Having adopted a democratic system of governance after independence, the tribal population also became a part of the democratic order. The new State was committed to bring about welfare of the people in general and tribes in particular.
Accordingly, Constitution of India under Articles 15(4), 46, 244(1), and 339 provided special provisions for the administration and control of tribal areas for the welfare of the people therein. Seats were reserved in legislatures and administrative services for SCs and STs.
The Constitution also guaranteed the protection of their culture and language even after becoming a part of mainstream. However, the emancipation of tribals is not an easy task because the powerful feudal lords with their vested interests have to be removed first. Moreover, the government did not specify a development policy exclusively for tribals but in the general interest of the country.
The main reason for the failure of programs initiated for the welfare of the tribals is elitist bias and lopsided priorities. The bureaucracy decides what is good for the tribes without consulting them or involving the tribal populace. Further there was no concept of project formulation and appraisal.
The industrialization in mineral-rich areas has done no good to the tribes. Establishment of large-scale industries in some states led to large-scale displacement as well. They were dislodged from their traditional habitations. Consequently, they joined the ranks of landless laborers without any training, or aptitude for any semi-skilled job.
The landlords turned them into bonded laborers. Furthermore, it was realized that the administrative staff entrusted with the job of ensuring the welfare of tribes turned apathetic to the needs of the tribes and never carried out programs on the pretext of inadequate funds. There was also rampant corruption and gross abuse of power.
The personnel are unaware of the needs of the tribes, their social, cultural, traditional, and linguistic values. Instead of improving the conditions, the personnel became the exploiters of the tribes. The administrative staff could easily get away because of the illiteracy of the tribal populace.
The lack of scientific and objective information among the power structures, lack of interest among the protectors, lack of enthusiasm among the administrators resulted in the deterioration of the living conditions of the tribals. There was hunger and malnutrition pervading in most of the tribal areas.
At this juncture there was an emerging trend of tribal consciousness and mobilization. The tribals realized the need to act collectively and carve out an identity for themselves. These sentiments often lead to the beginning of a sub-nationalist movement or awakening. The people in the North-East particularly in the states of Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur, and Meghalaya have been demanding autonomy or independence for the past many years.
The main reason for the display of these secessionist tendencies is as follows: firstly, the distinctiveness of the region and the people; secondly, internal structural contradictions within the society of North-East; thirdly, conflict of interests between the local and international bourgeoisie; and finally, the location of region on the national frontiers especially Burma, Bangladesh, and China. Another important point that has to be borne in mind is that some movements are violent while others are non-violent. Religious differences also intensify the movements.
Classification of Tribal Movements:
According to Ghanshyam Shah (Social Movements in India, pp. 95, 96), different scholars have evolved different typologies of tribal movements.
Mahapatra (1972) applies the typologies widely used for social movements to tribal movements:
The reactionary movement tries to launch a movement to bring back “the good old days”.
The conservative movement tries to maintain the status quo.
iii. Revisionary or Revolutionary:
The revisionary or revolutionary movements are those which are organized for “improvement” or “purification” of the cultural or social order by eliminating “evil” or “low” customs, beliefs, or institutions.
Surajit Sinha (1968) classifies the movements into:
i. Ethnic Rebellion,
ii. Reform Movements,
iii. Political Autonomy Movements within the Indian Union,
iv. Secessionist Movements, and
v. Agrarian Unrest.
K.S. Singh (1983a) makes more or less the same classification except that he uses the terms “Sanskritization” instead of reform movement and “cultural movements” instead of ethnic movements.
S.M. Dubey (1982) divides the tribal movements in northeast India into four categories:
i. Religious and social reform movements,
ii. Movements for separate statehood,
iii. Insurgent movements, and
iv. Cultural rights movements.
In fact, there is a very thin line dividing the second, third, and fourth types. However, these typologies do not include the recent movements around the issues of forest rights and environment and displacement of the tribals due to the “development” programs of the state and the market.
Briefly we might reformulate the typologies as follows:
i. Ethnic movements, which include culture/religion identity,
ii. Agrarian and forest rights movements,
iii. Environmental movements,
iv. Involuntary displacement and rehabilitation movements, and
v. Political movements around the nationality question for a separate state.
Not only is there a great deal of overlapping among all five types, but they are also interconnected and one leads to the other.
Now, let us discuss some of the important tribal movements of India.