Who are Responsible for the Backwardness of the tribal people?

Lalit Latta Joshua

Introduction Role of Tribal Politicians
Role of Tribal Officials and Employees Role of Tribal Youth
Role of the Common Tribal Suggestions


    India has been home to tribals since time immemorial, and they are naturally considered the original inhabitants of India. Their rich history and culture have given the tribes such as Santhal, Munda, Bhil, Meena, Ho, Gond and others a distinct identity at the national and international level. The tribal areas of Rajasthan have been home to many tribes such as Bhil, Meena, Bhil-Meena, Damor and Garasia since the ancient times. The tribes of Rajasthan have a history full of splendor and valor, and are thus famous for it. The tribal kings established their own kingdoms across the Rajputana. For instance, Dungaria Bhil had Dungarpur, Bansia (Vishna) Bhil had Banswara, Kotia Bhil had Kota, Jetasi Bhil had Abu as their kingdoms, which now constitute districts with these names in modern Rajasthan. Besides, Maharana Pratap, the great Rajputana warrior, had a Bhil warrior as his commander-in-chief, who is still revered by one and all.

    However, the tribal people have been victims of social, economic and religious discrimination and exploitation notwithstanding their rich history. They have been deprived of education, have been socially looked down upon and rejected, have been made to serve as bonded labourers: a fact that has been time and again accepted, officially and unofficially, by politicians, social workers and scholars alike. Jansatta, a Hindi daily, in a news report headlined, “Kendra Anusuchit Jaati-Janjaati ke Liye Vishesh Tantra aur Kanoon Banane ke Paksh Mein” (Centre in Favour of Framing a Special System and Law for Scheduled Castes and Tribes), quoted Meera Kumar, when she was the Union Social Welfare and Empowerment Minister,  as saying that more than 16 crore people in India still suffer from the scourge of untouchability.  Shivraj Patil, as theUnion Home Minister, expressed concern at the discrimination against the scheduled castes and tribes  even after six decades of India’s independence and emphasised on the need of affirmative action to change this. In a similar vein, Hansraj Bharadwaj as the Union Law Minister maintained that the victims of excesses were paid only lip service. He further said that the discrimination against scheduled castes and tribes should be stemmed at the grassroots level. He cautioned us that  if we as a nation failed to change our thinking, these excesses would continue.

    Usually, non-tribals are held responsible for the backwardness, excesses on and exploitation of tribals. There is some truth to this generalization. But then are the non-tribals only to be blamed for tribal backwardness? Actually, if anybody has to be blamed for tribal backwardness it has to be the tribals only. The facts speak for themselves. Take for instanc,e the tribal sub plan area of Rajasthan. As the sarpanch, pradhan, district board chairman, all are, in most of the cases, tribals of this area, so are the MLAs, MPs and tribal ministers who invariably belong to this area. This only shows that they are well represented in governing and legislative bodies, and with a population of about 35 lakh they are not few in number. Yet, the common tribal is still struggling to make both ends meet , and only the tribal politicians, leaders, officials and employees and the youth can be blamed for the backwardness of the tribal society as they together have failed to discharge their responsibility toward their own community. Here, we will explore all this one by one.

Role of Tribal Politicians
    As we all know, tribals face social, economic and religious exploitation and excesses which bring the role of tribal politicians into question because they have failed to tackle these problems by mobilizing the community into a movement. The main reason of this failure on their part is the lack of leadership among the tribal community. In addition, after independence the community panchayats have been usurped by party politics, which has become a bane for the tribal society. The party politics has divided the tribal society into various party ideologies. As a result, most of the tribal leaders are not concrned with development and uplift of the tribal society, rather they only try to only fulfill their political ambitions. Most of the tribal leaders work to mobilize crowds for their party rallies. They seldom work toward solving the problems of the community. Consequently, even after a period of more than six decades since independence, there has been a lack of programmes and schemes to put a planned and special area like the “Adivasi Upyojana Kshetra” (Tribal Sub plan Area) on the path of development for the overall development of the tribal community. Of the 150 most backward districts of the country covered under the Food For Work Programme, three districts of Udaipur, Dungarpur and Banswara belong to Rajasthan where the government has to undertake famine relief programs every year. This only shows that this area has remained still backward because of which many villages lack even basic amenities like drinking water and electricity, there is lack of irrigation facilities, transport and communication facilities. The tribals of these areas may be found wandering in states like Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi to make ends meet. Most of the tribals are unable to benefit from government and non-government run employment schemes for the lack of information and rampant corruption.   

    When some tribal politicians, rising above party politics, dare raise the issues concerning the development of tribals, they are accused of promoting casteism, and their party concerned retaliates by downsizing their political stature and putting checks on them. The threat of denial of tickets for the next elections is the most potent one that makes the tribal leaders helpless. Furthermore, there is no dearth of talented people among tribals, but they get  divided gradually along party lines and social groupings, and they are engaged in pulling down each other and fulfilling their political ambitions. This has only harmed the interests of the tribal society. It has been observed that the tribal leaders from southern Rajasthan have little grip over  the government administration. Lack of education, no influential positions in political parties, lack of awareness about constitutional provisions and rights, lack of information about development programmes and procedures of government departments are some of the reasons for this. The tribal leaders are worried only about their own future and work as 'yes men' of their political masters, to the detriment of the larger interests of the tribal society.

Role of Tribal Officials and Employees

    Tribals living in Rajasthan’s Adivasi Upyojana Area have very low representation in government administration in comparison to non-tribals. They have little representation in Rajasthan Administrative Services. For instance, out of 600 recruitments so far done for tribals in state RAS and RTS, only 15- that is 2.5 percent were recruited from southern Rajasthan, and only 3 tribals have made it to Rajasthan administrative services. The tribals of this region have been found to have not made it to the Indian Administrative Services even after six decades since independence. In other words, there are only a handful of tribal officials and employees from this region and most of them  work under pressure and fear. They never participate in  activities conducted for the prevention of excesses and exploitation perpetrated on tribal society. Keeping in mind that they have to raise their children, they think they would work for their community after they retire from job. This is how the tribal officials and employees have failed in discharging their duty towards their society. But when they smell an opportunity to become MLA and MP, they are seen running around for tickets;  they want to become politicians but not social workers.

    These officials and employees have little interaction with their community members. Most of them have become city dwellers, and they never encourage their children to participate in social and religious activities of their community. Thus, they do not discharge their responsibility towards their community. The tribal officials and employees posted in this area have to face immense pressure from their political masters and have to work under fear as they are transferred by the politicians to serve their party interests and personal ambitions. This fear keeps them from participating in social development activities. They are thus unable to bring awareness among their fellow tribesmen and set an example before the youth. They only bid their time while waiting to complete their service period. But when they retire, it is too late as they are unable to contribute anything substantial towards their community.

Role of Tribal Youth

    Owing to their poor economic condition, most of the tribals send their children to government schools and hostels. Needless to say, the government educational institutions are ill-equipped to provide quality education to the children of the tribals. For instance, they don’t have qualified teachers in enough numbers, lack well-equipped science labs, particularly in rural areas, have no playing grounds, libraries and reading rooms, lack furniture and classrooms. To top it all, students have to face caste discrimination in these institutions that reflects on the results of practical examinations of tribal students. Aware of all these pitfalls of government schools, when the poor tribal families try to get their children good education through missionary schools, some fanatic elements, who have a sway upon the larger society, dub this act as proselytization and create social and political pressure to deprive their children of education, although this is unconstitutional. How many tribal politicians, officials and social workers have turned their attention toward such occurrences? How many of them have ever bothered to visit the schools and hostels set up in rural tribal areas and tried to do something about the various problems that tribal students face there? How many students they have ever bothered to help and guide? But people venturing into this kind of endeavour are few. Further,  such efforts are few and far between. Even those poor tribal students, who try to overcome all difficulties in their studies, focus only on getting a government job, and most of the time their efforts go in vain.

Role of the Common Tribal

    Generally, it can be observed that the socio-economic condition of an ordinary tribal person is so pathetic that all his concerns and efforts focus on making both ends meet, so much so that he is unable to think of his own development, let alone making any effort towards resolving the problems the community is beset with. He simply gives up, and hopes that some leader, some official or holy man will descend and deliver them from their pathetic socio-economic condition. The ordinary tribal has left his fate in the hands of government and God. If somebody perpetrates excesses on them and exploits them, they simply bow down before them. If any tribal youth or leader dares raise his voice against such excesses and exploitation, the ordinary tribals fail to throw their weight behind him, as they are in awe of the socio-economic status of the perpetrator. And if some youth goes to jail for fighting for the dignity of the tribal community or dies for the cause of the tribals, he becomes a part of statistics as his fellow tribesmen, taking such event as something too ordinary to be remembered, forget such sacrifices after a few days. This is one of the biggest faults that lie with the tribal community itself. The Adivasi Upyojana Kshetra is predominantly tribal. People’s representatives are tribals and there are about 1500 NGOs which claim to be working for the tribal cause, yet the tribals have to suffer excesses and exploitation.


The above analysis draws the attention towards important deficiencies of the tribal community which can be removed by the following suggestions:

1. Tribal politicians, officials and employees may have taken advantage of reservations to improve the socio-economic status of their families. But most of them seldom discharge their duty towards the less fortunate fellow tribesmen. Such individuals should be entrusted with special responsibility of contributing towards the socio-economic development of their fellowmen living in poor rural tribal areas. They should be involved especially in educational, health and awareness programs. And if they don’t fulfill their duty toward the community, they should not be allowed to enjoy the benefits of reservation.

2. Owing to the limited resources, the implementation of various schemes designed by the government for the uplift of tribals is an uphill task. As a result of this, the tribals dwelling in poor rural areas are deprived of quality education and health care, thus keeping the tribals backward compared to non-tribals. Various government and non-government studies show that various government schemes meant for the socio-economic development of tribals have failed to reach the intended beneficiaries for lack of adequate staff and resources. The government has now taken an initiative to implement such schemes by involving non-government agencies. But no positive results have emerged from such initiatives. We all know that the missionaries have played a crucial role in providing quality education and health care to the rural poor. It is evident from the socio-economic condition of the tribals of the north-east, including Assam, Nagaland, Meghalya, Tripura, Manipur, etc., and Jharkhand, which is much better than that of other tribals. The tribals of these areas are contributing their mite in a significant way in many countries. It would be advisable to handover tribal development programs in Rajasthan, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh to the missionaries, so that the tribal communities of these states also become aware of their human rights and become equal partners in the socio-economic development along with the non-tribals. No tribal will ever oppose the theory of merit. I also feel that till the tribals avail the benefit of reservation, their abilities will be questioned by the larger society. But if such beneficiaries contribute significantly towards the development of the society and the country, their abilities will be much less questioned. It is, therefore, necessary to make those who are enjoying the fruits of reservation (1) to serve at least for the first five years, after they get a government job, in tribal areas and contribute to the welfare and development of the community, (2) adopt a tribal child to raise and educate him and (3) contribute a certain percentage of their earning to the development work in tribal areas, such as digging of wells, construction of schools and community centres so that it helps the ordinary tribals lead a life with dignity. And they can say with pride, when time comes, that they are discharging their duty towards their community in return for the benefits of reservation that the government has provided them.

3. Party politics has pushed the tribal panchayats to the brink of ruin. The traditional tribal panchayats have historically played a crucial role in tribal society. It is, therefore, necessary to revive and strengthen them, as in their absence it would be difficult for the tribal community to reclaim its pride and rightful place in the society. It is apparent from experience that party politics is not going to resolve the problems that the tribal community is besieged with; had the decisions inspired by party politics been beneficial, the tribals would have not been still living in pathetic condition. If any tribal receives lathis in the movements and rallies held for tribal dignity and resolution of tribal society’s socio-economic problems, is jailed and takes bullets, such person should be revered by the community. We should raise monuments in the honour of such martyrs of the tribal cause, so that they become a role model and source of inspiration, as is the practice in Jharkhand.

    The community panchayats can also promote community participation in rural development work so that we don’t have to depend on government alone for our socio-economic development. Every villager should be encouraged to contribute to mobilize resources and remove various deficiencies besetting development work. Villagers should also be encouraged to set up self-help groups so that a positive change is harnessed in their economic condition.

4. The tribal community is depicted in a wrong light in many films, papers and magazines. So it is pertinent for us to expose such tribals and non-tribals, organizations and groups, who are hurting the tribal interests and defaming the community, and give them a befitting reply. Many fundamentalist organizations are working overtime to create a deep wedge in tribal community, making tribals their own enemies. If such dangerous tendency is not checked, the time is not too far when the tribals will have strife amongst them where tribals will kill tribals.

   Against the above background,we can say that it will be erroneous to hold non-tribals solely responsible for the backwardness of the tribals of southern Rajasthan. If the tribal community has to suffer excesses and exploitation, and has remained a laggard in development, then tribal politicians, official, employees are as much to be blamed for this sorry state of affairs. It is because these people have used their tribal identity to reap the benefits by becoming politicians (MPs, MLAs, district board chairmen, pradhans), government officials and employees. But when it comes to discharging their duty towards their own community, they have largely failed. the tribal society will have to suffer excesses and exploitation till every tribal fights for his rights and discharges his duty toward the community.

    Although the government time and again claims to have spent crores of rupees on the development of southern Rajasthan, the reality on the ground is opposite, as there has been too little development to support such claims. This has led to growing socio-economic and political dissent among tribals of this area. Keeping in view this discontent, some individuals have taken laudable initiatives. The foremost among them is Satguru Shri Mohanji Sharma who has been working for the socio-economic uplift of the tribals of southern Rajasthan for the past 15 years. He is guiding the tribal students by spreading awareness among them to help them learn to live with dignity. He is, in fact, in his own way uniting the tribals of this area. There are some politicians who, rising above their party lines and ideologies, are contributing a lot to the development of tribals. Prominent among them are   Nand Lal Meena,  Mahaveer Bhagora,  Mahendrajeet Malavia and Tara Chand Bhagora,  Jeetmal Khont and Raghuveer Meena. There efforts are worth a thousand plaudits.

    The dissention widespread among the tribals of this area is now leading to a demand for a separate tribal state, which is being raised by some tribal youth. Supporting this demand are thousands of educated tribal youth and victims of excesses and exploitation. Those tribal politicians, who were used and then dumped by their political parties, are also throwing their weight behind this movement. It also appears that the non-tribal people of the area, who are trying to bring the tribals to the mainstream of development, are also supporting this demand, directly or indirectly. All this portends well.