Over 20,000 tribal people from 12 states are marching to India’s capital Delhi from Gwalior to place three key demands before the Prime Minister: creation of a national land authority for supervision of land reforms, a single widow system to resolve land disputes, and fast-track courts for speedy disposal of such cases.
As expected, the news was covered only in international media (including the Angolan Press) and not India’s own shiny happy media. It would be too early to place great hopes on this new initiative being undertaken by the tribal people of India. All the same, it is a refreshing development in a situation where the tribal development issue has been caught up for years in the struggle between a militant Maoist movement and an equally aggressive state and state-sponsored paramilitary.
India’s tribal people have suffered the worst since independence primarily because of their inability to do what the backward castes were able to do so well : to emerge as a sizable homogeneous political force. And between 1950 and 1990, 8.5 million tribal people have been displaced from their traditional lands due to industrialization or preservation of these lands as forest lands (Ministry of tribal affairs). Educational and health standards among tribal population remain abysmal with literacy rates for tribal people being as low as 34% in Orissa in 2001. (src: Govind Chandra Rath) Such a situation leaves the tribal people totally unable to reap any advantages offered by the strong economic growth in recent years in India that has primarily boosted the wages of the salaried class. This has also left tribal people either as largely unaware of their rights or as unable to defend the same. The Maoists movements have been able to leverage this situation and 2007 has already witnessed 432 fatalities from related conflicts.
The recent march can be considered indicative of a new form of political movement arising in parts of the world where the affected people are playing a key role in voicing and addressing their concerns without allowing involvement of political parties and NGOs. The pioneer of this form of movement is the South Africa based Abahlali Basemjondolo, an anarchistic movement by slum dwellers to fight for their rights with slogans such as “Talk to us, not for us”.
Tribal people have increasingly fallen behind as middle class India romps ahead in reality and hype. The recent victory of India in the 20-20 cricket cup was hailed for weeks by the Indian and international media as the sign of emergence of shiny small town India. India’s tribal people have been representing the country in most competitive sports events at the world stage for years without gaining any attention of the media and popular mindshare. After years of getting influenced by Maoists, right wing paramilitaries (Salwa Judum) and inept politicians, may be the tribal people of India should turn to cricket to emerge in our awareness and push for their fair share in India’s development.
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