In pursuit of “equality for all the citizens”: National Legal Services Authority asked to provide free legal consultations to Scheduled Tribes (ST) – Supreme Court

“[T]he Constitution gives equal respect to all communities, sects, lingual and ethnic groups, etc. The Constitution guarantees to all citizens freedom of speech (Article 19), freedom of religion (Article 25), equality (Articles 14 to 17), liberty (Article 21), etc.” – Supreme Court judgment quoted by The Hindu in “India, largely a country of immigrants” >>

In Marginalised but not Defeated, Tarun Kanti Bose (a seasoned public interest journalist) “documents the hard and difficult struggle to implement the Forest Rights Act, how the oppressed adivasis have united into forest unions, how they are now entering into new thresholds of protracted struggles and victories in a non-violent manner. […] A must for all young journalists, social science students, editors, civil society groups and the academia.” | Read the full book review here: >>

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[…] A Bench [of the Supreme Court], headed by Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur, asked the authorities to discharge their duties to protect the SCs/STs [Scheduled Tribes] to attain the constitutional goal of equality for all citizens.

“The constitutional goal of equality for all the citizens can be achieved only when the rights of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are protected. The abundant material on record proves that the authorities are guilty of not enforcing the provisions of the Act,” the Bench, also comprising Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and L. Nageshwara Rao, observed in a recent judgment. It asked the National Legal Services Authority to formulate appropriate schemes to spread awareness and provide free legal aid to SCs and STs.

Source: “SC criticises poor implementation of SC/ST Act” by Legal Correspondent, The Hindu (National), December 22, 2016
Date Visited: 10 April 2017

“India, also known as Bharat, is a Union of States. It is a Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic with a parliamentary system of government.” – Constitution of India

Source: National Portal of India
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The Jesuit priest, who had been arrested in the Bhima Koregoan case, died in custody on July 5, 2021, at the age of 84.

Dear Stan,
It’s now around a year to the day they said you went away. But it doesn’t seem as if you’ve gone. […] Stan, I think you are quite a stranger to anger. And that’s what foxed the people that run the prison. Rage, resentment and rebellion from prisoners is their daily cup of tea, which they cow down with violence and cunning. But how do you combat saintliness? They retreated in confusion. What they initially may have thought as your facade, they soon realised was a deep goodness that they perhaps hadn’t encountered before. But they remained faithful to the institution; to the edifice that had embarked on what later came to be known as your institutional murder. But they deluded themselves. They didn’t extinguish. They couldn’t extinguish what couldn’t die down. In fact, your flame only glowed brighter through their darkness. It will yet see a dawn. […]

Source: “‘You are immortalised in our hearts’: A cellmate’s letter to Stan Swamy on his death anniversary” by Vernon Gonsalves,, 5 July 2022
Date Visited: 6 July 2022

‘A tall thin man with a spine of steel’ writes Nandini Sundar, describing her friend Stan Swamy in the Introduction to Stan Swamy’s I am Not a Silent Spectator: Why Truth has become so bitter, Dissent so intolerable, Justice so out of reach. Today marks a month since his death as a pretrial prisoner, after enduring months of abuse from the NIA and jail authorities who withheld the smallest of comforts from him. Swamy was never interrogated by the NIA during nine months of incarceration. Repeatedly denied bail by the courts, he also suffered from medical neglect and in May contracted covid at the Taloja jail. That Swamy was a national treasure and his death a political murder is affirmed with every passing day. Sundar speaks of him as a living person – which is piercing but also comforting, for Swamy writes in the Epilogue that he wishes to be remembered in the way departed spirits are by adivasi communities, always present beside them in their political struggle and resistance.

Published by the Indian Social Institute, Bangalore – where Swamy was Director from 1975 to 1986 – this volume sets before us the clear-eyed sociologist and activist for adivasi rights. […]

Source: Introduction and excerpt from Stan Swamy’s I am Not a Silent Spectator: Why Truth has become so bitter, Dissent so intolerable, Justice so out of reach (An autobiographical fragment, memory and reflection), Indian Social Institute, Bangalore, Indian Cultural Forum, 5 August 2021
Date Visited: 6 July 2022

The family and friends of activists arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case have called tribal rights activist Stan Swamy’s death an ‘institutional murder’. The 16 signatories, in a joint statement said, it was unconscionable that someone of his age and with his health condition ‘was put in the prison in the first place’. Swamy died at a hospital in Mumbai on Monday afternoon. […]

Source: “Stan Swamy’s Death An ‘Institutional Murder’: Family, Friends Of Bhima Koregaon Accused” by Outlook Web Bureau, Outlook Magzine, 6 July 2021
Date Visited: 6 July 2022

Constitutional conversations on Adivasi rights

Even 67 years after Independence, the problems of Adivasi communities are about access to basic needs. These include, but are not restricted to, elementary education, community healthcare, sustainable livelihood support, the public distribution system, food security, drinking water and sanitation, debt, and infrastructure. For them, equality of opportunity remains largely unfulfilled. In this context, it is important to stress that the values of tribal culture are transmitted in a manner that protects the right of the bearers of knowledge to determine the terms of the transmission without exploitation or commodification. Nor can the Adivasis’ unhindered access to land and forests, including full access to the commons, especially in scheduled areas, be understated. Tribal communities have, over the decades, witnessed the fragmentation of their habitats and homelands and the disruption of their cultures through predatory tourism. All this has left them shattered and impoverished. Entire communities across States have been dispossessed systematically through state action, and have been reduced from owners of resources and well-knit, largely self-sufficient communities to wage earners in agriculture and urban agglomerates with uncertain futures. Yet, we can scarcely forget that the rights of tribal communities in India are protected by the Constitution and special legislations. […]

Understanding the situation of tribal communities is key to understanding the Constitution, its framework and its possibilities in the fullest sense. Perhaps it is time to reinvigorate our reading of the Constitution in the troubled times we live in. We may find answers to other questions as well around an idea of justice that we grapple with every day.

(Kalpana Kannabiran is Professor and Director, Council for Social Development)

Source: “Constitutional conversations on Adivasi rights” by Kalpana Kannabiran, The Hindu (Comment), 24 July 2015
Date Visited: 6 July 2022

Tribal people, accounting for 8.2% of India’s population, are spread all over India’s states and union territories. Even so, they can be broadly classified into three groupings. […]

The Fifth and Sixth Schedules, under Article 244 of the Indian Constitution in 1950 provided for self-governance in specified tribal majority areas. This did not happen. Indeed, migrations reduced the number of adivasi majority areas. But there are still solutions possible within the Indian Constitution and in the universal principles of justice and equality. There are 332 tribal majority tehsils in India, of which 110 are in the North East, where they have won states of their own.

This leaves 222 tehsils encompassing an adivasi population of over 20 million. These tehsils, many of them contiguous, must be immediately made self-governing areas, as envisaged by the Constitution. All these tribal majority areas must be consolidated into administrative divisions whose authority must be vested with democratically chosen leadership. This body could be called the Adivasi Maha-panchayat and must function as a largely autonomous institution. All laws passed by the state legislatures must be ratified to the satisfaction of the Maha-panchayat. […]

The police must also be made answerable to local elected officials and not be a law unto themselves. […]

Source: “Adivasis: India’s original inhabitants have suffered the most at its hands” by Mohan Guruswamy (, 20 January 2016)
Date Visited: 6 July 2022

[Bold typeface added above for emphasis]

“Tribals are subject to oppression and cruelty even after independence and still picked up by the investigating officers to cover up shoddy investigations.” – D.Y. Chandrachud (Chief Justice of India since 9 November 2022) quoted in “Members of De-Notified Tribes Picked Up to Cover Up Shoddy Investigations” | Learn more >>

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