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How the British trampled the tribal Indians

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Young Baiga Tribe women.
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The British first encountered tribal communities in the hilly regions of the Malabar situated between the Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea. Like with other social orders within the Indian Territory, the relationship between the British and the tribals quickly transformed into a hierarchical superior-inferior one.

The social organization of these tribal communities was distinct from the general mass on many counts, but for colonizers they were just another people subject to the diktats of the British monarchy. They made no effort to understand the complexities of the tribal society until the 20th century.

But these efforts did little to alleviate the tribals from their utter destitution; rather it inflicted upon them only more misery. JP Hutton, the commissioner of the census of 1931 summed up the impact of British policies on the tribals as follows: “far from being of immediate benefit to the tribes, the establishment of colonial rule in India did most of them much more harm than good.”

In 1936, the British government passed the ‘Excluded and Partially Excluded Area’ Act identifying certain sections in India as tribal and therefore needing special protection. But underlying this law, that sought to prevent exploitation and infringement into the tribal communities by outsiders, was a political motive of the colonizers of ruling by dividing the society into distinct and disparate silos.

The policy, however, failed in its objective to bring a complete segregation between the tribals and the general mass, which was the intended purpose of the Act. The infiltrations into these self-sufficient and economically autonomous social organisations by outsiders continued even after the law came into effect.

The missionaries that spread itself throughout the expanse of India did do welfare work that reached deep into the social fabric of the tribal communities. However, their work was not only to provide relief to the downtrodden and the marginalised but was also motivated by a religious agenda.

The rich tribal heritage of this country has therefore only seen deterioration since its first engagement with the outsiders. The economic oppression, political subjugation and the vulnerabilities borne out of the vagaries of nature have only compounded over the years.

Even after India’s paradigmatic shift in its political identity from colonised to independent in the mid-20th century, the conditions of the tribals has improved insufficiently. Their dependence on the endowments of nature is continuously threatened with the growing demands for natural resources from rapidly industrialising India.

This is best exemplified by the decade-long opposition by the tribal communities of Niyamgiri hills, in the state of Odisha, to the mining company Vedanta Resources. They believe that their mountain god, Niyam Raja, is the only source of food, water and their way of life. “We get almost everything from the mountain,” says Kutia Majhi, president of the resistance group Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti (the Save Niyamgiri Foundation). “All we need from the government is salt, kerosene. The government should spare our culture,” he adds.

This is indicative of the friction in modern day India between the tribals and the general masses; which bears uncanny similarities with the relationship, two centuries ago, between the colonizers and the tribals.

India’s burgeoning economic needs cannot be attained at the pyre of its rich tribal heritage for it will be a perversion of its democratic ideals. The much vaunted ‘inclusive growth’ will be mere dry sloganeering if it fails to take under its fold the vulnerable tribal communities.

(Inputs by Rajesh Ghosh)

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Copyright 2015 NewsGram

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‘Tribes of India’ : An Online Database to Document the Lives of Indian Tribes

The database would contain rare and exclusive videos and photographs, above thousands, which have been collected from various Tribal Research Institutes around the country

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Indian Tribes, Tribal culture
Tribal culture. Wikimedia
  • The ‘Tribes of India’ will showcase the lifestyle, culinary culture, conditions of living of the tribes
  • It is going to be amazing to form a database collecting all the information regarding the characteristics of the tribes, as those will be accessible in the distance of a click
  • Experts from the ministry has also stated that the database would be frequently updated with new research inputs from sources and scientists

New Delhi, August 10, 2017: The very first attempt at producing a documentation of the lives of the tribal in India, is ongoing. The ‘Tribes of India’ will showcase the lifestyle, culinary culture, conditions of living, and historical and chronological facts regarding the evolution of their traditions and culture. The ‘repertoire’ is focusing on answering questions such as- the difference between the Gond tribe of Uttar Pradesh and the Gonds of Jharkhand, whether the tribes in Jharkhand possess a secret cure for anemia, and the status of living of the Santhals in the remote forest-zones.

ALSO READ: Lalung Tribe of Northeast India: What Makes them Stand Apart!

A database on the tribes of India is to be created by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs. The project aims to bring into light the art and culture, history of evolution and anthropological facts, lifestyle and eating practices, the rate of mortality, education system, architecture and the contribution of the tribals in India’s struggle for freedom, Economic Times has reported.

It has been planned that the database would contain rare and exclusive videos and photographs, above thousands, which have been collected from various Tribal Research Institutes around the country. It is true that the research institute has always showcased such collections, but this is the first time it is going to be saved in an exclusive database.

It is going to be amazing to form a database collecting all the information regarding the characteristics of the tribes, as those will be accessible in the distance of a click, from now on. Techniques to introduce a feature that would enable a viewer to take a virtual tour of the architecture of a tribal hut is also going to be implemented, a senior ministry official said to Economic Times.

According to the report, about 10 crore scheduled-tribe people form an 8.6% of the entire population of the country. But it has been observed that there has been no sincere attempt to showcase and explore the unique lifestyle of the tribes. The official further stated that the database would pose as an excellent guide for the research-scholars because it will contain the necessary statistics. Experts from the ministry have also stated that the database would be frequently updated with new research inputs from sources and scientists.

The database is to follow the effort of the government to explore and showcase the lifestyle of the Indian tribes and dedicate some museums as well to the tribes. The Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi addressed the nation and asked all to explore and research on the contributions made by the Scheduled Tribes in India’s freedom struggle, Economic Times has reported.

The database will also include links to the museums of various states post their construction.

-prepared by Antara Kumar of NewsGram. Twitter: @ElaanaC