Justice, social, economic and political equality for all citizens: Ramachandra Guha on safeguards for minorities, backward and tribal areas enshrined in the Indian Constitution

outlookindia.com, April 14, 2010 | Read the full article here >>

This essay was first published in the Economic and Political Weekly (August 11, 2007) under the title, “Adivasis, Naxalites, And Indian Democracy” and is republished here with the author’s permission as it – unfortunately – remains as relevant today. […]

On 13th December 1946, Jawaharlal Nehru moved the Objectives Resolution in the Constituent Assembly of India. This proclaimed that the soon-to-be-free nation would be an ‘Independent Sovereign Republic’. Its Constitution would guarantee citizens ‘justice, social, economic and political; equality of status; of opportunity, and before the law; freedom of thought, expression, belief, faith, worship, vocation, association and action, subject to law and public morality.’

The resolution went on to say that ‘adequate safeguards shall be provided for minorities, backward and tribal areas, and depressed and other backward classes…’. In moving the resolution, Nehru invoked the spirit of Gandhi and the ‘great past of India’, as well as modern precedents such as the French, American, and Russian Revolutions.

The debate on the Objectives Resolution went on for a whole week. Among the speakers were the conservative Hindu Purushuttomdas Tandon, the right-wing Hindu Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, the Scheduled Caste leader B. R. Ambedkar, the liberal lawyer M. R. Jayakar, the socialist M. R. Masani, a leading woman activist, Hansa Mehta, and the communist Somnath Lahiri. After all these stalwarts had their say, a former hockey player and lapsed Christian named Jaipal Singh rose to speak. ‘As a jungli, as an Adibasi’, said Jaipal,

I am not expected to understand the legal intricacies of the Resolution. But my common sense tells me that every one of us should march in that road to freedom and fight together. Sir, if there is any group of Indian people that has been shabbily treated it is my people. They have been disgracefully treated, neglected for the last 6,000 years. The history of the Indus Valley civilization, a child of which I am, shows quite clearly that it is the newcomers—most of you here are intruders as far as I am concerned—it is the newcomers who have driven away my people from the Indus Valley to the jungle fastness….The whole history of my people is one of continuous exploitation and dispossession by the non-aboriginals of India punctuated by rebellions and disorder, and yet I take Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru at his word. I take you all at your word that now we are going to start a new chapter, a new chapter of independent India where there is equality of opportunity, where no one would be neglected.

Sixty years have passed since Jaipal took Nehru and all the others at their word. What has been the fate of his people, the adivasis, in this time? […]

Already, by the 1960s, reports commissioned by the Government of India were demonstrating the utter failure of the state in providing a life of dignity and honour to its tribal citizens. Nor was this a generalized critique; rather, the specific problems faced by the adivasis were identified—namely, callous and corrupt officials, the loss of land, indebtedness, restrictions on the use of the forest, and large-scale displacement. The evidence offered in these (and other reports) should have called for a course correction, for the formation and implementation of policies that ensured that India’s industrial and economic development was not to be at the cost of its adivasi citizens.

That these reports and their recommendations would be met with a deafening silence had not been unanticipated. As the Elwin Committee noted, past reports on tribal problems had been ‘ignored in practice’. It ‘is extraordinary’, it commented, ‘how often… a recommendation sinks into the soulless obscurity of an official file and is heard of no more’. […]

There is thus a double tragedy at work in tribal India. The first tragedy is that the state has treated its adivasi citizens with contempt and condescension. The second tragedy is that their presumed protectors, the Naxalites, offer no long term solution either. […]

The arguments in this essay were first presented in a series of talks across the country in the first months of 2007—in the ‘Challenges to Democracy’ series organized by and at the Nehru Centre, Mumbai (January); as the seventh ISRO-Satish Dhawan lecture at the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research in Bangalore (also in January); as the annual lecture of the Raja Rammohun Roy Foundation in Jaipur (February); and as the first Rajiv Kapur Memorial Lecture at the India International Centre, New Delhi (March).

Learn more about Jawaharlal Nehru’s “five principles” for the policy to be pursued vis-a-vis the tribals >>
Photo © Indian Express

Issues highlighted by the editors of outlookindia.com

  • ‘Adivasis’ generally inhabit upland or wooded areas and they generally treat their women better than caste Hindus.
  • Apart from large dams and industrial townships, tribals have also been rendered homeless by national parks and sanctuaries.
  • Adivasis displacement has continued from the time of the state occupying the commanding heights of the economy to now, the era of liberalization and globalization.
  • Leave alone acting on various reports documenting the problems faced by the adivasis, the government has often not even tabled the reports in Parliament.
  • Unlike Muslims and Dalits who are considered pan-Indian, tribal claims remain confined to the states and districts in which they live.
  • The adivasi concerns are rarely discussed or highlighted in talk shows, editorials, reports, or feature articles.
  • State governments, themselves run and dominated by non-tribals, are signing away tribal land for mining, manufacturing, and energy generation projects.

Source: Unacknowledged Victims | Ramachandra Guha
Address : https://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?265069
Date Visited: 12 October 2020

India After Gandhi | More by
Ramachandra Guha >>

Myriad corrosive agents—even the Indian State—are eating into the idea of India. This isn’t the Republic we were meant to be | Full article >>

Even when they are not dispossessed, the tribals are actively discriminated against. Demographically concentrated in a few hill districts, they do not constitute a votebank whose voice can, at least symbolically, be attended to by the political class. There is a contrast here with Dalits (as well as Muslims), who are more evenly distributed across India, and hence have a far greater impact on the outcome of state and national elections. Lacking adequate representation in the higher civil service, and without a political voice anyway, the tribals are subject to contempt and condescension by the officials of the forest, police, revenue, education and health departments, who are obliged by law to serve the adivasis but oriented in practice to harass and exploit them.

Altogether, the tribals have gained the least and lost the most from sixty-three years of democracy and development in independent India. […]

Issues highlighted by the editors of outlookindia.com

  • The superpower ambition is as much a male, macho thing as Hindutva or Maoism. It too is a fantasy, and equally dangerous.
  • The scale and ubiquity of political corruption today means that perhaps the most powerful enemy of the idea of India now is the Indian State.

Source: A Nation Consumed By The State by Ramachandra Guha (Outlookindia.com, 31 January 2011)
Address : https://www.outlookindia.com/article/A-Nation-Consumed-By-The-State/270136
Date Visited: 12 October 2020

[Bold typeface added above for emphasis]

Find more articles by Ramachandra Guha on outlookindia.com, click here >>

The natural wealth with which much of tribal India is endowed is also its bane. […] The Adivasi is wedged between the state programme for development, meaning mines, dams, steel plants and roads, and a private agenda for quick money, which is currently termed ‘real estate’.

Woodsmoke and Leafcups by Madhu Ramnath >>

Research the above issues with the help of Shodhganga: A reservoir of theses from universities all over India, made available under Open Access >>

Please use this search window to find books  published in India, by the above mentioned author(s) and others on related issues:

Try the following in case Google Custom Search window or media contents are invisible here: (1) switch from “Reader” to regular viewing; (2) in browser’s Security settings select “Enable JavaScript”; (3) check Google support for browsers and devices | More >>

“You can’t keep quiet on everything. At some point, if you disagree – it’s better to say it then rather than piling it up.” – Former IAS Officer Kannan Gopinathan (who resigned from service over ‘lack of freedom of expression’) in a special lecture on “Democracy: Institutions and Individuals” (Asian College of Journalism – ACJ, 2 September 2020)

“Populist leaders often polarise society and delegitimise the political opposition, often presenting them as enemies of the state or people. […] Electoral autocracies, according to V-Dem, are now present in 87 states that are home to 68% of the global population. Liberal democracies, the group says, are diminishing, and are home to only 14% of the people.” –  Report on democracy by Sweden-based V-Dem Institute as regards India’s diminishing freedom of expression, the media, and civil society; quoted by Soutik Biswas in “‘Electoral autocracy’: The downgrading of India’s democracy” (BBC News, 16 March 2021)

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