By Akshara Suhasini
Feb 02 Chuni Kotal was born in a poverty stricken household in 1965. She belonged to a tribal community, Lodha, which was originally listed as a ‘criminal tribe’ by the British. Despite the two-fold discrimination that Chuni faced, she became the first Lodha woman to graduate high school. Chuni later got her bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Vidyasagar University and started working at a Dalit hostel. When she had to go from one office to another to improve the horrific living conditions of the said hostels, her caste and social background always led to discrimination by superior officials.
An official accused her of ‘entertaining men’ in the hostel premises. Chuni then went back to Vidyasagar University for her Masters. Here, the professors and administration made sure that Chuni does not get treated equally. One particular professor, Falguni Chakrovarty, made her lose two years as he deliberately marked her absent and gave low scores because he believed that Kotal did not deserve the right to education coming from a lower tribal caste. Jaundiced by the heckling and harassment, Chuni Kotal was pushed to commit suicide at the age of 27.
Another example of recent time is the struggles of Eramangalathu Chitralekha, the first Indian Dalit woman to drive an auto-rickshaw. Chitralekha achieved this feat in 2005 and it agitated the privileged casteist upper caste Hindus who set her auto on fire the same year. She was taunted, criticised and discriminated against.
Her son was humiliated and made to drop out of school in standard 8 and appropriation of her ‘loose morals’ was issued by the Brahminical community that couldn’t stand her success. In 2013, her auto was once again damaged beyond repair. In 2014, district collector gifted her with another auto which met a similar fate in 2016, once again by the hands of the perpetrators of caste divide and discrimination in the society.
The cases of Chuni Kotal and Chitralekha are just two of the lakhs of crimes committed against the tribal communities in our own societies. The tribal communities in India are targets of growing violence and systematic discrimination since a long part of history as they attempt to improve their own lives while living in the ‘world’s fastest growing economy.’
Tribal communities have had control over forest lands and distance from progressive civilisation. Post Independence, there have been insufficient efforts to improve their conditions. Some of the legislations, like Forest Rights Act of 2006 and Panchayat Extension Act of 1996 do appear to be a positive step towards a more inclusive society with respect to the tribal communities but still, there is lot of mess that lies on the table.
The tribal communities in eastern and north eastern India have been caught up in between the Maoist militancy that is prevalent in the region. The state’s delay in recognising the criticality of Maoist involvement with the tribal communities has allowed these militant organisations to expand their roots deep into the regions and now, most of them have recruited members of Scheduled Tribe communities. Other than those who willingly join the militancy, there are people who have no source of relief as they find themselves entrapped in the state’s policy of “if you’re not with us, you’re with them.”
These communities do not have access to education or in some cases, common language. They have been socially handicapped since thousand of years due to the senseless caste system. Hence, it is crucial to note that policies regarding development in our terms and state governance policies might not make a logical sense to them. There is a need of increased dialogue which despite the increased efforts after the Panchayat Extension Act, 1996 still needs to be encouraged.
Organisations like the RSS and Vishwa Hindu Parishad have maintained that tribal communities are different only in the aspect that they are the owners of forest land and have constantly been making efforts to include them under their Hindu umbrella. Doing so and then promoting Brahminical ideas like vegetarianism, is a brutal attack on the culture and tradition of these tribes.
There have been a lot of problems in the north eastern states due to the way the state and union government have utilised and occupied resources and lands that originally belonged to the tribal communities of the region. Coal mines in Meghalaya, oil rigs in Nagaland and palm plantations in Mizoram are state-controlled and have completely ignored tribal interests. Officials often take advantage of educational handicap of these communities and may even resort to forgery.
In Nagaland, leaking oil rigs have degraded the ground water and directly affects the living conditions of the locals. Offering compensation to the land owners and ignoring the difficulties of neighbouring population due to the development on the discussed land is a ludicrous and egomaniacal practice that is often taken up by government agencies.
The crimes against tribal communities have increased from 2012 to 2016 and are expected to go up according to National Commission of Scheduled Tribes. Out of all the crimes committed against the ST community in 2016, 27.5% are of “rape and assault on women with intent to outrage her modesty.” The tribal communities are socially and economically backward and often practice tradition that are misogynistic and regressive in modern sense.
Tribal women face two-fold discrimination of being a woman and a tribal. Naturally, they are not completely aware of their own constitutional rights and face problems often due to the development gap from the privileged class. Interpretation and communication problems are the first obstacles in the path for the development of tribal communities.
A capitalist and Brahminical idea of development has rendered this particular section of our own country ill-developed, under-educated and socio-economically backward. More often than not, we use terms like “junglee” in jovial manner simply ignoring the inherent casteism of it. Using terms as such that belittle a specific community of your society is iniquitous. Not every tribal woman or even man gets the opportunity to make something good of their lives.
Deaths of the likes of Chuni Kotal may unite the tribes but once these movement die, the pace of their development turns regressive soon. It is important that state takes note of tribal rights and arms itself for them rather than against them. While the nation promises to move towards progressiveness and development, vigilance of its action towards those who have been marginalised for centuries in their own homes is crucial and of utmost importance. Credit