Indian Tribes and the Politics of Inclusion and Exclusion


Abstract Inclusive Policies and the Tribes
Introduction Exclusion of Tribes: A Multi-dimensional View
Conceptual and Theoretical Framework In lieu of Conclusion
Contextualizing Inclusion and Exclusion Policies in India: A Note on the Case of Tribals  


    Regardless of the numerous protections and safeguards under the Constitution of India, the tribes of India continue to occupy the lowest position at all levels in Indian society. The progressive laws and the special development programmes have failed to deliver its promise to the tribals. Under this framework, this paper attempts to look into the politics of inclusion and exclusion of tribes in India and analyzed as to why such inclusive policies failed to deliver its promise.


    In a country like India, problems of social exclusion are more serious as compared to the western countries . This is due to the very social system of the Indian society namely the caste system. Caste system in India, in fact, has lead to numerous other problems. One among them is the exclusion of the groups such as dalits and tribals. The seriousness of the exclusion can be seen from the present day conditions of these groups who continue to be one of the poorest and marginalized communities in India. Caste system in India excludes and discriminates not only the caste groups per se, but also other groups such as tribals. ‘It thus involves the negation of not only of equality and freedom, but also of basic human rights and does not recognize the rights and duties of individuals but that of the group as a whole’ (Kumar, 2010) Due to these problems, the Indian state has introduced numerous inclusive laws and other developmental programmes, and schemes for the upliftment and empowerment of these communities. However, as this paper primarily focuses on the conditions of tribals, the policies of inclusion as well as exclusion, connected only with the tribals, will be discussed in this paper.

    It hardly needs to be stressed that in India the tribals of India are one of the most excluded groups. They continue to fall prey to all sorts of marginalization, discrimination and other forms of oppressive practices. This is inspite of the fact that the Indian State has enacted numerous inclusive laws and implemented special development programmes for the tribes. This paper will look into such inclusive policies and programmes. It will also discuss the exclusive policies that continue to put the tribals of India on the margin. The first section of the paper will give a brief appraisal of the conceptual framework of understanding the social exclusion. The second and third sections deal with the main focused area of the paper namely the inclusive and exclusive policies for tribals in India.

Conceptual and Theoretical Framework

    Inclusion and exclusion can be at individual, group and community level. It is multi-layered in nature and highly complex. Its manifestation has social, economic and political aspects, which according to Bremen (2004) are three critical dimensions of exclusion. While economic exclusion relates to the inability to meet basic needs due to lack of income, political exclusion refers to the lack of access to power as well as meaningful participation in decision-making process from the household level upwards and the last one. But it is the social aspect of exclusion or social exclusion that refers to loss of one’s dignity in one’s own eyes as well as those of others. is largely focussed on here. Here too, we will try to understand the concept and framework of social exclusion. 

    The term social exclusion originated in Europe, particularly when the French Government adopted the term to refer to disparate groups of people living on the margins of society and, in particular, without access to the system of social insurance. The term, therefore, is seen to have a French origin (Bhalla and Laperye, 1997; Sen, 2000:23). It is since then that this term began to be used to describe the groups of people who are at the margins across the globe. However, when the term began to be used in the European context it referred to the European Union (EU) objective of achieving social and economic cohesion (Percy-Smith, 2000)

    The definition and understanding of social exclusion varies across disciplines and regions. Louis (n.d.) defines social exclusion as “the outcome of keeping a social group outside the power centres and resources”. Percy-Smith (2000) provides a broader definition, when she states that the social exclusion can be defined “in a number of ways which may include all or some of the following elements: disadvantage in relation to certain norms of social, economic or political activity pertaining to individuals, households, spatial areas or population groups; the social, economic and institutional processes through which disadvantage comes about, and the outcomes or consequences for individuals, groups or communities”. Gundluri (2012) defines social exclusion as a “process by which certain people or group of people are systematically disadvantaged because they are discriminated against on the basis of their ethnicity, race, religion, sexual orientation, caste, descent, gender, age, and migrant status”. 

    On the other hand, a more comprehensive definition came from The European Commission in its Report of 1993. In its report, it defines social exclusion as: “the multiple and changing factors resulting in people being excluded from the normal exchanges, practices and rights of modern society. Poverty is one of the most obvious factors, but social exclusion also refers to inadequate rights in housing, education, health and access to services. It affects individuals and groups, particularly in urban and rural areas, who are in some way subject to discrimination or segregation; and it emphasized the weaknesses in the social infrastructure” (Commission of European Communities, 1993:1).

    From the definitions mentioned above, it is understandable that the social exclusion is complex and multi-faceted in nature. However, a commonality that runs through the definitions relates more to the issues of deprivation, disadvantaged position, lack of freedom and so on. Yet, there is a danger in equating loosely every deprivation or disadvantaged position with social exclusion. Sen (2000) in fact cautions against any loose use when he says “indeed, the language of exclusion is so versatile and adaptable that there may be a temptation to dress up every deprivation as a case of social exclusion”. 
According to Percy-Smith (2000) there are three important key features regarding the concept of social exclusion. Firstly, social exclusion is a much wider concept than concept of poverty. Secondly, social exclusion is a dynamic process, rather, a set of processes largely outside the control of the individual. Then, lastly social exclusion is a ‘relational concept’. Groups and individuals are socially excluded from other groups and individuals, and society as a whole.

    At this age, the concept of social inclusion and social exclusion as a phenomenon is “related to the deep economic restructuring necessitated by growing competition in the emerging global economy” (Bhalla and Laperye,1997:415). From this point of view social exclusion may be understood as the consequence of all the three aspects of exclusion namely social, economic and political taken together. The problem of exclusion can vary across countries which can be influenced by various indicators such as social structure, per capita income, level of development of the country so on and so forth. Therefore, the notion of exclusion is a vast concept which covers a wide array of issue under its ambit.

    Although the contemporary concept of social exclusion has a European origin, yet, it is highly relevant to countries like India and other countries across continents. In other words, social exclusion has global relevance because, there are certain problems such as unemployment, ghettoisation, old age, women, disability issues, etc., which countries across the world are experiencing. May be the problems of caste and tribe are limited to a fewer countries, but the countries which do not experience such problems may have some other problems. Though the problems and issues can vary across regions, the concept and relevance of social exclusion cannot be negated.

Contextualizing Inclusion and Exclusion Policies in India: A Note on the Case of Tribals

    In the context of India, the context of social exclusion is a far more complex phenomenon than that of other countries. These are due to numerous factors such as caste system, gender inequality, tribal issues and so on. In this section, we will look into the case of the tribals by looking both inclusive and exclusion policies separately. It will try to make a critical analysis of both the inclusive and exclusion policies for the tribals, and explore the extent to which such inclusive policies have materialised.

Inclusive Policies and the Tribes

    The Constitution of India has accorded numerous special rights for the tribals of our country. The list of rights which are given in the Constitution covers a wide gamut ranging from socio-cultural protection to governance issues. In fact, many of the rights are of colonial origin. The rights guaranteed to the tribals in fact can vary across regions such as in the case of Fifth and Sixth Schedule Areas. Here, we will take a rapid look at the rights guaranteed to the tribals as inclusive policies.
Before heading to the various articles and laws for the tribals, it is pertinent to start with the famous “Panchsheel” principles. These principles serve as the foundation for laying of the policies towards the tribals and they are as follows:

People should develop along the lines of their own genius, and we should avoid imposing anything on them. We should try to encourage in every way their traditional arts and culture.

  • Tribal rights on land and forests shall be respected.

  • We should try to train and build-up a team of their own people to do the work of administration and development. Some technical personnel from outside, will no doubt, be needed, especially in the beginning, but we should avoid introducing too many outsiders into the tribal territory.

  • We should not over-administer these areas or overwhelm them with a multiplicity of schemes. We should rather work through, and not in rivalry to, to their own and cultural institutions.

  • We should judge results, not by statistics or the amount of money spent, but by the quality of the human character that is evolved.

    Moving ahead, the protection accorded to the tribals have the objective of uplifting the conditions of the tribals. In the Constitution of India such protection is enshrined in Articles 15,16,17 and 23 as Fundamental Rights, where as the Article 46 of the Directive Principles of State Policy (DPSP) states:

    “The State shall promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people, and, in particular, of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, and shall protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation”.

    To begin with social and cultural rights, the Constitution of India protects cultural rights of the tribals as in Article 13(2) it is mandated that the customary laws, which for Scheduled Tribes mean acknowledgement of their cultural rights, be treated at par with the other branches of the civil law (Kujur, 2010:325). Article 15 prohibits discrimination against any citizen on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth and in its clause (4) authorizes a State government to make special provisions for advancement of members of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, that led to the reservation of seats for them in educational institutions. The Article 16 (4) provides for ‘the reservation of appointments or posts in favor of any backward class of citizens which, in the opinion of the State, are not adequately represented in the services under the state’. “The rationale behind these provisions is that unless those at the bottom are given some preferential treatment, equality within the society will be unattainable” (Samuel, 2002:270).

    The Constitution also provides reservation to ensure political representation of tribes. Articles 330 and 332 provides for reserved seats in the House of Parliament and also in the State Legislative Assemblies. Article 330 states “seats shall be reserved in the house of the people for-(a) the Scheduled Caste (b) the Scheduled Tribe except in the autonomous districts of Assam and (c) the Scheduled Tribe in the autonomous districts of Assam”. Similarly Article 332 states “Seats shall be reserved for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, [except the Scheduled Tribes in the tribal areas of Assam, Nagaland and Meghalaya], in the Legislative Assembly of every State”.

    With regard to the administration of tribal areas, the Fifth and Sixth Schedules of the Constitution, delineates provisions for self-administration. Both of these schedules give autonomy right to the tribals in relation to governance, protection of land rights, customary laws, etc. An important aspect of it is that no land can be transferred to a non-tribal in these areas. Even in the Fifth Schedule Areas where massive capitalist profiteering projects are underway, the consent of the tribals through the Gram Sabha has to be taken before acquiring land. An important feature of both the schedules are that in the case of 5th Schedule Areas, Tribal Advisory Councils (TACs) are established while on the case of 6th Scheduled Areas, Autonomous District Councils (ADCs) are instituted.

    For the development of tribals, two important initiatives have come up in the past decades. The first is Tribal Sub-Plan (TSP) which is implemented from the Fifth Five Year Plan and the second is the creation of the Ministry of Tribal Affairs in 1999 at the Centre level. The TSP emphasizes on integrated approach to tribal development and aims to channelize the flow of outlays and benefits for the development of the tribes. The TSP from the fifth plan has become an integral part of the Annual as well as the Five Year Plans. On the other hand, the Ministry of Tribal Affairs was created with the objective of ensuring a more focused attention on integrated socio-economic development of the Scheduled Tribes in a co-ordinated and planned manner. From the year of its establishment numerous schemes have been implemented over time. Another landmark initiative came up with the 65th Amendment of the Constitution, 1999, which provides for the establishment of National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

    Thus one finds various provisions being made to protection rights of the tribals and to act as inclusive mechanism for them. Xaxa (2011) categorizes such progressive as well as inclusive laws and acts into three broad categories. The first category includes those laws and acts, which aim at safeguarding and protecting the interest of tribals; the second category includes laws that provide them reservation for participation in state institutions and the third one includes the laws, which empower the tribals to come out of their social backwardness and underdevelopment. Xaxa analyses with clarity the nature of tribal protection and the inclusive policies as laid down by the Indian State.

Exclusion of Tribes: A Multi-dimensional View

    Looking at the number of inclusive policies, the tribals should have been at the top in terms of development. However, the reality presents a contrary scenario, dominated by marginalization, land alienation, immiserization and increased pauperization of the tribals as if they are subject to continual exclusion. The causes for such outcomes are multi-varied. But the most crucial one is the development process, which continually displaced the tribals and pushed them to the margin. 

    To begin with development process, the most exclusive policies that continues to affect the tribals is the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, which has been amended time and again. This law allows the acquisition of land in the name of “public purpose”. Under this, numerous tribal lands have been acquired for the construction of dams, mining projects, industrial complex and many more. As the present day tribals of India live in areas, which have majority of the resources of the country, they continue to face the acquisition of their land. It needs no emphasis that land acquisition is one of the most serious problems that the tribals are facing today. It is so because the issue of land is central to tribal identity, and their socio-cultural and political life are embedded in it. Land to them is not a commodity, and in majority of tribal society, there is no concept of tribal property. In such a situation, the acquisition of lands of the tribals leads to immeasurable sufferings. Once they are deprived of their land, not only are they deprived of their livelihood, it results into the breakdown of their social life whose cost cannot be equated with monetary compensation.

    In no activity, exclusion of tribals so glaringly manifest as in their involuntary displacement from their habitats. In post independent India, upto 1991, the year when the New Economic Policy was introduced, it is estimated that ‘total number of people displaced by planned development intervention from 1951 to 1991 ranges from 110-185 lakh’ (cited in Mohanty, 2005:1318), which was largely due to settig up of industries, construction of dams, mining etc. Out of these, 40 per cent constituted the tribals alone. Because ‘tribal areas produce most of the country’s coal, mica, bauxite and other minerals. Due to rapid industrialization in tribal areas, 3.13 lakh people have been displaced due to mining operations, and a total of 13.3 lakh tribals have been displaced from their ancestral lands’(Mohanty, 2005). Thus, they have become one of the most vulnerable groups in our country.

    With the opening up of the economy that the New Economic Policy of 1991 has ushered, the exclusion process has accelerated. The attempts to exploit all the available resources have become rampant. The idyllic days of Northeast tribals are fast becoming days of past. Now, every tribal area is witnessing profiteering capitalist projects. Such scenario is visible in every state regardless of the ideology of the ruling party whether it is left or right. On development issues they pursue the same path. As a consequence, be it in the BJD ruled state of Odisha, or Congress ruled state of Arunachal Pradesh or BJP ruled state of Jharkhand, one finds the tribal areas of these states are ravaged by various development projects like the aluminum industries in Odisha, the big dams in Arunachal Pradesh and mining projects of Jharkhand. Such developmental activities in tribal areas have put the question mark on the very survival of the tribals who have been living in those regions for decades. The question therefore naturally arises: who gain from such development activities and who lose? It appears as if the development policies that the governments of Indian states implement are exclusionary in nature. 

    Is the development really exclusive? Are they really excluding the tribals? or are the tribals not benefited from the compensation given? 

    The answers to these questions require the assessment of the changes in the conditions of the tribals during the development regime. A study by Sarkar (2006) reveals that the incidence of poverty is very high in tribal dominated southern Orissa, so much so that “when comparing the incidence of poverty of STs in Orissa with Africa, it is easily seen that almost no other country has a similar incidence of poverty”. Furthermore, they observed that the situation is no different with regard to Infant Mortality Rates (IMR). For the southern Orissa again, they observed that it was 125 which was a higher than the average for sub-Saharan African countries whereas only six countries had a higher IMR.
At the all India level, the situation is no better. The tribals account for a fourth of the population living in the poorest wealth decile. The present poverty rates are closer to where the general population was 20 years ago (Das, et al,2011). The case of IMR tells a similar story. Under-five mortality rates among tribal children in rural areas remain startlingly high (at about 100 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2005 compared with 82 among all children). Thus, although the tribals have sacrificed to a great extent for the development of the country, they continue to remain in abject poverty and remain at the bottom of the pyramid. Moreover, the rights that are guaranteed in the Constitution continue to remain ineffective in protecting and safeguarding the rights of the tribals. 

    Another important area where the tribes continue to face exclusion is in the area of education. Scheduled Tribes (STs) of India continue to be at the lowest rung in this important indicator of development though as exception the case of some Northeast states such as Mizoram whose performance is just below Kerala can be cited. Although elementary education has been made fundamental right in India, yet, it is still a distant dream for the tribal parents to get their children educated. The reasons can vary across regions. Yet, the question baffles as to why STs continue to have low educational status?

    Sometimes, one comes across the tendency to equate Scheduled Tribes with Scheduled Caste. But, in many instances, SCs are ahead of STs and education is one such example. As given by Erigala (2012) “the percentage of children (6-14 years) attending school, which is 66.4 % of ST is very low when compared with ST (72.5), OBC (78.1) and other caste (83.6)”. It also notes that when the completion rates of Five years of schooling, which is a key indicator of education status, are used to assess the education status of ST population, then they are found to be disadvantaged in comparison compared to SC, OBC and others. A more critical argument is given by Sundar (2010), which suggests that the current education system of India dis-privileges the tribals. She argues that the present curriculum devalue the tribal traditional or indigenous tribal knowledge, which are crucial not only for the tribes per se, but also for the national growth as well as for the sustainable development of the country. She writes:

    Equally importantly, the formal schooling system often destroys the knowledge that children already possess, and transforms social relations which are relatively equal in the direction of greater patriarchy and hierarchy. While schooling is an important avenue for not just career mobility but identity formation and the creation of personal and professional networks, it is not clear that, as they stand, these networks will help to tap into or enhance the knowledge of adivasis. Instead, there is a danger, that unless there are other factors that affirm cultural pride in adivasi identity, education will become a means for alternation from the adivasi community.

    This sends out the message that whatever has been done in the name of development does not necessarily benefit the tribals. In fact, many of them destroy the social fabric of the tribal society by creating hierarchy and other forms of inequalities within the tribal society. The education is one such system whose consequences can be more detrimental than is expected or intended. On the other hand such policies neither aim at upholding the socio-cultural rights of the tribals nor at safeguarding the tribals as they are considered to be backward and primitive. Thus, these processes to a large extent aim at what is known as ‘mainstreaming’ of the tribals. Xaxa (2011) highlights these processes though emphasis is on the development induced exclusion, when he observes:

    “In close introspection, however, affirmative action in case of tribes tends to be no longer affirmative action, as it does not tend to lift them from the given social base in which they were traditionally located. Rather, affirmative action has been pushed through along side the processes that further deteriorated their existing social base and further exposing their vulnerability. Hence, there is nothing affirmative about affirmative action programme in case of tribes in India. Rather, there is inbuilt depressor in the way development has pushed in tribal India other than the North-East. Unless this is corrected, development will continue to perpetuate social exclusion”.

    This paper is not exhaustive as herein not all the aspects of exclusive policies and exclusion of tribes in India could be discussed. This paper is limited to only three issues that arise out of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, the development policies and the education policy as these three issues continue to be relevant. The analysis of these three issues vis-vis the condition of tribals, it is undeniable that the dominant policy of the Indian State and its apparatchiks continue to be highly exclusivist against the tribals.

In lieu of Conclusion

    In the light of the above discussion, the inclusive policies for the tribals which are enshrined in the Constitution can be broadly divided as the policies for protection, for economic upliftment and for political participation. Notwithstanding numerous inclusive policies, the inclusion strategy has failed to fulfill the desired objectives and thereby resulting in marginalization of the tribal groups; the exclusion strategy continues to be dominant over the inclusive strategy. Another important point that emerges from the above discussion is that although the concept of social exclusion as a concept has been articulated recently, the phenomenon of social exclusion has been within the experience of the tribals and other social groups in India from much earlier times. Although the concept of social exclusion has enriched the understanding about social realities and highlights the numerous deprivation communities such as tribes are facing, the challenge ahead is how to minimize such exclusion practices. Needless to say if such challenge is successfully met, the tribes, who continue to be at the bottom of the pyramid among the different social groups of the country despite numerous protective laws and other special programmes, can be freed from the deprivations and raised to be at par with the status of other social groups.


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