According to Article 342 of the Constitution, the Scheduled Tribes are the tribes or tribal communities or part of or groups within these tribes and tribal communities which have been declared as such by the President through a public notification.
The Scheduled Tribes account 8.2 percent of the country’s population. Scheduled Tribes are spread across the country mainly in forest and hilly regions (2001 census). The essential characteristics of these communities are
- Primitive Traits
- Geographical isolation
- Distinct culture
- Shy of contact with community at large
- Employed mostly in primary sector
- High levels of poverty and illiteracy, low nutritional levels.
The Constitution incorporates several provisions for the promotion of educational and economic interest of Scheduled Tribes and their protection from social injustice and all forms of exploitation.
Before independence, tribals had a history of common ownership of land, forest resources and the produce. Economic autarchy. Inequality in tribals societies was not as striking as non-tribal caste societies. Slowly, non-tribals started to settle on tribals land, and when British rule made land a saleable property vast amount of land was passed into non-tribal hands. Classes emerged among tribals. They were declared encroachers on the very same land that they had lived on for centuries. This dispossession from land and restriction of control over forest during colonial era pushed tribals into labor market. By the beginning of 20 th century they were pushed into plantation sector and newly coming industries in Bengal, Assam and Bihar. They mostly did low or unskilled jobs getting very little economic compensation as they had little access to modern education.
After independence numerous measures were taken to ensure tribal development. To ensure spread of education, medical facilities, bringing them into mainstream society. Broadly divided into three categories 1) Mobilizational 2) Protective 3)Developmental
Worldwide experience of modern development process often leading to conflict and destruction of tribal lifestyle was kept in mind, and a slow process directed by Panchsheel principle was to be adopted.
Tribal interests and welfare often was at loggerheads with imperatives of national development . Development was seen as a important tool to bring tribals into societal mainstream.However, infrastructure, industries, dams, mines etc . were accorded proority over tribal interest. Mineral and forest resources were exploited. Much of India’s mineral and forest wealth lay in tribal areas, leading to an inevitable conflict. Historically, Tribals have always been in a continuous process of integration with ever larger economies.
- The Developmental policies drastically altered the relationship of tribes with natural environment and resources.
- Changed the pattern and methods of ownership and usage.
- Land and forest most exploited, fundamentally altering the tribal way of life.
- Land made a saleable private property.
- Unscrupulous methods used. Modern communication and transport technologies hastened the process.
- High migrations and uprooting.
- The dissatisfied tribals now turn to Naxalites.
- Depletion of forest resources.
- Furthermore, developmental projects have seen large scale immigration of people from outside, in search of employment, thus distorting demographics.
- Often tribals become minorities in their own traditional living areas.
- Sometimes it has also lead to oppression of indigenous populations.
- The benefits of large scale expansion of industries and infrastructure, never reaches these tribals .
- Employment opportunities are denied to them.
- Overall development of tribal areas has had a deleterious effect on tribals. They are increasingly subjected to oppression and exploitation.
- This has contributed to rise of Naxalite movements .
- The above policies have also led to environmental destruction.
It is now recognized that development would be more effective if it is in line with traditional values of tribals. Development without or at minimal cost to ecology and environment. Tribes are now seen as ‘alternate’ in which a solution lies. Realization that conservation is not possible without participation of rural and tribal communities.
There is need to recognize the failure of governance, understand the basic reasons and to have political will to institutionalize alternative policies. To give people and communities the right to say ‘no’ to a developmental project.