Development of Tribal Areas

A Aiyappan

An attempt is made here to show that the slow, piece- meal effort now made to develop tribal areas will not be effective in bridging the gap in progress between tribal and non-tribal communities.

Instead of frittering away scarce resources on fragmentary and ill-planned programmes, concentrated use of funds for large-scale agro-industrial projects, as suggested over fifteen years ago by the Malayappan Committee in Madras and recently for Orissa tribal areas by the National Council of Applied Economic Research may be more useful and productive of good for the tribes and the nation as a whole. Comparative data from other parts of the world show that the arguments of those who suggest that our tribals may not be able to participate in large-scale projects are baseless.

India has a tribal population of about three crores. In other words, out of every 100 Indians, 6.8 are Adibasis. Few other countries of the world have such a large population of tribesmen. The USSR, China and USA have tribal communities, economically and educationally backward in comparison with the rest of their peoples and speaking languages and practicing customs different from those of the majority communities', but in none of these countries are the tribal groups so numerous as in India. There are over two hundred major tribes and more than twice this number of minor tribes distributed in the most inaccessible and wild hill and forest tracts of India. On account of their distinctive ways of life, their general isolation from the currents of our national life and their economic and educational backwardness, these tribes are to be regarded as the weakest of our minorities. While other minorities are nationally organized, vocal and led by effective leaders, the tribal minorities are generally without pressure groups and leaders. (Exception should, of course, be made of tribes that have come under the influence of Christian missions). For this reason, the Adibasis are extremely dependent on the goodwill and sympathy of the majority communities, the Central and State Governments and the welfare agencies. Their future depends very largely on the understanding with which the people at large and the administration approach the tribal question.

In the Political Melting Pot

Some people regard the problem of the Adibasis as one of the many new post-Independence problems. While it is true that far more attention is now being paid to the Adibasis and the Government is now more concerned about their welfare, the British Indian Government were also interested in giving some measure of special protection to the tribal people. In areas where there is a large concentration of tribal population, there were simplified types of administration and there were special laws to protect the tribe’s men from exploitation. This policy of the British was one of insulation; it was also a half-hearted policy, which was first discussed in the open at the time of the Round Table Conference (1934). There are now no special areas and no question of simplified administration except in NEFA. Politically all the tribes have been brought under the general administration to sink or swim with the rest. Except reservation of a few seats in the legislatures and reservation of a certain percentage of Government jobs and scholarships for students there are no special privileges given to them. Politically and administratively, the tribes are now little insulated; they have been more or less thrown into the melting pot of national politics. The Government of India, however, has been keenly aware of the need to protect the tribes from exploitation and of the need for giving special grants for the development of tribal areas. Briefly we might say the present Government's policy is one of gradual integration without radically altering their traditional ways.

In furtherance of the Government's policy of bringing the tribal areas from their present backwardness to the general level of development reached by the progressive areas there is the programme of intensive development in the Tribal Development Blocks for which the Government of India is committed to give special grants.

Widening Gap

The objective of bridging the gap between the tribes and the rest of the population is not possible of achievement at the present slow rate of development. The gap, instead of closing, tends to grow wider and in the handicap race the tribes will be left further behind. My suggestion, therefore, is that we have to anticipate the Fourth or Fifth Five Year Plan developments in agriculture and rural industrialization, and make an earlier beginning of these developments in the tribal areas and thus give them an earlier start.

The National Council of Applied Economic Research has made a suggestion in its Techno-Economic Survey of Orissa that agricultural estates should be started in the predominantly tribal areas of that State where land is available in sufficiently large blocks. The Andhra Government also have their plan for a Rs 10 crore coffee plantation in the Aruku Valley Mechanized farms of the type started with Russian aid in Rajasthan are also worth considering.

I have had informal discussions with the Additional Development Commissioner, Orissa, on the practicability of Agricultural Estates in Koraput district. Since climate, etc., there are not different from those of the Aruku valley where coffee growing experiments have been successful, coffee estates are agriculturally feasible. The Additional Development Commissioner suggested that cash crops such as cashew and potato, rice, and tobacco at the lower levels of the hill slopes and valley can be tried in addition, so that instead of coffee alone we may plan multi-crop agricultural estates. Ways will have to be devised to involve the tribal communities in these large-scale agricultural schemes not merely as laborers, but as partners who, in due course, will run the whole business themselves.

The tribesmen of the western and southern districts of Orissa now grow a number of commercial crops. But they suffer because of exploitation by middlemen, lack of capital, and lack of knowledge of modern ways of increasing output. They have neither credit nor marketing organizations. The middlemen advance credit and buy or rather capture that produce at prices fixed by them.

Both the Elwin Committee on tribal blocks and the Dhebar Commission have made recommendations about the urgent need for credit and marketing corporations to help the tribal. With their primitive methods of production the proposed credit facilities and marketing organizations by themselves will be of little use. Will they get enough from their little holdings to meet the needs of a fuller life? Hence it is essential that plan for modernized agricultural development, that is, agriculture as an industry should be considered for the tribal areas, and this should be done earlier than elsewhere for the reasons already stated.

Unfavorable Stereotypes

When I first made this suggestion in the course of a brief personal discussion with UN Dhebar, he told me that in the new steel towns and in Tatanagar, the Adibasis are engaged only for the most unskilled types of works as they are not considered fit to handle more complicated jobs.

This is a case of giving the unwanted underdog a bad name and hanging it. The recruiting agencies in all these places have not given the Adibasis a chance. I am told there is a Santhal who is now working as a University Professor. That means he was given a chance to prepare himself for such a career. Adibasis work in the Accountant General's Office in Orissa. There are Adibasis in the Indian Administrative Services who are as good as any other government employees. Is not the translation of a tribal youth from his rural home to offices in the State capitals a sudden change? Are they not adapting themselves to the new situation? If the Government were not generous to them and if they had not been given the chance, unsympathetic critics would have continued to say that the Adibasis ore unfit for high Government jobs. Several Konds are employed as skilled workers in the Rayagada Sugar Factory Oraons and Mundas as machine men in the Bonai iron ore quarries and in the Cement Factory at Rajgangpur in Sundergarh district. The Adibasis in Tatanagar, etc have not been given a chance under fair and sympathetic conditions.

In other parts of the world, aboriginal peoples have in recent years undergone rapid transformation from very primitive conditions. Backward Papuans in New Guinea area, far more backward, primitive and isolated than any of our tubes have, during the last few decades made tremendous progress. Prof Fifth of the London School of Economics mentions of a particular Papuan Co-operative society which owns a small ship to import and export goods There are Polynesian tribal estate owners and ship owners If these primitive populations can make good progress, our Adibasis, too, can do likewise, but they should be given the chance, initial help and encouragement.

The old belief that simpler folk cannot make rapid adjustments to change is found to be only partially correct. Many are the cases we know of tribes whom contacts and changes ruined but the circumstances of each case would show that it was not change as such that created disorganization but the failure to re-organize. In her restudy of the Manus people (north of New Guinea) Margaret Mead* has shown how under the dynamic leadership of Paliau, a community of about 4,000 people who lived a generation back at the stone age level gave up its old ways of life and modernized itself on the western patterns acquired by contact with American forces stationed in the area during World War II. Their housing pattern, family pattern, sex relationship and local government were all changed radically in the course of 25 years.

In India itself, the transformation by Christian missionaries of the ways of life of minority communities such as the Khasis, Garos and Nagas did not take long. The changes have been quick and since the cultural traits taken over included English language, Christianity and several western values, the transformation meant also modernization. Individuals as well as groups can and do change without deleterious effects. Both psychological and sociological theories have been veering to this point of view.

In the course of a dozen years, a serf population of Peruvian Indians, living under miserable condition was transformed to a modern community, so progressive as to serve as a model for the whole of Peru. These Vicosinos were able to change and make adjustments because the programmes were goal-directed and guided, deliberately chosen and planned. The scientific resources of Professor Allan Holmberg and his team, and the cooperative spirit of the Peruvian and American technicians and careful organization did the job in spite of initial doubts and suspicions.

Photographs :

References :
Development of Tribal Areas, The Economic Weekly, 12-061965.
A case for intensification of the Development of Tribal Areas". Adibasi (Journal of the Tribal Research Bureau, Bhubaneswar), July 1965: 47-52.