Today the Modi government is celebrating ‘Tribal Pride Day’ across the country in the name of ‘Virsa Munda Jayanti.’ According to an article published by Union Tribal Affairs Minister Arjun Munda in a newspaper, it is Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s respect and unwavering love for the Tribal society and its culture that he has named the birth anniversary of Lord Virsa Munda as ‘Tribal Pride Day’. By announcing the celebration, the respect of the Tribal society has been increased in the entire country. Today, this is the third year when our country is celebrating ‘Tribal Pride Day’ with full respect, honour, and enthusiasm. The article further states that ‘Tribal Pride Day’ is a proof of the government’s commitment towards the welfare and empowerment of these marginalized groups. Through various policies, programs and laws, the Central Government aims to uplift the Tribal society and remove historical injustice. The article also talks about further strengthening the rights of the Tribal community through the Forest Rights Act, PESA and other laws.
Let us see what is the truth of the above claims of Modi government regarding Tribal people? Especially when the Modi government has made a Tribal woman, Mrs. Draupadi Murmu, the President of India to influence the Tribals. This can be seen from the following brief discussion: –
1. Landlessness, joblessness, and poverty among Tribals:
According to 2011 census, 35.65% Tribals in the country are landless and only 8% of them are employed in government and private sector. Among Tribals, 44.7% families are below the poverty line with a monthly income of only Rs 816. 79% of Tribal families fall in the extremely deprived category. From this you can imagine how landless, unemployed and victims of poverty the Tribal society is in the country. It is also noteworthy that even after the arrival of Modi government at the Centre since 2014, there has been no improvement in the condition of the Tribals because no concrete efforts have been made by this government for the welfare and empowerment of the Tribals. On the contrary, they have been deprived of land.
2. Failure of the Forest Rights Act made to give land rights to Tribals:
In 2006, the then UPA government had enacted the Forest Rights Act to give land rights to the Tribals, which came into force in 2008. The main objective of this Act was to give the Tribals and Forest Dwellers the right to ownership of the land under their control so that they can live permanently at one place and earn their living by farming on the land received under this Act. Unfortunately, due to the anti-Tribal and anti-Dalit mentality of the government machinery, this law was not implemented honestly due to which the Tribals/Forest Dwellers could not get ownership rights of the land. The state governments did not show the desired level of will power and interest in this. As a result, Tripura, Kerala, and Orissa were the only three states in the entire country where land was allotted to Tribals under this Act. The credit for this goes to the Communist government of Tripura and Kerala and the activism of Tribal organizations and Patnaik government in Orissa.
Instead of strictly implementing the Forest Rights Act, the Modi government formed at the Centre in 2014 has worked to thwart it because it is committed to handing over land in Tribal areas to the corporates for mining. This is the reason that in 2019, when the hearing of the PIL started in the Supreme Court filed by the Wildlife Trust organization to remove the illegal encroachment on the forest land and vacate it and hand it over to the Forest Department, there was no one from the Modi government to present the side of the Tribals. Government lawyer did not appear. It was also said in this petition that apart from illegal encroachment on forest land, the land whose claims have been cancelled under the Forest Rights Act should also be vacated because in the eyes of the law, that too is illegal encroachment. The result of this was that the Supreme Court passed an ex-party order in which all the states were ordered to vacate all the land with cancelled claims under the Forest Rights Act and submit the compliance report to the Forest Department by July 24, 2019. The number of Tribal families affected by this order of the Supreme Court is approximately 20 lakhs in the entire country, of which Uttar Pradesh also has 74,700 families. Against this order of the Supreme Court, our party All India People’s Front, along with some other organizations, filed an appeal against the said order, in which we appealed to the Supreme Court against the order of eviction from the land having cancelled forest rights claims. requested a stay and direct all states to re-examine all claims, which the Supreme Court accepted. At present, due to the same order, the eviction of Tribals and Forest Dwellers is on hold. It is extremely regrettable that the work of re-examining these claims is going on at a very slow pace in BJP ruled states, which exposes the claims of Tribal love of the Modi government.
3. Violation of forest rights of Tribals by Forest (Conservation) Amendment Act-2023:
By this amendment many types of land have been taken out of the scope of the Forest Conservation Act -1980. With this, it will be possible to build zoos, entertainment places and Safaris in the forest land. Similarly, land can be acquired for defence works up to 100 kilometers near the border of China and Pakistan. Similarly, the condition of taking prior permission of Gram Sabha for converting forest land for non-forest purpose has been removed. This will lead to a huge reduction in forest land which is not in the interest of the Tribals. Through the new amendment, the work of reforestation can also be given to private individuals and organizations including corporates. This will lead to violation of the community rights of Tribals and Forest Dwellers on forest. This amendment brought by Modi government is an attack on the interests of Tribals/Forest Dwellers.
4. Tribal existence in crisis:
RSS and BJP call the Tribals (Adivasi) as Forest Dwellers (Vanvasi) instead of Tribals and run their organization under the name of Forest Dwellers. There is a deep trick of RSS behind this. Everyone knows that there are different communities living in our country who have their own religions and different identities. The tribals, who are called Scheduled Tribes in the Constitution, are also a separate community, which has its own religion, its own gods and goddesses and a distinct culture. They have different geographical areas and have different identities.
Even in our Constitution, these geographical areas have been called Tribal Areas and there is a provision for a separate administrative system for them. Under this system, the administrative system of these areas is not under the Chief Minister of the state but directly under the Governor and the President of India, for whose assistance there is a Tribal Area Council which has a separate structure. There are also Schedules 5 and 6 of the Constitution to protect their rights.
In these areas, instead of the normal Panchayat Raj system at the village level, there is a special Gram Panchayat system called Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas Act, 1996) i.e., PESA and this is the traditional Gram Panchayat system for village swaraj. In this, the Panchayat has the right over all the natural resources/minerals in the Panchayat and the profit from them can be spent only on the development of the village. But this is a conspiracy of the governments of different political parties under which this system has been implemented only in some Tribal Areas.
Apart from this, it is also noteworthy that Dalits and Tribals have been listed as Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in our Constitution. Apart from political reservation, they have been given reservation in government services and education. Even in our census, they are counted separately by sub-caste.
Apart from this, Hindu Marriage Act and Hindu Inheritance Law also do not apply to the Tribals. For these reasons, the Tribal community has its own separate religion, separate gods and goddesses, separate rituals, and separate culture. The Tribals have been demanding the name of their religion “Sarna” in the Census but Modi government is not agreeing to it. As such the Tribals are listed as Hindus or as Others.
Due to the reasons mentioned above, the RSS calls the Tribals as Vanavasis (Forest dwellers) instead of Adivasi because calling them tribal would force them to consider themselves as Aryans and the Tribals as non-Aryans (indigenous people). This will destroy the Hindutva model of RSS which talks about Integralism. That is why RSS is continuously engaged in Hinduizing the Tribals. In this it has also got success in some areas which is used to attack and harass non-Hindus. It is also a fact that Christian missionaries have also Christianized some Tribals, but they have not used them to attack non-Christian people.
The main aim of RSS is to bring the Tribals into the model of Hindutva by calling them forest dwellers instead of tribals and by Hinduizing them and using them to suppress non-Hindus. Along with this, wrong laws have been made to stop their religious conversion, whereas our Constitution gives the right to religious freedom to all citizens.
In many states, Tribals who were Christians are being forcibly made to return home and converted into Hindus. Here, RSS has started Hinduisation of Tribal children (slogan of Jai Shri Ram and establishment of Ram as a deity) by establishing single teacher schools in Tribal areas. Apart from this, RSS has already been Hinduizing Tribal children by running many Vanvasi Ashrams. This process has become even faster with the establishment of BJP governments in most of the states of the country.
Thus, RSS is trying to deny the existence of Tribals by declaring them as Forest Dwellers. This is a threat not only to the Tribals but to the diversity of the entire country. Therefore, the Tribals will have to understand this trick of RSS and foil the conspiracy to erase their identity.
It is clear from the above discussion that Modi government’s tribal love is just an illusion and it has no interest in the welfare and empowerment of the Tribals. It adopts various tactics like celebrating Tribal Pride Day just to get their votes.
SR Darapuri, National President All India Peoples Front