History of Marginalization: Relationship between Tribes and Forests in Odisha

Nikita Mishra

Abstract Alienating Discourse
Introduction Summary and Conclusion


Marginalization describes the tendencies of human societies whereby those perceived as not adhering to the dominant structures of the society are excluded, from the prevalent systems of protection and integration, and thereby limiting their opportunities and means for survival. This is a very complex phenomenon, which occurs at various levels of societal dimensions. The tribes in this country are pushed to the margins of the society due to various historical and developmental factors. The majority of literature available on the concept of tribes gives us a biased understanding whereby they are labelled as ‘others’ and their ways of life are characterised as ‘inferior’ at various levels. Furthermore these academic positions have been translated into policies for tribal population, which have created unequal social spaces leading to tribal alienation from various socio-economic dimensions. This paper intends to look into the historical trajectory of this marginalization process of the tribal population in Odisha.


Out of all the tribal populated states in India, Odisha occupies a significant position in terms of tribal habitation. Sixty two communities have been designated as scheduled tribes in the state out of which, 13 communities have been recognized as primitive tribal groups. Scheduled tribes constitute nearly 22.21 per cent of the total population of the state (2001 Census). Around 44.70 per cent (1991 census) of the state’s area is under the fifth schedule[2] of the constitution. The main tribes inhabiting this state are Kondh, Santhals, Bhumija, Bonda, Saoras, Bhuyians, Juangs, Lodha, Holua, Ho, Didayi, Paraja, Oraons and many others. Along with their distinctiveness in terms of their language (Kandha tribes speak Kui and Kuvi, Santhal tribes speak Santhali as well as Mundari and Bonda tribes speak Remo language) customs and traditions, certain similarities are also found in their economy and social organizations, beliefs and practices and their way of living. Felix Padel emphasised on the principle of equality, which governs the tribal culture. Community form of owning the resources is a glaring example of this. But that does not mean they don’t have status differences. Women are relatively freer than those of Hindu society and play a major role in gaining economic resources for the household. The tribes in Odisha tend to follow the clan based land tenure system (Kumar 2011:17), which gives them the customary rights on land, trees, forest etc. Hunting, food gathering, shifting cultivation, and fishing are some of the major forest related economic activities, which are carried out by the tribes in Odisha. Tribal groups derive their livelihood from the forest. Both shifting agriculture [3] and settled agriculture are closely related to forest. The tribal groups like Kandha, Juang, Lodha and Bonda are mostly dependent on the shifting cultivation. The tribes believed that shifting cultivation tend to preserve the forest by rotating the growing of crops by forest’s continual regeneration. The forest has been the major source of food, medicine, timber, firewood, “mahua” and agricultural implements for the tribes[4]. The process of socialization among the tribes encourages the knowledge and importance of the nature as a whole. The tribes here have their own youth dormitories where the knowledge of tribal way of life is passed to younger generations. For instance, the Juang communities still have a well-organized dormitory system. They call it as ‘Majang’ and ‘Darbar’ The Juangs are the primitive tribal groups found in the Keonjhar and Angul district of Odisha. Tribes always have a Supreme Being or Mother Earth who is seen as the creator of the life. Kandha worship the Earth Goddess named Darni Penu and Sky God named Bura Penu (Padel 1995: 1) and Paraja tribes worship the earth Goddess as Meriani. They also worship nature Gods like water, rain and wind. The social, economic and religious life of the tribes revolves around the forests, which create a symbiotic relationship between them.

The non-tribal society perceives the tribal communities as inferior and backward. There are various names, which are used to describe the tribes in Odisha. The tribes are addressed as ‘adivasi’, which generally means the aboriginals but for the non tribe adivasi is a derogatory term which characterises the primitiveness or uncivilized nature of the person who lives a low quality of life in the forest. While describing the racial differences, the Odiya people are described as fair skin and high caste where as the tribes are described as dark skin and adivasis (Padel 1995:19). The ways the tribes are physically described is also demeaning such as the anthropometry measurements done on the Kandha tribes on the basis of their skin colour (dark skin colour), their hair (abnormally hairy) and even on the basis of how one smells (Padel 1995: 266). The whole range of terms used and perceived by the non-tribes for the tribal communities is derogatory and deprecating. They are either thought of as inferior or backward and less developed.

Alienating Discourse:

The alienation of the tribes was a result of the ways in which the academic discourse constructed their image. The anthropologists as well as the state perceived the tribal society as ‘inferior’, ‘backward’ as against their society, which they considered to be ‘superior’ and ‘modern’. Thus the Europeans gave this discourse a momentum through the anthropological studies.

Colonial era

Tribes have been given different meanings in different regions, cultural zones and historical contexts, although it basically refers to ‘people’ or communities of ‘people’ (Misra 2008: 429). The tribal societies by the anthropologists are generally characterised as simple, small scale, preliterate, which are considered to be different from ‘mainstream’ culture. The concept of mainstream is again debatable and problematic but here the meaning is usually understood to be similar to national culture, which is universalistic and non specific (Misra 2008: 430). In the initial period of the colonial era, the rulers accentuated the difference between the Hindu society and the tribes. Anthropologists like Andre Beteille believed that tribes are different from caste because they are ‘wild’, ‘savage’ ‘primitive’, practice animistic religion and live in the hilly and backward areas (Prasad 2008:452). They understood that with the opening of the tribal areas the exploitation of the tribes by the non-tribes was increasing because of which they established Protected and Scheduled areas where the tribal laws were also recognized along with the regular laws. But Sociologists like G.S Ghurye criticized the idea that the tribes were different from the Hindu Society rather he called them as the ‘backward Hindus’ (Xaxa 1999: 1519) and strongly propagated for the assimilation of tribes into the ‘mainstream’ society. Similarly, the approach of Elwin towards the tribes was that of isolationist. Though the ideas of Anthropologists like Elwin, Ghurey or Beteillle varied from one another, they were all paternalistic in the nature. They all intruded into the lives of the tribes and formed and propagated their own ideas about tribal development.

The problem of classification between the tribal and other societies reflects the problem in defining the concept of ‘tribe’ in anthropology (Padel 1995: 20). Usually people perceive tribes as those people who live in the remote forest areas, away from the mainstream culture living a life of backwardness and underdevelopment. The Europeans pervaded this notion as a general rule of comparing ‘self’ with what they considered as ‘other’ and gave this discourse a momentum through the anthropological studies (Behera 2010: 186). The theory of cultural evolution[5] described the tribes to be at primal stage of cultural evolution, which was considered to be inferior to the advanced European civilization. The definition of ‘civilization’ based on the division of ‘self’ and ‘other’ gave them the justification to put place the colonial agenda of control and exploitation.

The colonial state entered into the tribal areas with the main motive of using the forest resources for commercial extraction. The system like common property resources, cultural symbolism and the social organization that were practised by the tribes in relation to the forests were not recognized by the colonial administrators. The tribes were claimed to be as encroachers in their homeland, they were accused of being the destroyer of the forests and their methods of cultivation and conservation were thought to be unscientific and primitive. Tribes lose their political and economic independence, self-sufficiency, self-determination and freedom to live and access to land ownership (Padel 1995:178). The British administration believed that the way of ‘civilizing’ the tribes is by assimilating them into the ‘mainstream’ society (ibid). The classic theory of social evolution was used by the British rulers who wanted to ‘civilize’, ‘develop’ and ‘improve’ the knowledge and life style of the tribes. The roads and railway tracts were built by the colonial state to get the access to the interior parts of the regions, the tribal territories were opened up for trade and new form of monetary system got established. These all were responsible for the manipulation and exploitation of the tribal communities. In the year 1864, the forest department was set up and Sir Dietrich Brandis was appointed as the first inspector general of forest. This was the first time when the forest got commoditised and it was used to fulfil the state’s commercial interest. In 1865, the first Indian Forest Act came into being which declared that Government of India was authorised to declare the forest and wasteland as Government Resource Forest. This act was meant to manage forest affairs in terms of protection, preservation and regenerations. The Indian Forest Act 1927 made the use of the forest and its resources a punishable offence for the tribal communities. The Act divided the forest into the categories of reserved, protected and village forest. This forest Act provided law for trespassing, pasturing the cattle or removal of any forest products and these activities were considered to be offense under the Act. There were specific punishments assigned to these offences, which could even send the tribal people to jail. Even the tribes were required to take permissions to collect minor forest produce, medicinal herbs and fuel woods. Suddenly the forest, which the tribal communities were tending for generations suddenly, became the property of the state. The tribes were now required to show the ownership deeds to prove that they were the inhabitants of the forestland. The whole concept of legality and illegality was framed by the state. The laws, land policies and introduction of moneylenders through permanent settlement were all alien to the tribes. Thus the self- sufficiency and the freedom that the tribes were enjoying were curbed with the interference and imposition of foreign rulers and alien laws and regulations.

Tribes reacted to this invasion both by confirming and adapting the processes and by resisting it. There is a long history of tribal rebellions and retreats to the interior, which was a message to the non-tribes to live them alone (Padel 1995:24). The war between the Kandha tribe and the British rulers in Central Odisha started over tribute, plough taxes and duties on alcohol and salt (Padel 1995: 178), the Santhal Rebellion in 1855 -57 which extended from North Bihar to South Odisha to borders of Bengal and led to the emergence of Tilka Majhi, Sindhu and Kanu as the hero of this rebellion, the Kol Uprising (1831-32), the Oraons revolt (1895-97) and the Gond revolt (1857) serve as examples of tribal rebellions in Odisha where the tribes were struggling to save their political autonomy (Pathy 1983: 67). As a reaction to growing incidents of such rebellions, it is said, the colonial rulers promulgated Criminal Tribes Act 1871. The colonial rulers saw these struggles as ‘insurgency’ and their conquest as ‘subjection’ and ‘pacification’ (Padel 1995: 35). These revolts and struggles, of course, had caused fear in the colonial rulers who formulated certain reformation policies like the Chhotanagpur Tenancy Act in 1908, which gave land ownership to the tribes, banned the bonded labour among the tribes, and acknowledged the ethos of Self Rule practiced by the tribes, (Section 76 of the CNT Act, 1908). The state termed these struggles as the way to ‘pacify’, ‘civilize’ and a way to eliminate the ‘lawlessness’ among the tribes.

As mentioned above, anthropology in India remained largely on the evolutionist perspective. The colonial administrators and the anthropologists regarded the traditional knowledge of the tribes as ‘ignorance and superstitious beliefs’ and their ideas as ‘primitive’ (Padel: 1995: 31) in contrast to their own knowledge being scientific and legitimate. They claimed that they knew about the tribe and about their needs more than the tribes themselves do (ibid). Tribal societies were described as pre literate and uncivilized societies (Atal 2008: 444), which mainly referred to the absence of tradition of writing among them. So what the tribes wanted to say was unheard but the texts written on them by the rulers overwhelmed them. Verrier Elwin called the Juang tribes as ‘Nobel savages’, Didayi tribe as ‘wild’ ‘remote; and ‘primitive’, and Saora tribe as ‘rebellious’ and ‘warlike’. The Lodha tribe was labelled as criminal and aggressive by the rulers and was notified as a criminal tribe. Thus the colonial administration along with the anthropologists created an alienating discourse, which is still witnessed in the post- colonial India.

Post-colonial era

With the same view as colonial state, the postcolonial state is using the idea of ‘progress’ and ‘development’ over the tribes whom they regard as ‘others’. The constitution of India describes ‘tribe’[6] as a legally defined group, which enjoys certain amount of protection and welfare from the constitution. Yet it is a fact that scheduled tribes are perceived as a lower social status by the ‘mainstream’ society. In 1967, a Joint Parliamentary Committee was set up to consider the inclusion of the communities demanding the status of the tribe. It adopted five criteria for judging the eligibility of any group to be designated as a tribe. These were (1) indication of primitive traits, (2) distinctive culture, (3) geographical isolation, (4) shyness of contact and (5) backwardness (Atal 2008:445). The use of terms likes ‘primitive traits’ and ‘backward’ is the example of how the colonial mindset still prevails among the postcolonial policy makers and administrations. Such criteria were objected to in the National Tribal Policy Document[7] prepared by Ministry of Tribal Affairs in 2006. It stated that, ‘...some of the terms used e.g. primitive traits, backwardness are also, in today’s context, pejorative and need to be replaced with terms that are not derogatory’ (Para 1.2). Despite the elaborate planning process in this country, the inequality between the tribes and the non-tribes has not been reduced. The tribal communities are still the most disadvantageous population in this country.

The postcolonial government has followed the western path of ‘development’ to fulfil its commercial interest of gaining immediate financial benefits. They have borrowed the colonial policies and programmes for the development of the tribes in this country. The faith in the industrial and economic growth has led to massive displacement and dispossession of people. The present situation in the tribal India has been described by Felix Padel as “internal colonialism[8] whereby the state is held as the solely responsible for the alienation of tribal land. In Odisha, the scheduled tribes have been affected by large scale displacement due to land acquisition by government for different development projects such as infrastructure, dams, mining, industries and plantation programmes (Jena 2010: 80). In the name of development a cultural genocide is being waged against the Adivasi (Padel: 1995) referring to the slow death of everything, which had made their life meaningful. The policy makers of this country under the guidance of the state have found poverty alleviation and development as the solution for combating the issue of ‘backwardness’ and marginalization of the tribal communities. Development is often not seen as the process coming from within the tribal society but as something, which is imposed on them from outside. The tribe is viewed as someone who is ‘in the need of development’. The problem of their marginalization is seen in their way of life, their drinking habits, their culture and custom. This theory of cultural evolution has been kept in mind while formulating the development programmes for the tribes. These outlooks of the administrators and academicians have led to certain set of dichotomies which were similar to the colonial view of tribal people like developed versus underdeveloped, civilized versus uncivilized, advanced versus backward, modern versus primitive and literate versus illiterate (Padel 1995: 307).

The rulers of the newly independent country adopted an integrationist approach for the welfare of the tribal communities in this country. As the colonial state thought the tribes to be inferior and backward, the postcolonial state considered them to be somebody who is in desperate need of “development”. Tribal Development Blocks were formulated in the Second Five Year Plan and the Tribal Sub Plan was created in the Fifth Five Year Plan. Various tribal development programmes were also devised such as Large Scale Multipurpose Societies (LAMPS), Tribal Development Corporations and Tribal cooperative Marketing Development Federation of India Development (TRIFED). These programmes did not adhere to the customary rights or to the communal sharing that are prevalent in the tribal communities rather these programmes ranged from infrastructural development to beneficiary oriented development scheme. The tribal interests, their customary practices or their ways of lives were never given importance. The development programmes forcefully diverted the community from their old age tradition of shifting cultivation. The practice of it was considered responsible for spoiling the relationship between the nature and the human life. As many tribal communities practiced shifting cultivation as their livelihood option, the forest officers perceived the tribes as the main culprit behind the degradation of the forest. Case studies have been conducted by various organizations and research institutes, which prove the aforementioned statement. For instance, Juang Development Agency (JDA) was formulated under the Tribal Sub Plan in Keonjahr District of Odisha. The idea behind introducing this was to make these groups of primitive tribes economically and socially developed. This tribal community is mostly dependent on hunting and gathering as well as on shifting cultivation. The JDA came and the aforementioned economic activities got stopped and in their place cooperatives were introduced. The cooperatives lent money to the tribes and on the other collected minor forest produce (MFPs) from them. But later on with the restriction over the collection of MFPs this was also stopped. So the community was forced to divert from its age old practice of shifting cultivation which was later on opened to the state for the commercial exploitation, and the restriction imposed upon them by the state on their use of forest resources made them more vulnerable (Rath 2006: 20).

The first five-year plan introduced the National Forest policy in 1952, which classified the forests as national forests, village forest and protected forests. The national forest was used to meet the needs for transportation, defence and industries. The protected forest restricted the tribe’s access to the forest resources and they were left only with the village forests. The policy further emphasised on weaning the tribal communities from practicing shifting cultivation, providing adequate laws for the forest management in order to increase the efficacy of the forest department, controlling the grazing of the cattle, improving the availability of the commercial wood in order to give a boost to the industrial production. The access to the forest and the use of the resources were further curtailed in 1972 when the Wildlife Protection Act was introduced. It formalized the national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, conservation reserves and community reserves and also banned the hunting and poaching of the animals. In the same year the state government of Orissa formulated Orissa Prevention of land Encroachment Act whereby it was declared that people residing in the government land without any authorised documents could be evicted from that place. Orissa Forest Act 1972 was another law, which affected the forestland and the tribes of the state. According to this Act, forest was divided into two categories i.e. reserved and protected. Thus the government could declare these large tracts of customary forestland as the state owned land[9] and the people residing in it were held as ‘encroachers’. More than 700 villages still exist in wildlife sanctuaries (Kumar 2011:45) and their inhabitants are considered as the encroachers who needed to be relocated from that place. For instance, recently in 2010, 70 tribal families, were displaced by the Orissa Forest Department from a village named Jenabil, which is located in the core area of the Simlipal Tiger Reserve (Kumar 2011). And such processes of displacement and relocation process were nothing new to the tribes residing in the protected areas.

The National Commission on Agriculture was founded under the Ministry of Agriculture held both the tribes and their way of practicing the shifting cultivation harmful for the forest growth. On the basis of this recommendation the Forest Conservation Act of 1980 was introduced. It gave ample power to the central government to decide effective steps for protecting the environment. The tribes were treated as offenders here. Even walking into the forest was considered as a cognizable offence. The afforestation and plantation programmes were also introduced under this Act. It meant to afforest the barren land to conserve the environment as well as to help the tribal and other forest communities in getting access to the minor forest produce. But the state in the name of conservation and protection was promoting those plants such as eucalyptus, teak and acacia, which hardly provided minor forest products to tribes but had the commercial values. Most of the plantation was done on the shifting cultivation land and the tribes were helpless before the forest or revenue department because they did not have any legal entitlement to such land. Thus the plantation was used as an important tactic by the forest department to evict the cultivators from the land of shifting cultivation. In Keonjhar district, compensatory afforestation led to displacement of Juang community from their customary swidden land (Kumar 2011: 42).

Due to the faulty understanding of the state regarding the idea of ‘development’ and imposition of stringent laws upon the tribal communities, land alienation, dispossession and displacement[10] of the tribes became a common phenomenon. Tribal struggles took place particularly in the 70s and 80s against the land alienation, displacement, mining and industries and deforestation and for the demand of different statehood. The environmental movement and forest movements gained huge importance. These movements were the response against the use of the forest for the commercial purposes. The increasing sense of alienation amongst tribes and its manifestation in various forms of movements against the state could not be ignored. The state had to introduce policies, which emphasised and acknowledged the tribes as its partners in protecting and conserving the forests. In 1988 the National Forest Policy 1952 was amended to recognize the importance of the communities for protecting the forest and environment. It encouraged people’s involvement in forestation under the scheme of joint forest management and allowed tribes and rural people to meet their needs of the fuel and fodder from the forest they managed.

Joint Forest Management

The introduction of Joint Forest Management (JFM) is seen as the paradigm shift in the understanding of the state on the relationship between tribes and the forest. The state through the formulation of JFM emphasised on the partnership of the local communities and state forest department for carrying out collective forest management. The villagers agree to assist in the safeguarding of forest resources in exchange for which they receive non-timber forest products and a share of the revenue from the sale of timber products. The National Forest Policy 1988 provided the comprehensive details about the objectives of JFM[11]. Odisha was the first state to issue a resolution that seeks to involve local communities in protection of forests through a resolution in August 1988[12]. In the JFM, a village protection committee is formulated which consists of villagers of the concerned village. Indian villages usually have an informal forest management system, for instance in Odisha villages traditionally have the arrangement of “thengapalli” i.e. voluntary patrolling by the villagers on the rotation basis. Often conflicts occurred between the people involved in the traditional arrangement and the forest protection committee introduced by JFM. The state did not acknowledge the community based forest management like ‘thengapalli’. The villagers who were promised to be treated as partners were treated as subordinates. This is one of the policies where the state wants only the physical presence of the people not their cognitive partnership. The JFM has been facilitated by the forest department, the power given to the forest protection committees are generally very low. For instance the committees are expected to assist the forest department in protecting the forests from damage but they do not have the power to take their own decision or set their own rules for doing the same. The power of the forest department in regulating and monitoring the people’s participation in the forest management stands in opposition to the objective of autonomy that the communities are expected to receive from this Act.

Forest Rights Act 2006

The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006 is another significant Act because with its introduction the state for the first time talked about the rights of the tribal communities in this country. While JFM focused on the participation of the tribes in the forest management, the FRA spoke about their ownership rights over their ancestral land, forest and forest resources. FRA showed a paradigm shift in the understanding of the state whereby the state not only recognized the tribal rights over the forests and forest resources but also acknowledged the tribal understanding of forest and their relationship with it. The struggle for the implementation of such legislation was carried out nationwide by the tribal communities, tribal rights organizations and activists after the Supreme Court ordered, in 2002, the removal of illegal encroachers from the forest areas [13]. This Act notified in the Gazette of India (2nd January, 2007) is applicable to those members or the communities of the scheduled tribes who primarily reside in and who depend on the forests or forestlands for livelihood needs, which also includes the pastoralist communities. The forest rights include individual, community as well as development rights [14]. Some of the other features of the Act include recognition of the inalienable rights of the forest dwelling population comprising scheduled tribes and traditional forest dwellers. Under this Act forest dwelling scheduled tribes and other traditional forest dwellers have been granted the ‘right to in situ rehabilitation including alternative land in cases where the Scheduled Tribes and other traditional forest dwellers have been illegally evicted or displaced from forest land of any description without receiving their legal entitlement to rehabilitation prior to 13th day of December, 2005.’ (Section 3(1)(m). This Act further recognizes the rights of forest dwelling scheduled tribes and other traditional forest dwellers to ‘protect, regenerate or conserve or manage any community forest resource which they have been traditionally protecting and conserving for sustainable use.’ (Section 3(1) (i)). Another important feature of this Act is the empowerment of Gram Sabha or ‘village assembly which consist of all adult members of village with full and restricted participation of women’ (Section 5 of the Act)). The Act too recognizes the authority of the Gram Sabha (Section 6(1) of the Act) ‘to initiate the process for determining the nature and extent of individual or community forest rights or both that may be given to the forest dwelling Scheduled tribes or other traditional forest dwellers.’ The Act has been criticized by different academicians, environmentalists as well as by the tribal activists groups. It was thought that this Act is another strategy by the state to evade the pressure that was being put upon it through various tribal movements. Promoting new policy did not involve much risk because the state could transform and redefine it anytime at the implementation level (Arora 1993: 693). Secondly, giving power to the Gram Sabha is seen as the process whereby the state in the name of empowering people has actually expanded its own power and strength over the grass roots. For instance even if PESA has vested certain rights in the decentralized system, this power could be overruled by the state imperatives and on the other hand the system can be pressed into approving state’s programmes (Hebbar 2006: 4954). James Ferguson (2002) called this process as ‘etatization’ whereby the state is distributing, multiplying the tangles and clots of power[15]. Thus the state by establishing decentralized institutions has expanded its reach and extended its distribution power. The institutions cannot overpower the state’s importance as an authority rather they have to abide by the state’s programmes and plans. Thirdly, the Act has been criticised by various groups as another form of ‘vote bank’ for the state rather than a new tribal development measure. It is regarded as an alternative to bringing development to the forest, which will only bring the land mafia, further disfranchising the tribal population (Hebbar 2006: 4953). The state of Odisha ranked top in the implementation of the FRA [16] despite the fact that the state government has been constantly alleged of violating the rules of this Act. The concern regarding the model of economic policies carried out by the state is gaining contemporary recognition. It was even ironical to observe that when the debates and discussions regarding the forest rights bill were underway, different state governments’ were signing MoUs with multinational companies. When POSCO[17] was accused of violating the norms of FRA by the Central team, the state government without providing prior explanation to the Union government had already resorted to police actions to evict the people from the villages [18]. The state even claimed that the people made no claims for the land under the Forest Rights Act from the concern villages. Many tribes did not have their ownership deeds, which could prove their legal rights. Oral & physical evidence, which is permitted by the rules, was not being accepted and instead, documentary evidence of 75 years of occupation (prior to 13th Day of December) was demanded from the concerned villagers by the government. Even if the Section 2 (h) of the FRA Act has defined the definition of the habitat, claims regarding the same by the Juang in Keonjhar district and Dongria Konds in Kalahandi are still pending[19]. Further Section 3(1)(a) of the Act grants the right ‘for self-cultivation for livelihood by a member or members or members of a forest dwelling Scheduled Tribe or other traditional forest dwellers, but still shifting cultivation under the community rights are yet to be recognized under this Act in different parts of the state.

In India, Odisha occupies an important place in terms of deposits and mining of minerals. By 2005, the state government had granted 605 mining leases [20]. Information obtained under the RTI Act on diversion of forest land for projects reveals that in Odisha, most of the diversions have taken place without compliance to requirements under FRA and the informed consent of Gram Sabhas (Das 2012). In 2010 the Saxena committee on Vedanta, the Meena Gupta committee on POSCO, and the joint committee of MOTA-MOEF on FRA all reported non-compliance with FRA in the diversion of forest land. In the final analysis, the manner of the implementation of the Act leads one to believe as if the State has found a new technique to create an environment conducive for the private capital that could be invested to exploit the natural resources with short-term gains to the State. Thus this supposedly progressive legislation is a ploy of the State to show its welfare attitude while providing piece meal services to the tribes of this country.

Summary and Conclusion

Notwithstanding the fact that it has been for more than fifty years since the State has been pursuing the planning process for the tribal welfare, tribes continue to remain as one the most marginalized sections in this country. The Eurocentric notions that were imposed upon the tribes by the colonial rulers have been carried over by the postcolonial rulers and are translated into various policy measures. The colonial government thought the tribes as ‘inferior’, ‘ignorant’ and ‘superstitious’ where as the post colonial government saw tribes as ‘backward’ and ‘underdeveloped’. It may be recalled that Odisha has the largest number of the tribal communities residing in it. They form a symbiotic relationship with the forest and forestland. The forest forms an important part in their ways of life. Their relationship with forest is community based whereby they follow the customary rights over land and communal ownership of village land. The literature available on Odisha tribes both in local as well as in English language gives us a biased understanding whereby their culture and custom are seen as primitive and their way of life is seen as under developed. In eighties and after, the emphasis on development and progress encouraged the incursion of private capital on the tribal regions of this country. This period also saw the rise of the tribal struggle against the land alienation, displacement, mining and industries, deforestation and environment degradation. Also this period saw the rise in demand for statehood to the regions with large tribal concentrations. The tribes were resisting against the state’s power and domination. With the fear of losing the power and grip over the people, forest and land resources, the state introduced various progressive legislations as evidence to its adherence to the conventional welfare role. Policies like JFM and FRA were enacted in the environment of economic liberalization. Thus even if the state enacted these Acts, it made sure that the complications and vagueness within them were maintained such that the implementation process could get distorted. The policies were formulated with the inherent bias and prejudices against the tribal society along with the hidden vested interest of the state to hold on the power over the natural resources. Thus the anthropological discourses, which created a biased image of the tribal communities, have been translated into the administrative policies leading to the marginalization of the tribal communities.