

Fifth major area is game and sports. Hockey, the national game of India used to be the integral part of the Adivasi community. Jaipal Singh Munda was the first Indian captain, whose team won the Gold in Olympic. Among 9 gold medals India has won in the Olympic, 8 medals go to hockey. However, cricket has taken over the fields of hockey, football and other local sports. The youth needs to be made aware about the importance of local games and sport, which can also provide them job opportunities. The community should organize annual games and sports festivals at the block, district and state levels.

  1. Community centric development:

The idea of inclusive development is part of the Adivasi philosophy. The Adivasi community follow the development model derived from nature, where all the living beings have equal space and opportunity for growth. There is no such space for competition, leading to inclusive growth. Therefore, the community centric development is much easier to promote.  The focus should be on the development of basic infrastructures like construction of good houses, linking villages with proper roads, availability of well managed health centres and properly administered primary school in every village, availability of electricity, pure drinking water and sanitation facilities in every village. This could be done by the use of TSP fund with community cooperation and its involvement in planning, implementation and monitoring of the rural infrastructure building. However, the community ownership needs to be put in place, which will facilitate in taking care and repairing of the rural infrastructure.

Besides, the rural infrastructure creation, quality services need to be provided in the villages especially in education and health services. Presently, there is lack of quality in the elementary education, the education centres have become food serving centres. Similarly, the health centres are defunct. The teachers, nurses and doctors are paid without providing quality services to the villages. This needs to be changed with community involvement, making available quality teachers and making the medical staffs accountable. The Gram Sabha should be given authority for ensuring quality health and education services.


Although the Adivasis are the first settlers or indigenous peoples of India, who have the history of more than three centuries of resistance against the imposition of the idea of State, alienation from lands, territories and recourses, and imposition of western concept of development, have been struggling for survival. The invasion of different communities in their territories, pushed them to the margins. They were alienated from their lands, territories, resources, identity and culture. Therefore, the Adivasi community needs to envisage its future by designing both short and long term goals. The democratic institutions, constitutional provisions and laws could be used to realise the short term vision where the community needs to play front role by activating and involving its traditional institutions.

However, in the long term vision, there must be social, economic, political, cultural and developmental transformation in the Adivasi community. The community must regain its lost lands, territories and resources, where it should enforce the idea of self-determination, self-reliant and self-rule being the part of the Indian union. The vision of the community must be guided by its philosophy.

[1] Dungdung, Gladson. 2013. Whose Country is it Anyway? Kolkata : Adivaani.

[2] Munda, R.D. & Mullick,S.B. 2003. The Jharkhand Movement. New Delhi: IWGIA & BIRSA

[3] Ibid.

[4] Constitution of India published by the Ministry of Law and Justice (Government of India) in 2007.

[5] Statistical profile of Scheduled Tribes in India 2013. Ministry of Tribal Affairs (Govt. of India).

[6] The Supreme Court order on the SLP (Cr) No. 10367 of 2010 Kailas & others Vs State of Maharashtra.

[7] Census Report 2011 published by the Government of India.

[8] Statistical profile of Scheduled Tribes in India 2013. Ministry of Tribal Affairs (Govt. of India).

[9] Ibid.

[10] Dungdung, Gladson. 2016. Adivasi aur Vanadhikar. New Delhi: Prithvi Prakashan.

[11] Statistical profile of Scheduled Tribes in India 2013. Ministry of Tribal Affairs (Govt. of India).

[12] Dungdung, Gladson. 2016. Adivasi aur Vanadhikar. New Delhi: Prithvi Prakashan.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Dungdung, Gladson. 2013. Whose Country is it Anyway? Kolkata : Adivaani.

[15] Munda, R.D. & Mullick,S.B. 2003. The Jharkhand Movement. New Delhi: IWGIA & BIRSA

[16] Anjum, Arvind & Manthan, 2002. Displacement and Rehabilitation. Pune: NCAS.

[17] Jharkhand Journal of Development and Management Studies vol. 2, December 2004.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Annual Report 2002-03, Ministry of Rural Development (Govt. of India).

[20] Dungdung, Gladson. 2013. Whose Country is it anyway? Kolkata: Adivaani.

[21] Dungdung, Gladson. 2015. Mission Saranda: A War for Natural Resources in India. Ranchi: Deshaj Prakashan.

[22] Statistical profile of Scheduled Tribes in India 2013. Ministry of Tribal Affairs (Govt. of India).

[23] Dungdung, Gladson. 2015. Mission Saranda: A War for Natural Resources in India. Ranchi: Deshaj Prakashan.

[24] Statistical profile of Scheduled Tribes in India 2013. Ministry of Tribal Affairs (Govt. of India).

[25] ‘BJP has ruled Jharkhand for much of its 14-year existence but has delivered precious little’, Scroll.in

Categories: Research Paper


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