The Tribune - Spectrum

, June 9, 2002

Focusing on the tribal situation
Yogesh Snehi

The Tribal Situation in India
edited by K. Suresh Singh, IIAS, Shimla, Pages: 610. Price: Rs. 600

SANJOY Hazarika has repeatedly reminded and cautioned successive Indian governments about the dangers of ignoring the predominantly tribal North-East. Indian tribals, as is well known, are the indigenous population of the land. Yet, they are the most neglected ones—economically, socially and politically. After Independence, with the emergence of different tribal states, significant changes have taken place.A large number of tribals are flocking to the cities for education and employment. But, the fact is that till today these communities have not been able to identify with the mainstream..

The book under review is a revised edition of the papers presented at a seminar on "The tribal situation in India," way back in 1969, at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study (IIAS), Shimla. The work deals with a wide range of tribal issues and has been divided into three parts.

The first part details the inauguration to the seminar. The second part focuses on the papers and has seven sub-parts titled as: Regional Tribal Situation: Perspective and Problems; Social and Cultural Communication; Policy, Politics and Administration; Agrarian Issue and Development; Movement and Leadership; Problems of Integration and Family; A summary of some of the remaining papers. Part III is dedicated to the discussions spead over 10 business sessions.


The significance of the work can be judged from the fact that 18 anthropologists 14 sociologists, four social workers, two journalists, six tribal leaders, four administrators and 17 representatives of tribal research institutes have participated in the work. The scope of participation makes the work inter-disciplinary. In all, there are 51 papers, out of which 10 have been summarised. These papers tend to highlight the problems that Indian tribes have been facing and suggest methods to tackle them. The work, in this sense, becomes important from both the academic and national point of view. It tends to evolve certain policy guidelines on general problems of national unity.

The inaugural address traces the history of the contemporary tribal scene. The diversity of tribal situations evokes a reader’s interest. While the North-East has seen a high rate of politicisation, Central India has set a good example of acculturation. The results are equally distinct. While the situation in the North-East has taken the shape of insurgency, the latter has witnessed tribal uprisings and increased confrontation between the tribals and non-tribals.

Successive governments have tried to devise ways in which this alienation and isolation of tribals can be put to an end. The book suggests opening up of borders along Bangladesh and ways in which trade ties can be established. Here, another problem of influx of refugees emerges. As in Assam, where the tribals have become a minority. Perhaps a rail-road link through Bangladesh will help. The book also draws attention to the role of Christian missionaries. Today, Mizoram boasts of high literacy and awareness levels. Changes are evident in Himachal Pradesh. Monetisation of the tribal economy has helped the tribals in improving their economic lot. Their peas and potatoes now find a market throughout India.

The tribal situation, as of today, has been the result of a series of developments since the advent of the British. Social movement among various tribes has its roots in the British period. The Chhota Nagpur revivalistic movement and the Jharkhand movement against land alienation and exploitation are of reader interest. Keeping in mind the antiquity of the situation, the problems of tribals will have to be traced to the developments during this period. These papers offer a great lot of details to study these emerging situations.

Issues like integration of tribals are indeed very complex. Recent extension of the ceasefire with the Nagas offers hope. But a lot has to be done to lessen the complexities that engulf tribal India.Rapid development will only widen the gap between tribals and non-tribals and industrialisation will restrict them to the fringe. The book makes certain suggestions: redefinition and rescheduling of tribes; easing tensions among tribals and with non-tribals; safeguards for tribals within an overall plan of speedy national reconstruction and development; integration into the mainstream without the loss of cultural identify. The Press, media, voluntary agencies and social scientists will have to play an important role in it.

The book contains rich statistical details. Discussions towards the end act as reviews of presentations and make the work critical. There are hardly any good books available to deal with the issue of tribals in detail. This revised edition will be of immense use for policy makers, researchers, general readers and even NGOs who are interested in working with tribals. But, this work lacks information about tribes in Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Rajasthan. The book also does not have an index, which is expected from any standard work. Despite this, the book offers hope for peace in turbulent tribal India.