Globalization and Changing Tribal Identity in North East India: Emerging Issues

Mohapatra, Dr. Gadadhara




This paper focuses on the socio-cultural implications of globalization and the changing face of tribal identity in Northeast India. It illustrates the social change among the tribal communities in the era of globalization, and problematises as to how the globalization as a process, has heightened the social conflict among various ethnic groups in Northeast region and the subsequent loss of identity and local culture. Finally, it provides a critical appraisal of the tribal development programmes in the region.


The search for identity is a basic sub-concern of globalization process, where the creation of viable identities was a fundamental issue. India is a scene of interplay of both modernization and struggles against globalization. On the one hand, it acknowledges the positive sides of India’s integration to global economy. However, it also cautions the increasing levels of inequality, poverty and social conflicts and the threat that globalization puts to local and regional identity as a result of overwhelming processes of globalization. India is changing, however, the pace of change varied from time to time, group to group and region to region. The basic social institutions of India’s countryside such as village, the joint family system and the caste and tribe relation are under great transformation. The process of liberalization, privatization and globalization (LPG) in the last two decades have witnessed the interlinked phenomena of industrialization and rapid economic growth for the country as a whole, a slowdown of agriculture, and an intensification of social conflicts (Walker 2008:557). Poverty related conflicts are already in existence in the rural parts of India. Studies on Poverty and conflicts in contemporary India shows that there are more conflicts between the poverty affected social groups and others in the rural areas in recent decades, and poverty related conflicts have positive and negative potential in the context of political and economic reforms (Anand Kumar 2004:191). In the era of LPG, the areas inhabited by indigenous people have been subjected to incessant social unrests and protests (Meher 2009:457). These forces or processes have created new poverty zones in the country, further marginalizing the tribal people. The pathologies of our time are that these mining and industrial projects are destroying the local eco-system and causing loss of livelihood of the self-sustaining tribal communities. The globalization processes have serious implications on the culture of the tribals. The alienation of the land and other resources which are both their physical sustenance and the centre of their culture, is an attack on their very identity. Besides, globalization imposes an homogeneous consumerist culture and value system on society. In order to ensure the growth of consumerism, globalization has to depoliticize the minority which gets its benefits, destroy their social conscience and desensitize them to the impoverishment of the majority. It thus combines individualism with a culture where everyone looks after his/her own interests at the cost of others (Kothari 1991:556, Fernades 2006: 56). The middle class wants a consumerist lifestyle (Petras 1994:2071). This class support it because they “see a definite advantage for themselves in a globalization, which effectively improves their living standards even as it leaves the mass of the population without any obvious benefit, and, in some cases, may even worsen their material conditions” (Ghosh 1997: 3). Globalization is a threat to the local culture in Northeast India, has often been situated in the context of fundamentalism, a part of religious movement. In this region, religious fundamentalism results in shortage of resources and more unrest, and the latter can strengthen exclusive ethnic identities and conflict (Fernandes 2006:52). Land alienation among the tribal’s is both an economic issue and an attack on the culture and identity. Globalization has heightened the crisis in the north-east, showing the need for civil society to search for an alternative value system (ibid.6). Fundamentalism too plays the role of hiding growing chronic poverty and food insecurity. The problem of food and nutrition security has become more important in the trade liberalization and globalization regime in the developing country like India. The problem is much more significant in North-Eastern region of India that has been lagging far behind the other states in respect of agricultural production especially of food items, industries and the development of human capital (De 2010:98). The entire north-eastern region of India is deficit in food production. Along with the worsening problem of landlessness, a significant section of the people suffers from environment, development and conflict-induced displacement. However, food insecurity of the north-east has been ignored so far due to the excessive engagement with questions of ‘identity’ and ‘insurgency’ in the region (Husain 2004: 4515). In addition to environment-induced displacement, the perpetual ethnic conflicts based on exclusivist ethnicity have also induced massive internal displacement of population in the entire north-east. The political environment of generalized violence has been an existential reality both in Assam and Tripura since the early 1980s (ibid.4516).

It is within this theoretical and conceptual framework, this paper focuses on the socio-cultural implications of globalization and the changing face of tribal identity in Northeast India. The paper illustrates the social change among the tribal communities in the era of globalization. It also problematises as to how the globalization as a process, further heightened the social conflict among various ethnic groups in Northeast region and the subsequent loss of identity and local culture. Finally, it provides a critical appraisal of the tribal development programmes in the region.

2. Sociology of Globalization and Identity

The roots of ‘Sociology of Globalization’ can be traced back to the writings of social theorists or the three formative thinkers: Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim and Max Weber who represent ‘classical sociology’. Of all classical theorists, Karl Marx was most explicitly committed to a globalizing theory of modernization. Globalization caused an enormous increase in the power of the capitalist class because it opened up new markets for it. The establishment of a ‘world market’ for modern industry gave a cosmopolitan character not only to production but also to consumption (Waters 1995:8). Hence, Marx’s analysis of modernity and globalization is of capitalist commodification. Durkehim’s genuine legacy to globalization is his theories of structural specialization (differentiation) and culture. To the extent that the institutions of societies become specialized, commitment to such institutions as the state must be weakened because they are more narrow in their compass. In parallel, the national culture must progresively become more weak and abstract in order to encompass intra-societal diversity. All of this implies that industrialization tends to weaken collective commitments and open up the way for dismantling the boundaries between societies.Weber identified rationalization as the globalizing solvent. He was fundamentally concerned with the success of rationalization, with its spread from the seeddbed origins of Calvinistic Protestantism to infest all Western cultures and to set up an iron cage for all moderns. According to Weber, rationalization implies that all cultures will become characterized by the depersonalization of social relationships, the refinement of techniques of calculation, the enhancement of the importance of specialized knowledge, and the extension of technically rational control over both natural and social processes (Brubaker 1984:2,Waters 1995:8). Contemporary sociological theorists especially Robertson, Giddens and Wallerstein identified the phenomenon called globalization through the mediating category of Modernity.

With the fall of the Berlin Wall, the tripartite division of the world into first, second and third has become conceptually obsolete in social science. The refrain that the world has become one is frequently articulated and endorsed these days. Recently, however, this notion has been interrogated and current research indicates that nations, regions and civilizations retain some of their specificities in spite of the presumed steam-roller effect of globalization (Anand Kumar 2011 Preface: xi). Globalization has been the thrust of the modern world system since the collapse of the Berlin Wall and implosion of the Soviet Union. It has resulted into a contradictory situation – a decline in the force of nation-states and a concomitant rediscovery of the value of the process of nation-building around the world. The process of globalization hinges upon inter-state treaties and international bodies. Thus, we are in stressful times due to being caught between the dynamics of global integration and imperatives of identity.

One of the central ideas in the current literature about globalization is that a 'third culture', a global culture, is encompassing the world at the international level (Featherstone 1990). First of all, this refers to the “Americanization” of the world, characterized by the mass consumption of products delivered by multinational corporations such as McDonald's; in short, the existing “Coca-Cola culture” familiar to all of us. This 'third culture' is not grounded simply on the contacts between states that formed the basis of the world system in the colonial period. It holds its own unique place and generates its own dynamics in the world at a supra-state level. That is why the focus of sociological theory has shifted from state formation and inter-state relationships to processes at the transnational level. The definitions of globalization most frequently encountered in the literature are those of Robertson, who sees it as 'the compression of the world into a single place' and 'the intensification of consciousness of the world as a whole'… both concrete global interdependence and consciousness of the global whole (Robertson 1992: 8). He argues that globalization refers to the 'global human condition'.

There are some clear links between Robertson’s definition and Giddens’s view. Giddens (1990) defines globalization as the intensification of worldwide social relations, which link distant localities in such a way that local happenings are shaped by events occurring many miles away and vice versa. This is a dialectical process because such local happenings may move in an obverse direction from the very distanciated relations that shape them. Local transformation is as much a part of globalization as the lateral extension of social connections across time and space. Among other definitions of globalization, Thomas Friedman (2002) describes it as, ‘the integration of everything with everything else" He adds that, "Globalization enables each of us, wherever we live, to reach around the world farther, faster and cheaper than ever before and at the same time allows the world to reach into each of us farther, faster, deeper, and cheaper than ever before.’

Wallerstein (1974) has stressed the centrality of capitalism to the process of globalization (both past and present). For him, the logic of historical capitalism is necessarily global in reach. The entire globe is operating within the framework of singular social division of labour called the capitalist world economy. The world economy is conceived as having a distinctive, unequal structural arrangement with core, semi-peripheral and peripheral areas each of which has a specific functional role in sustaining an overall integrity of the system. The economy, therefore, embraces both processes of global integration and fragmentation, which produces instabilities and contradictions, which Wallerstein believes, will eventually lead to its collapse.

Global Village is a term closely associated with Marshall McLuhan, popularized in his books The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man (1962) and Understanding Media (1964). Here McLuhan describes how the globe has been contracted into a village by electric technology and the instantaneous movement of information from every quarter to every point at the same time. In bringing all social and political functions together in a sudden implosion, electric speed heightened human awareness of responsibility to an intense degree.

Pieterse (1996) identifies three clashing notions of cultural change in the era of globalization. First is known as the homogenization paradigm, which refers to increasing global interdependence and interconnectedness that would lead growing cultural standardization and uniformalization. The second notion of change could be called the cultural clash or identity paradigm. It implies that market-centered globalization is making deep inroads into local and regional cultures that understand this process as a threat to their survival. The result is the increasing assertion of identities to defend against the onslaught of globalization. The third notion is hybridization paradigm. This is different from other two and emphasizes on the process of trans-local cultural mixing manifested in cultural heterogeneity and hybridization.

While trying to understand the global culture, Appadurai (1996) talks about “ethnoscape”, i.e., landscape of persons who constitute the shifting world in which we live: tourists, immigrants, refugees, exiles and other moving groups and persons. He talks about “technoscape”, that is, the global configuration of technology that moves at high speeds across various kinds of previously impervious boundaries. He also talks about “mediascape”, which refers to the distribution of electronic capabilities to produce and disseminate information, are now available throughout the world. Ideoscape means flow of ideas and ideologies. Appadurai argues that the combination of ethnoscape, technoscape, mediascape and ideoscape lead to the globalization of culture. Appadurai considers globalization as disjuncture, where global cultural systems have produced a vision of cultural confusion and chaos.

Oommen (1998) talks of cultural impact of globalization and the “Birth of a New World Society.” For him, the consequences of globalization should be viewed through four interrelated processes-homogenization, pluralization, traditionalization and hybridization. These four processes, operating independently and in interaction with one another give birth to a new world society. Importantly, this should not be understood as a movement from tradition to modernity, simplicity to complexity, and heterogeneity to homogeneity, but rather as a phenomenon that produces new permutations and combinations giving birth to variety and pluralism. Jan Aart Scholte argues that globalization is characterized by the ‘transcendence of boundaries’ (Schlote 2000). Such relations are becoming more significant as communication and production increasingly occur without regard to geographic constraints, transborder organizations of many kinds proliferate, and more people become aware of the world as a single whole. Pushed by the structural forces of capitalism and rationalism, propelled by actor initiatives such as technological innovations or regulatory decisions, the transformation is creating a new world. Anand Kumar (2011) states that the process of globalization is often situated within the discourse of globality and global sociology. Globalization has been explored primarily with reference to the processes and institutions of world economy and international relations. However, the socio-cultural and political aspects of this process have been recognized through the lenses of nation, ethnicity, migration, multiculturalism, global governance, new media and communication systems, and transnational civil society.

Cultural approaches to Globalization focused on several factors, one of them being religion. Religion played a vital role in the process of globalization, initially through the expansion of the world religions of Islam and Christianity, and later through the secularization process in Protestantism. Recent developments were however challenging the secularization thesis. What was instead being observed was resurgence of religion in terms of what were being named as fundamentalist movements. Fundamentalism was seen by Robertson as an attempt to declare a social identity, a search for a new consciousness in the face of the infinite fragmentation that was taking place in a global society. Scott (1998) saw fundamentalism as a modern form of a politicized religion, an attempt by those who called themselves true believers, to resist the marginalization of religion in a global society. Fundamentalists identified and opposed the agents of secularism and sought to restructure the political, social, cultural and economic relations and institutions, according to traditional religious beliefs and practices. Hence, the fundamental movements were of apolitical and political in nature and could be divided into two categories such as: the emergence of new religious movements and the wave of religious nationalist movements (D’Souza 2005:328). Modernization, Giddens maintained, with its basic tendency to differentiation, increased the possibilities of choice, but on the other hand created problems of identity formation at both the individual and collective levels. MacDonald (1999) also argued that both individuals and groups that were marginalized by globalization struggled to establish coherent identities that were being threatened by contradictory social imperatives (Bendle 2002:3, D’Souza 2005:335). Identity in pre-modern societies was seen as synonymous with the ‘core’ or centre of existence. Post modernist views rejected the notion of ‘core’ and considered identity to be conceived of as something more superficial, transient, multiple and manipulable, something that emerged as a product of discourse. Giddens (1991) saw the transformations in self-identity as one of the requirements in the dialectic of the local-global conditions. In other words, the greater the detraditionalization of a society, the more was the need to negotiate lifestyle choices from the diversity of option (ibid: 7). The formation of identity also became the key component in the social dynamics of high modernity or globalization as reflected in the works of Heelas, Lash and Morris (1996). Heelas explained that in traditional societies, identity was inscribed and based on an authoritarian taken-for-grantedness, whereas in a detraditionalized society, identity was constructed and persons acquired opportunities to critically reflect upon and even reject what traditional society generally offered. Identity was no longer seen as involving the self’s non-reflective, unquestioning ‘inscription’ within a tradition, rather it was seen as emerging in a discourse. It was seen in a globalized society as a shift from the passive level of acceptance to the active level of reflexivity and critique (Bendle, 2002:7 and D’Souza 2005:336).

3.Dimensions of Globalization

Theories of social change and modernity developed in the hundred years or so after 1870s was uni-dimensional in character. All the social phenomena were held to be determined by events occurring within a single region of human life, for Marx or his epigone, Althusser, the critical region was structures of material production; for Mead or Schutz it was subjective meaning; and for Parsons it was culture (Waters 2005:12). In doing so, Marx identifies an economic dimension of the process. Marx’s view that the political-territorial boundaries of the nation-state remain intact and will only disappear under a future proletarian supremacy is supported by many twentieth-century theories of change, including not only Marxist dependency theory (e.g. Amin 1980; Frank 1971) and World-system theory (Wallerstein 1974, 1980) but also functionalist modernization theory (Levy 1966; Parsons 1977) and convergence theory (Kerr 1973). In each of these examples logic of the economy (e.g. capitalist accumulation, adoptive upgrading, technological imperatives) drives globalization, but only as far as the deterritorialization of the economic system. The discovery that globalization has a political dimension first surfaced in the work of Burton (1972), Keohane and Nyle 91973) and Rosenau (1980). Each of these political scientists noticed that political action was decreasingly confined to the sphere of the nation-state and that an elaborated web of trans-national connections was emerging alongside it. In general, contemporary political scientists continue to insist on this duality in the globalization process; the state is argued to retain sovereignty even while losing some of its effectivity. The central focus of structural-functionalist and Marxist theories of change on material issues led to a neglect of culture as a dimension of globalization. However, culture was the central focus of what perhaps was the most successful popular proposal about the process, McLuhan’s important and iconic formulation of the ‘global village’ (Carpenter and McLuhan 1970: xi; McLuhan 1964). McLuhan was possibly the first to notice that the ‘industrial’ media, transportation and money are being displaced by electronic media that can restore the collective culture of tribalism but on an expansive global scale.

There is a cultural dimension to globalization that has implications for the nation-state and its future. This has more to do with issues of identity. Roland Robertson defines globalization as both “the compression of the world and the intensification of consciousness of the world as a whole.” While the process of this compression has been occurring for a very long time, the recent growth of communications technology (cheap and fast air travel, telephonic and telegraphic services, satellite media transmissions, the Internet and cyberspace) has both accelerated and deepened this process. This is a process that, many argue, brings the world together while simultaneously splitting it apart. As Stuart Hall points out, globalization at the cultural level has led to both the universalization and the fragmentation and multiplication of identities. Robertson talks of how globalization leads to the simultaneity of ‘the particularization of universalism (the rendering of the world as a single place) and the universalization of particularism (the globalized expectation that societies . . . should have distinct identities)’. In his more recent work, Robertson has offered the concept of ‘glocalization’ to emphasize the simultaneity of the homogenizing and heterogenizing thrusts of globalization in the late 20th-century world. Singh (2002) recognizes that globalization was bound to put pressure on Indian cultures, which he generally understands as an acceleration towards homogenizing cultural forms and activities (lifestyles, dress, food etc.) in the country. However, he asserts that the social structure and cultural system in India are intrinsically based on pluralism and diversity. Indian society (both caste and tribe) is segmented in communities, which enjoy enormous cultural autonomy. This provides enormous cultural resilience to communities in India to filter the effects of globalization through refractorary and prismatic adaptation (ibid.64). Moreover there is observed an enhanced sense of self-consciousness and awareness of identity. Those elements of globalization are resented that encroach upon or does not promote the core cultural values of society. So, globalization has both facets – homogenization and (cultural) identity enhancement. In case of the Indian diaspora, he finds the trends of cultural fusion. Further, in India, at the level of popular culture of music, dance, dramatic, cinema etc., the trend is one of fusion of traditional Indian forms or styles with western or global forms or styles. Singh regards this emergent popular (fusion) culture, as posing a threat to the indigenous local, regional or ethnic identity of cultural traditions in so far as it abstracts culture from people’s rhythm of life and its natural expressiveness or vitality, and converts its new packaging into a community (ibid.103). In this process, the traditional identities, deeply embedded in a community life (caste, class, tribe, principles of hierarchy and reciprocity), are metamorphosed into a faceless audience. This, he thinks, is not entirely due to globalization, but rather intrinsic to the very paradigm of modernization, which we along with the humanity willfully celebrate.

4. Discourse on Identity

The concept of identity is closely associated with the idea of culture. Identities can be formed through the cultures and subcultures to which people belong or in which people participate.

Stephen Frosh describes the view that identity draws from culture but is not simply formed by it: Recent sociological and psychological theory has stressed that a person’s identity is in fact something multiple and potentially fluid, constructed through experience and linguistically coded. In developing their identities people draw upon culturally available resources in their immediate social networks and in society as a whole. The process of identity construction is therefore one upon which the contradictions and dispositions of the surrounding socio-cultural environment have a profound impact (Frosh, 1999). However, different theories of identity

see the relationship between culture and identity in different ways. Those influenced by modern theories of culture and identity are more likely to see identity as originating in a fairly straightforward way from involvement in particular cultures and sub-cultures (Harlambos and Holborn 2008: 665-66). The term identityfirst gained salience through the work of the psychologist Erikson (1968). While Erikson associates identity as a definition of personhood that is, with sameness or continuity of the self across time and space, other authors emphasize uniqueness, that is, those characteristics that differentiate a person from other people or the whole of humankind (Bornman et. al., 2003) Erikson uses the term identity crisis to refer to individuals who have lost a sense of sameness or continuity. While he regards an identity crisis as a normal and passing stage in adolescent development, he holds that it should be regarded as pathological in adults. He typifies a healthy state of identity development as an invigorating subjective awareness of sameness and continuity. Although Erikson theorizes on identity from a psychoanalytic point of view, he also emphasizes the role of the environment, and particularly the social environment, in the development of identity. He uses the term psychosocial identityin this regard. Psychosocial identity refers to the awareness of who a person is, both as individual and as a member of a family, various societal groups and a particular society (Ibid.). The changing nature of identity and cultural identity specifically, is also emphasized by Barth (1969) who defines identity in terms of boundaries. Boundaries can be psychologically, culturally, socially or politically defined and include some people as members of a group, while others are simultaneously excluded. According to this perspective, social or cultural identity cannot be understood in terms of fixed categories or unchanging phenotypical or other characteristics and/or cultural practices. Barth perceives identity as a dynamic process in which the characteristics, cultural practices, symbols and traditions of a group might change due to interaction with the physical, social, cultural, economic and political environment. What is important is not the content of a particular identity (characteristics and practices), but rather the existence of boundaries between the own group and other groups. According to Bauman (2001a), the spectacular rise of discourses on identity since the last part of the twentieth century should be perceived as a reflection of human experience in the age of globalization. He holds that the obsession with the 'identity discourse' per se reflects more of the current states of human society than all the theorizing and analytical results of ‘identity studies’ do. Frankly, he states, that something has gone wrong with the formation of identity in the (post) modern age. Whereas past generations seemingly handled identity formation and its related problems and issues in a matter-of-fact way, new dimensions have been added to old problems. Circumstances in the current world have not only changed the processes of identity formation, but have added new dimensions to both personal and collective identity. Furthermore, whereas the term identity implies continuity, that is, a solid basis in which people anchor themselves, the rapid changes that characterize the age of globalization, eroded most of the bases on which people used to anchor their identity. The age-old 'problem of identity' has thus changed its shape and content. India is an emerging economic power and is one of the fastest growing countries in the world. It has impressive growth rates, which seem to have their basis in the recent policies of liberalization, privatization and globalization (LPG). However, the impact of globalization on social and cultural values in India needs further elaboration.

5. Globalization and Tribes of Northeast India

India is the homeland of a large number of ethnic groups and cultures. These communities, believed to be the earliest inhabitants of the century, live in the forests, hills, plateaus and naturally isolated regions and are differently terms as vanyajati (forest-caste), vanavasi (forest-inhabitants), pahariya (hillment), adimjati (primitive caste, Adivasi (original settler), Jan­Jati (folk communities) and several such other names signifying either their ecological or economic or historical and cultural characteristics. Among these nomenclatures the most popular term is “Adivasi" while the constitutional name for them is Anusuchit Janajati (Scheduled Tribe). Scheduled Tribes (STs) are indigenous, have their own distinctive culture, are geographically isolated and are generally living in lower socio-economic conditions. For centuries, the Tribal groups have remained outside the realm of national development processes due to their habitation in forests and hilly tracts. After independence, Government of India scheduled Tribal groups in the Constitution and provided special provisions for their welfare and development as in the case of SCs. There are about 654 ST communities across the States in India and 75 of the STs are most backward and are termed as Primitive Tribal Groups. Most of the Tribal areas are hilly, inaccessible undulating plateau lands in the forest areas of the country resulting in the bypassing of general developmental programmes. Due to this, infrastructure and development facilities in Tribal areas for education, roads, healthcare, communication, drinking water, sanitation etc. lagged behind compared to other areas which has resulted in further widening the gaps of development between tribals and the general population for a long time. In terms of number, as per the 2001 census, groups and communities described as tribes were enumerated at 84.3 million representing 8.2 per cent of country’s population. This is evident from the fact that as per the Constitution Order (Scheduled Tribes) 1950, numbered 212 Tribal communities in as many as 14 states as Scheduled Tribes. As the Scheduled Tribes Order (Amendment 1976), nearly 300 Tribal communities were listed in the constitution. The Anthropological Survey of India under the People of India Project identified as many as 461 Tribal communities in the country. The Tribal population is found almost all over the country. However, their concentration is found most in the central region of the country. Out of the Tribal population, over 54.70 per cent are concentrated in central India and about 12.51 per cent inhabit the northeastern region (Census of India 2001). Western and southern regions have about 10.80 per cent and 4.15 per cent respectively. There are also differences in terms of the size of population among the various groups of the tribals. Apart from the demographic features, on the social milieu of the tribals it is noticed that the tribal population has a strong culture and value with which they have organized their social, cultural, economic and political practices and structures. This is precisely why they continue to remain a distinct people in spite of every attempt by the dominant caste and class to bring them into ‘mainstream’ (Louis 2007). The adivasi ethos recognizes and respects the basic and fundamental truth that the harmonious relationship between the human community, animal kingdom and the environment should be maintained at any cost. In this process they also respected and valued human labour.

North-Eastern Region (NER) of India comprises of eight states such as Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura. In terms of ethnic groups, the region is identified as the home of mongoloid people. These groups of people are mostly categorized as scheduled tribes (STs) by the Constitution. While mainland Indian states were reorganized along linguistic lines based on the report of the States Reorganization Commission constituted in 1953, North-East India was reorganized on ethnic lines. Thus, it is a general notion that Mizoram state belongs to the Mizos, Nagaland to the Nagas, Manipur to the Meiteis and Meghalaya to the Khasi, Jaintia and Garos. These ethnic states were created after decades of struggle for political autonomy and the creation of such ethnic states have sharpened the divisions (Haokip 2012: 84). The political autonomy movements among the tribes began during the colonial period, but the formation of separate states on ethnic line was done only after independence (Rath 2006:40). The North-East India experienced the formation of more tribal states than the central India and has also experienced stronger militant struggles. As the North-East India shares the international border, such militancy makes the region more politically sensitive. The Government of India has therefore, tried to appease the agitated tribes by allowing the formation of more ethnic states in this region. In the North-East, the movement percolated down to the grassroots level; the leaders at the centre of the movement kept contact with the people of the inaccessible tracts through the village chiefs. The local problems in the North-East and central India have shaped their respective autonomy movements in terms of their objectives and strategy. The demand for greater Nagaland or Nagalim, with unification of the Naga-inhabited areas of Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam is certainly not the same as the demand for greater Jharkhand with the tribal-inhabited districts of Orissa, West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh. While the former witness extreme militancy, the latter sticks to democratic means. North-East India has been experiencing radicalism through its militancy, the Naxalite–based radicalism of the central tribal region does not find a fertile ground to grow in the North-East. In the North-East, the feature of autonomy has evolved from the conflict between the traditionalists and the pro-modern elite. Traditionalists are the chiefs who want to protect their power and local resources by invoking a secessionist demand. The modernists are the educated elite who prefer control over resources as well as a share in the benefits of state-owned development projects. They demand political autonomy, which essentially calls for decentralization of national power and resources to the locals (ibid.41).

The tendency among researchers and policymakers in using the term “north-east” is itself problematic as the region represents a varied cultural mosaic and has never considered itself to be one compact unit. Udayon Mishra states that New Delhi suffers from a strong misconception and has failed to appreciate the complex nature of the problem (Mishra, 2011). Northeastern region on India has around 7 per cent of the total geographical area of the country but around 4 per cent of the population. Around 60 per cent of the population of NER resides in Assam. In most of the all-India studies, Assam is taken as a proper representative state of NER. The justification is in terms of the size of population, since a very small percentage of the total population,(.02 per cent.) of India is residing in the remaining seven States Thus, the demographic perspective of socio-economic analysis leads to marginalization of the remaining states in the domain of social studies (Sinha 2010: vii). The old sense of narrow loyalties to one's own clan, tribe and race is slowly disappearing and a new sense of common identity of tribals, a tribal consciousness or tribal corporate personality is emerging among Indian tribals, due to the impact of Christianity and modern education (Thomas 1993 :75). S.K. Barpujari shares that for centuries the Naga had been living in a world of their own leading a traditional life constantly warring against one another more often than not hunting human heads. After their conversion to the new religion, wanton killing was realized as a sin in the light of the teaching of Christ and hostility was replaced by love. A sense of solidarity among the diverse groups of the Naga or Nagaism emerged (Barpujari 1984:107,109). Nagaism has the tendency of going beyond Naga unity even to include people outside the tribes. As Barpujari himself attests: "In other words, they have realized the necessity of peace, toleration and coexistence with their own men and neighbours in the plains" (ibid., 108). The characteristic "resilence and openendedness" that redefine the "social boundary definition and boundary maintenance" is found among other tribals also. “A communitarian self understanding transcending the segmental sociolinguistic identities" is noted by Khubchandani (1992) in several compact regions such as Jharkhand, Gondwana, Bhilbhoomi, Arunachal and Bodoland. The Jharkhand movement represents a characteristic articulation of syncretic identity, welding together the aspirations of tribal groups belonging to different ancestries (Austric, Dravidian and Indo-Aryan) and the Bodoland agitation, on the other, presents an alliance of different ethnic groups belonging to the Bodo group of Tibeto-Burman language family (Khubchandani 1992: 95). Nirmal Minz (1990) also has pointed out an emerging tribal consciousness in relation to its tradition and history and in relation to outsiders.

The most important trend that has emerged in recent years is the assertion of tribal identity (Chacko 2005 Foreword: 11). Assertions have been made on the basis of region, ethnicity, language, among other elements. Tribal religion is now being interpreted as being different from other religion. It is said that the tribes have no priesthood, no temples and no complex rituals. The tribes are returning to their own religions as demonstrates over the last two censuses. Further, tribals have started writing about themselves. Tribal literature has proliferated; Tribal artists are at work seeking self-expression. Though some tribal languages are losing ground, others are holding out. There is a demand supported by linguists for imparting education at primary level in the tribal languages, which will help them to maintain self-respect and identity. Lastly, there are movements for self-role to enable the tribes to maintain their control over resources and to manage in situation that promote their own development while maintaining their culture and identity. All tribal movements today are an expression of the deeply felt-sense of identity (ibid. 11-12). The socio-economic forces of modernization and development have no doubt brought some benefits to the people of some areas, but the benefits accrued to them have been largely outweighed by the harm. Development induced displacement, involuntary migration and resettlement has caused marginalization of tribals, and presented enormous problems to them. The new economic regime has led to the privatization and marketization of the economy, which has emerged as a powerful threat to the survival of tribal communities (Singh 2008). According to one estimate, between 1950 and 1990 state development projects, (irrigation projects, mines, thermal power plants, wildlife sanctuaries, industries), have displaced 213 lakh persons, and 85 percent of them are tribals (Fernandes & Paranjpe 1997). The government is aware of both (a) the eroding resource base and socio-cultural heritage of tribal population through a combination of development interventions, commercial interest, and lack of effective legal protection of tribals; and (b) the disruption of life and environment of tribal populations owing to unimaginative, insensitive package of relief. The emerging tribal consciousness has two aspects: desire for self-identity and desire for transcending narrow loyalities. These are not conflicting ideologies. A desire for common humanity does not mean denying one's particular identity based on tradition. No group in the world has discarded willingly their traditional sense of identity. This does not necessarily obstruct developing a universal sense of community based on universal humanness. Tribal self-identity need not hinder national integration. Such a sense of openendedness was not altogether absent even in earlier periods. For example in the traditional matriarchal society of Khasis, their high priestess, Khyriem, who represented their common ancestress, was expected to marry a non-Khasi (Burman, p. 23) In the Mizo life, as Thanzauva notes, the idea of Zawlbuk, which in the past was exclusively meant for men and for particular clan or village, is showing signs of a "fellowship of openness" (Thanzauva, p. 105-6). National policies must be formulated taking tribal cultural identity as the base for national integration and all have to learn that only self-respect of communities will create a sensible national community. A new India could be created, not by destroying dalit or tribal self-respect but by promoting tribal culture and language, the sources of their self-respect and self identity. Any evaluation that Naga unrest is due to the "appeasement" policy of Article 371(A) lacks understanding of and sensitivity to minority cultures. Cultural revival among the tribal communities of India has become a major tool of their awakening. For many tribal communities, cultural revival has therefore become a way of reasserting themselves as a people with a right to an identity of their own and a life with dignity, which includes demanding their right over their livelihood.

In order to identify the implications of cultural revival, it is essential to understand the nature of tribal cultures. Even some tribal leaders focus only on the externals of languages, dances and songs and ignore the kernel or the values and the worldview on which they are based. The core that the externals express combines their values, social system, identity and sustenance. Because it is intrinsic to their identity, the tribals resent any imposition on them. For example, the communities of the Northeast feel that the “one State one nation” thinking tends “to take the degree of Aryanisation as the measure of Indianisation” (Datta 1990: 41). Identities in Northeast are mostly constructed around ethno-nationalisms. In the context of Northeast in spite of claims of uniqueness of an identity, the identities have undergone tremendous evolution and have been hybridised with or without ethno-politics of exclusivity.

Studies on the evolution of these identities highlights the transition and transformations that have shaped the Ao Naga, the Mizo and Arunachalee identities ( Barthakur, 2006:8-9 ; Zama, 2006: 10-11, Baral, 2006:4). If the transformations have occurred by the state power imposing alien institutions and practices and by the intrusion of cultural and religious forces from outside, semiotically, such forces have also contributed to the strengthening of an identity culturally. Within the generic representation of the Naga, the Mizo and Arunachalee identities it is important to note the internal heterogeneity within the generic as problematic as the conflict between ethnonationalism and the nation state. Therefore, identities in the Northeast can best be understood to have been placed between conflicts of self/other binary, in an in-betweenness that is simultaneously historicized and dehistoricized ( Baral 2006:4).

Ethnic conflicts are manifested in varying degrees and intensities. The consequences are often seen in the economic deprivation of some groups of people. In the context of Manipur, conflicts are observed at three different levels. First, intra-ethnic conflict i.e., which occurred within an ethnic group, such as that between the Kuki and Hmar in 1960 and that between the Thadou Kuki and Paite Zomi in 1997 to 1998, within the generic ethnic group commonly known as the Chin-Kuki.The issue of nomenclature was the basis of these conflicts. Second, inter-ethnic conflict i.e., the conflict between two or more ethnic groups, such as that between Naga and Kuki tribes in 1992 and subsequently between the Meitei and the Pangal in the valley in 1993. Finally, the conflict is directed against the state and it is the state versus people (Anand Kumar 2011:28). The jhumias of Tripura (Tripuris, Jamatias and Reangs) are among the poorest of the poor in the state. The poverty of the shifting cultivators of the state and the remoteness of the areas in which they live make them vulnerable to extremist attacks. Usually non-tribal extremists do not attack the shifting cultivators because their hamlets are in remote hill areas far away from the habitations of the non tribals (Dasgupta, 2006).

The recent ethnic violence that has rocked the twin districts of Chirang and Kokrajhar in Western Assam, bordering Bhutan, reflects that the gloomy faces of the relief camp inmates are darker than the overcast skies, and tell the story of their sufferings. The spate of violence has spared none in these two districts, irrespective of community. This is an apparent sign that the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) ,a Sixth Schedule administrative arrangement in which the two districts fall, and the state government have not learnt any lessons from the ethnic clash that bled Udalguri district in 2008. Over one lakh people were displaced and many killed in the 2008 ethnic violence in Udalguri, which is also under BTC. The BTC covers four districts - Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baksa and Udalguri (The Times of India, 2012: July 25).

Mega development projects like multipurpose river dams and large scale mining generate benefits for the few relatively better off sections of population while marginalizing and excluding the poorer tribal people (Oommen, 2004, 2006, 2008). The majority of the latter become the victims of development. It is found that in large mining projects tribals lose their land not only to the project authorities, but also to non-tribal outsiders who converge on these areas and corner both land and the new economic opportunities in commerce and petty industry (Fernandes 1994; Government of India 2002: 458). Their status changes from self-sustaining members of their local ecosystem to ecological refugees who are forced into the slums of the large urban centres and urban-industrial towns created by the development pathologies of our time (Gadgil and Guha 1995; Omvedt 1993; Oommen 2006). Internal displacement caused by irrigation, mining and industrial projects, resulting in landlessness and hunger, is a major cause of distress among the poor, especially the adivasis. It is well known that 40% of all the people displaced by dams in the last sixty years are forest-dwelling adivasis (GoI 2008). Studies show that modernization without any measures taken to deal with its negative effects goes against women. In the North-East India, with commercial crops being encouraged, the community ownership system is breaking down. Chronic Poverty Regions (CPRs) are not quite compatible with commercial crops. The state, which encourages these crops, also needs to take these communities towards individual ownership. So it deals only with man, considered the head of the family, even among the matrilineal Garo and Khasi tribes of Meghalaya (Fernades and Barbora 2002: 135-38). Studies on governance, reforms and development among the scheduled tribes in India in the era of globalization reflects the deplorable condition of the tribals created by the forces of globalization (Louis 2007). The tribals are and continue to be the most isolated, deprived and marginalized segment of the Indian population. Keeping this fact in mind, the framers of the constitution made specific provision for their upliftment. But, these have not really benefited the tribal communities at large. With introduction of privatization, liberalization and globalization, the rights of the tribals have been further violated. Yet they continue to wage relentless war to safeguard their interests and rights. During the last six decades the tribals have been subjected to innumerable forms of oppression and exploitation. Scholars have often identified the significant changes that have occurred in the intervening period in the population matrix of the tribal areas. In many cases, they have been reduced to a minority (Sharma 1995:24). Moreover, a new generation of migrant population- children of officials, traders, contractors and such like have majored who forcefully claim equal status with the tribal people as ‘sons of the soil’. Moreover, among the tribal people themselves, a small group comprising the educated has emerged with no interest in the local traditions - they are anxious to join the ‘other side.’ Thus, tribal people’s undisputed command over their habitat is not only being questioned de jure by the state and other exotic interests but even by an influential section of the local population itself, making their position still more vulnerable (ibid. 24).

Studies on globalization and indigenous peoples in Asia reflect that globalization comes to the local communities largely through the market. New goods may be seen on the television or come to one’s knowledge through other ways. But it is through the market that they become available to be consumed or can be used by the people. It is also through the market that producers come to know what they can sell. Often they may not know to which use their products can be put to. For instance, only recently, after the logging ban imposed by the Supreme Court of India, indigenous women in the North-Eastern State of Meghalaya, India began selling the bark of a local tree, but had no idea at all of the uses of that bark. The indigenous peoples of Andhra Pradesh, India had for decades been collecting and selling gum called karaya without any idea of its use in making dentures (Nathan, Kelkar and Walter eds. 2004: 293-94). On account of the changes brought about by nationalist projects and due to globalization, tribes are studied as subjects of modernization and development, or as their victims. The study of tribes as victims, in conjunction with the issue of ecological degradation, has given way to rethinking development policies (Xaxa 2003). Correspondingly, tribes have come to occupy greater space in contemporary discourse on alternative development or the general issue of protection on environment and ecology. As more attention is paid to attempts by tribal groups to engage in movements to alter their social situation as well as greater attention to their self-representation, questions of human rights, transnational communication and re-imagining ethnicity and identity are the emerging issues in contemporary India.

6. Policies and Programmes for Tribal Development

After independence, planned development started, and broadly three different approaches were advanced such as isolationist, assimilationist and integrationist. The first approach was a legacy of the British regime, and is usually described as 'leave them untouched.' The policy was to isolate the tribal population from the masses. The British took deliberate efforts not to develop communication in the tribal areas. Tribals were kept away from the rest of the population. Verrier Elwin (1934) supported the establishment of a sort of 'National park' or 'specimens in a human Zoo' of the tribals and advised that their contact with the outside should be reduced to the minimum. But this approach was not followed for long. The 'assimilationist' approach is the approach, which paved the way for the tribal people to mingle with the neighbouring non-tribals. In India, the process of assimilation took place in different parts of the country, resulting in the gradual acceptance of Hindu culture by the tribals. The main criticism against this approach was that this tried to change the tribals by imposing the non – tribal customs andtraditions. The advocates of this view supported a direct assimilation without waiting for a slow and long-drawn change over. The approach is also considered to be a failure. The past experience of the policies of isolation and assimilation, forced the planners to take the middle way between the two, which is called the integrationist approach. This approach was mainly the brain child of Jawaharlal Nehru. The policy of integration consists of two types of measures for tribal development such as protective and promotional measures. Nehru’s tribal Panchsheel is prominently advocated in the fundamental principles of the policy of tribal integration. It emphasizes that: (1) People should develop along the lines of their own genius and imposition of anything on them should be avoided. Their traditional arts and culture should be encouraged in every way (2) Tribal rights in land and forest should be respected; (3) A team of tribal people should be trained to assist the administration and development; (4) The tribal inhabited areas should neither be over administered nor they be over-whelmed with a multiplicity of schemes. We should rather work through and not in a rivalry to their own social and cultural institution; and (5) The results be judged neither by statistics nor by the amount of money spent, but by the quality of human character that has evolved. The approach of synthesis (integration) without destroying the treasure of precious values of tribal people was, thus among the important constituents of Nehru’s ideology. It professed integration in tune with traditional cultural matrix of the people concerned. The elements of the policy of integration provided in the Tribal Panchsheel are taken as the best-intended approach to tribal development and integration. But in some cases the tribal situation at the operational level reveals a disappointing picture because the policy principles have not been implemented in letter and spirit as suggested. The Indian Constitution, adopted soon after independence, defines the rights and privileges of castes, minorities, tribal groups and the weaker sections of society. These are covered by the fundamental rights as well as the directive principles of the state policy. The policy of positive discrimination favoring the weakest communities amongst the caste groups, the tribes and the backward classes has been implemented covering about 50 per cent of the population. Reservations are provided for these communities in educational institutions, political offices and government services. The tribal policy of the government has consistently aimed at encouraging their autonomous growth with protection to their local culture. To protect their rights in land and forest resources, etc., the law prohibits outsiders from purchasing their property or to settle down on their land by purchasing estate which is their preserve. There is an inner line protection policy pursued by the government, which protects tribals from intrusion by outsiders from other states or the foreigners. Cultural autonomy and the rights of minorities to pursue their religion and cultural practices are constitutionally guaranteed. This includes tribals who by law enjoy privileges in running their own educational, cultural and social institutions. These measures have, however, been less successful in maintaining the autonomy of the tribal local cultures.

The tribal dimension of chronic poverty is most pronounced in the context of conflicts and movements. The ever-increasing exploitation of the tribals and elimination of their lands led to revolts and rebellion in many parts of India. ‘Leave them alone’ (or ‘exclusion’) as in the hills of North-East and ‘light’ administration (or ‘partial exclusion’) elsewhere was the response of the Imperial Regime in the face of determined resistance to their advancement and consolidation. The dawn of independence ushered in a new era of high hopes and soaring aspirations with an ebullient nation committed to the ideals of democracy, equity and social justice. The cause of weaker sections, particularly the tribal people, was accepted as a national task with clear premises and constitutional commitments. But the hopes were belied. The tribal people in fact faced regression as the personalized administration gave way to an amorphous faceless system. The influx of immigrants, alienation of their lands and underdevelopment are three major problems of the tribal communities. According to the Bhuria Committee Report, 1995, “Notwithstanding the rhetoric of the past four decades, on account of absence of effective democratic decentralization at even district levels, demands and agitations for separate states in the country have taken root in Jharkhand, Bodoland, Uttarakhand, etc. Iniquitous policies and actions and economic imbalance have led to resentment among the deprived regions. Assertions on the basis of region, ethnicity, languages, etc. have been made. They have come to feel that without the political power of a state, they are not able to claim their rightful due” (Anand Kumar: 2003:170).

7. Conclusion

The issue of tribal development engaged the attention of the planners, administrators and people’s representatives since the planning process started in the country. Despite almost six decades of planning, the scheduled tribes continue to lag far behind in terms of infrastructure facilities and in all human development indicators. On the other hand, due to economic activities like industrialization, mining, multipurpose projects, cultivation of commercial crops in CPRs etc. a large part of the tribal population has been driven out from their own natural habitats and are facing social-cultural problems. Implementation of various anti-exploitation legislations such as Land Transfer Regulations, Money Lending (Regulations) Act, etc. is not up to the mark. Furthermore, the process of globalization in India has an adverse impact on tribals in India. The most important trend that has emerged in the era of globalization is the assertion of tribal identity on the basis of region, ethnicity, and languages. The major components in a variety of mobilizations both in pre and post economic reforms period includes movements for environmental protection (Narmada Bachao), states reorganization (Jharkhand, Uttarakhand, and Chattisgarh), political separation (the separatist movements of the North-Eastern Tribals), and resistance to globalization (Kashipur,Odisha). Such conflicting situations and mass mobilizations have brought the issue of chronic poverty of tribal India. Further it draws the attention of national media and policy makers prompting the governments to come forward with a variety of anti-poverty measures and development packages. The socio-economic forces of modernization and development have no doubt brought some benefits to the people of respective areas but the benefits accrued to them have largely been out weighed. Development induced displacement; involuntary resettlement has also caused the marginalization of tribal’s and present enormous problems for them. The new economic regime has led to privatization and marketization of economy, which is a dreadful threat to the survival of tribal communities. The socio-cultural change among the tribal communities has certainly empowered the tribals; however, their cultural identity is under severe stress. Inter and intra ethnic conflict in Manipur and the recent ethnic violence in Chirang and Kokrajhar in Western part of Assam, are the instances of poverty related conflicts which are existent in rural parts of North-east India. It is not too late to rise above the politics of exclusion, marginalization and social discrimination. Hence, effort should be made to preserve the fast vanishing tribal culture and traditions in tribal pockets of India.


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