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Role of Tribal and Indigenous People in Contemporary Scenario and Criteria for Determination of Scheduled Tribes: A Reports

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Role of Tribal and Indigenous People in Contemporary Scenario and Criteria for Determination of Scheduled Tribes: A Report


A day long workshop on Role of Tribal and Indigenous People in Contemporary Scenario and Criteria for Determination of Scheduled Tribes was held on 24th of April 2006 at Department of Anthropology University of Delhi. The workshop was sponsored by Commission for Review of Social & Environmental Sector, Policies, Plans and Programmes (CRESP) Government of Sikkim and organized by the Indian Anthropological Association. The workshop witnessed an eclectic gathering well represented by scholars, bureaucrats and NGO representatives.

The inaugural session was graced by the distinguished guest Ms. Meena Gupta, IAS, Secretary, Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Government of India. Professor B.K. Roy Burman, the eminent anthropologist and the ch`air person CRESP delivered keynote address while Professor R.K. Jain chaired the session. Professor Surinder Nath, Head, Department of Anthropology extended a warm welcome to the guests and delegates. In his welcome address Professor Nath highlighted the need of collaborative effort of the academic genius and the government machinery to arrive at a meaningful discourse and policy pertaining to the tribes of India.

Dr. S.M. Patnaik, President, Indian Anthropological Association introduced the gathering to the theme and spirit of the workshop. While explaining the nuances of academic and administrative perspectives towards the tribal population, Dr. Patnaik reconciled the divergences between the two approaches by drawing attention from theory and practice to the matters of theory in practice towards indigenous population of India. Dr. Patnaik’s address gave the point of departure for further discussions. Professor B.K. Roy Burman reiterated need for viable criteria of determination of scheduled tribes. Professor Burman drew the attention to the 8-point criteria identified by him on the basis of his rich experience with tribes and tribal studies.

Ms. Meena Gupta’s observations on the tribal scenario with regard to the government policies and programs gave a different dimension to the discussion giving a desirable twist from the theoretical to practical issues. Ms. Gupta elaborated on the policy of liberalization which provides for the scheduling of tribes. Emphasizing on the geographical and cultural diversities challenging the process of scheduling, Ms. Gupta highlighted the need of sub-categorization for the fair and more manageable distribution of the benefits which are otherwise cornered by the powerful sections. She said that more and more entrants for scheduling add to the burden to resources which will not be able to carry the loads unless the options of sub-categorization and de-scheduling are a given a serious thought. At this juncture Ms. Gupta called for the support of anthropologists to disentangle the knots. Mr. Mardip, secretary general, International Consortium of Indigenous people, spoke on the struggle of the indigenous people in assertion of their identity in the changing global order. At the end of the session, Professor S.L. Malik gave the vote of thanks.

The first session of the workshop revolved around the themes (i) Precolonial and Colonial experiences with the tribes of India and (ii) Understanding Diversity and Process of ‘othering’. Professor R.S. Mann touched the various chords of the problem of identifying uniform criteria for such a diverse populace as Indian tribes. He dwelled on the three approaches – Philosophical, Substantive and Comparative, to arrive at the actual import of the term ‘tribe’. He drew on rich ethnographic data from various tribal communities of India and anecdotes to highlight the inefficacy of the old criteria of low-level technology, dwindling/stagnant population, low level of literacy, etc. Professor Mann urged the anthropologists to look beyond the boundaries of the country and take cues from the other countries dealing effectively with their tribal population.

Dr. Meena Radhakrishnan took up the case of Korawa of central India through a historical perspective. She explained how the tribe that was a victim of displacement of railway project was labeled as denotified tribe. Dr. Radhakrishnan raised important questions with regard to the plight of the ‘denotified’ tribes and the administrative apathy towards them. Dr. Nilika Mehrotra drew attention towards the policy of ‘othering’ that has been continuously marginalizing the tribal communities in a vicious manner. She emphasized on the role of anthropologists and their ethnographic knowledge in rescuing the communities from such a vicious cycle and identifying the relevant mechanisms in dealing with the tribal situation.

Professor R.K. Jain talked of the dialectics of longing and belonging in Indian diaspora. Professor Jain said that one gets important insights into the tribal situation by looking at Indian overseas. He touched upon the issue of identity, transnationalism and citizenship to come to terms with the demarcation of criteria of identifying scheduled tribes. Dr. R.P. Mitra drew attention to the colonial tinge in the manner we define and perceive the tribal communities. Dr. Mitra urged to move from the discourse of rationality which is the hangover of colonial government to the discourse of developmentalism. Professor V.K. Srivastava drew attention to the life cycle of the terms and concepts. He said that when the concepts or terms are coined they are not value loaded but gradually they take up the values and connotations as it happened with the term ‘primitive’. Professor Srivastava moved on to the concept of tribe and its implications in the contemporary tribal and academic scenario.

The themes of the second session were (i) Assertion of Identity and Politics of Scheduling and (ii) Revisiting Constitutional Provisions. Mr. C.B. Tripathy led the discussion while tracing out the history of the usage of the term “primitive tribe”. He summarized how the concept of criteria of primitive tribe was developed and debated in the various committees and departments instituted to deal with the administration of tribal population. By hailing Loku Committee of 1964 as a landmark, the criteria identified by the committee are still invoked by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Dr. Tripathy he dwelled on the ideas of Ms. Meena Gupta pertaining to Sub categorization and de-scheduling and urged the audience to visit the criteria identified by Professor RoyBurman in that background. He sought the critique and comments of the larger academia on these criteria.

Professor Subhadra Channa took the audience to the different terrain by diverting the attention to the administrative handling of the tribes. She spoke of the difference between the perspectives of the administration and that of the anthropologist. Giving example of the Kalinganagar firing she held that the present administrative approach towards the tribal people is much of the colonial legacy that is not really sensitive to the tribal problems. Drawing on the idea of a meaningful perspective, Dr. Nilika Mehrotra called for the consideration of political economy approach.

Professor Virginius Xaxa’s compelling deliberations on the issue of tribal identity gave important insights into the process of scheduling. Professor Xaxa showed how the tribal identity is akin to middle class identity and how the movement of population bears upon the identity formation and assertion and the further implications on scheduling and de-scheduling. Professor A.K. Kapoor, the chairperson of the session summarized the arguments of the various speakers and put across his comments on the politics of scheduling. Professor Kapoor also pointed to the ambiguities pertaining to the scheduling of caste and tribe.

In the valedictory session, the chairpersons Prof. Tiplut Nongbri and Dr. S.M. Patnaik gave opportunity to the floor for open discussion. Prof. Nongbri took the lead and delineated the actual purpose of the discussion which had to be beyond the definitions of tribe and more towards the process of ‘othering’. She took up the issues of de-scheduling and heterogeneity in discussion on the criteria of scheduling. Mr. Saha, Joint Director from the office of Registrar General of India appreciated the initiative of the workshop and openly sought the involvement of social scientists in dealing with the tribal issues. Dr. Sunita Reddy pointed to the weak data base from the tribal situation. Dr. Reddy called for a shift from micro-perspective to macro perspective so that a data base could be arrived at to facilitate research and understanding of the tribal people.
Professor P.C. Joshi reflecting on the background paper and the keynote address tried argue for more scientific approach rather than the emotional one to identify the criteria, moreover the criteria has to be more dynamic than static touching the ground realities of everyday life. He further said the diversities of the tribal world have to be accommodated which can be done by stratifying the criteria in terms of essential, desirable and additional criteria. Finally the political implications of the criteria have to be kept in mind.

Dr. Nilika Mehrotra expanded the scope of the discussion by pointing to the issues pertaining to the minority and Dalit issues on the whole. She said that the tribal issues can not be delinked from this larger context. She called for the inputs from the spokespersons from different tribal regions. Dr. R.P. Mitra reiterated the necessity of developmental outlook for dealing with the tribes and advocated for the conservation of local bio-resource and indigenous knowledge. Professor I.S. Marwaha talked of the obsoleteness of the existing criteria of identification of scheduled tribes and urged upon the academic community to arrive at more viable criteria taking cognizance of such issues as movement and migration.

Professor V.K. Srivastava summed up the session and the workshop. Beginning from the approach of protective discrimination immanent in the idea of scheduling, Professor Srivastava traversed different terrains, debating the utility and indispensability of the concept of tribe to the importance of understanding the distinctiveness of tribal communities to the necessity of remaining attentive to the emic viewpoint and ethno history in dealing with the tribes. Professor P.C. Joshi read out the rapporteur’s report and delivered the vote of thanks to the Chair.