Tribal uplift remains a cry in wilderness

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One of William Shakespeare’s characters in King Lear says, “As flies to the wanton boys are we to the gods; they kill us for their sport.” Now in modern India, the tribals have become the flies while there are many who play the role of the wanton boys.

One of William Shakespeare's characters in King Lear says, "As flies to the wanton boys are we to the gods; they kill us for their sport." Now in modern India, the tribals have become the flies while there are many who play the role of the wanton boys.

Tribals are the autochthonous or indigenous people of the land. They have been struggling in the woods and put to hardships despite their rich and gorgeous cultural heritage. They have conserved the forests, the wildlife and have played a pivotal role in maintaining the ecological equilibrium. They have never done any harm to the forests. Recognising their contribution, even the Constitution of India has accorded them total rights on the forests. "Even God is not empowered to enter the forests without their permission," says Dr BD Sharma, the Chairman of the SC & ST Commission. But now their life is at stake and the very entity of the innocent and ignorant tribals has become uncertain and questionable.

The tribal hamlets are suffering from viral and pesky diseases. They languish from malnutrition and lack of medical facilities. It is reported that over 700 students died in the tribal residential schools run by the Maharashtra government in a span of 10 years and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) had to plunge into action. The pathetic condition of tribals in Odisha is inexplicable. Recently 17 tribal students succumbed to an unknown disease. Most of the tribal hamlets do not have transport and medical facilities. They struggled a lot during Covid last year. They had to go on digging metres together for their food like tubers.

In the name of development, often criticised by the rights activists as destructive and detrimental, the successive governments in the States have planned for irrigation projects displacing and evacuating lakhs of tribals. One can remember how the protests and the movements were led against the construction of the Narmada Dam. They had to spearhead the movement in the interests of the tribals who were subjected to displacement and alienation. Even many organisations opposed the construction of the Polavaram Dam which would result in submergence of over 276 tribal hamlets and displacement of 3 lakh people.

In the recent times mining is displacing them. Forests are the best source of rich natural resources. The innocent tribals are subjected to evacuation to facilitate mining for the MNCs.

The assiduous efforts put in by unusual and extraordinary bureaucrats like Dr Brahma Dev Sharma, SR Sankaran and the great personalities such as Maha Swetha Devi, Medha Patkar and the recently died Stan Swamy have raised voice for them and they are successful in creating awareness and sympathy among the public, but what the tribals need today is empathy. The 1/70 Act, PESA, Tribal Sub-Plans have been barely and blatantly violated for the benefit of a few persons at the cost of tribal lives. Their lives are disrupted and destructed. It is pitiable and even surprising that the Reports were shelved when some tribal women were molested in Vakapalli in Vizag district by some military forces in 2006. Not a single person was punished in this connection.

The governments have done little in the aspect of educating the tribals which will emancipate them from the clutches of ignorance and illiteracy in the present scenario. The Eklavya Model Residential Schools managed by the HRD of the Union Government will become a boon for the uplift of the Tribes. If opportunities are provided, they will prove their mettle and they may also become best rulers, officers, politicians and even bureaucrats or policy makers, as Thomas Gray in one of his poems in "Elegy Written in the Country Churchyard" about innocent poor people. They have scaled the greatest mountains in the world, cracked the All India Service exams and the IIT, NEET and AIIMS to prove what they are.

There are nomadic tribes who are utterly neglected by the civilised society. Some of tribal communities called Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs) are on the verge of extinction. It's the duty of the civilised society to save them and preserve their cultural heritage.

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