About tribal rights: How We Treat Our First Citizens

Source: The post is based on the article “How We Treat Our First Citizens” published in The Times of India on 16th November 2022.

Syllabus: GS – 2 – Mechanisms, laws, institutions and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of vulnerable sections.

Relevance: About tribal rights.

News: Tribals are still targeted by laws that evoke British Raj prejudice

What was the opinion of the constitutional assembly on Tribal rights?

Ambedkar opposed any reservation for tribal persons in legislatures because he felt that “they had not developed any political sense to make the best use of their political opportunities.”

Nehru, on the other hand, disagreed with the thoughts of Ambedkar and said that “Every care should be taken in protecting the tribal areas, those unfortunate brethren of ours who are backward through no fault of theirs.”

Read more: Adivasis at bottom rung of India’s development pyramid, finds Tribal Development Report 2022
How tribal rights are ignored even today?

Firstly, there are many pre-Independence laws that exhibit prejudice towards tribals and continue to remain in force. For example, The Sonthal Parganas Act of 1855 was still remains in force. The Act was enacted as a response to the Santhal uprising against the East India Company.

The Act excludes certain districts in the erstwhile Bengal Presidency from the application of the ‘general Regulations and Acts of Government’. The Act is based on a simple premise – Santhals are too ‘uncivilised’ a people to be governed by the legal system.

Secondly, protectionism and prejudice continue with post-independence laws also. For example, the Habitual Offenders’ Model Bill of 1952 replaced the Criminal Tribes Act, 1871 and served as the basis for state-level Habitual Offenders’ Acts.

With the repeal of this Act, the ‘criminal tribes’ came to be ‘de-notified’. In almost every state where Habitual Offenders’ Acts are in force, individuals belonging to the de-notified tribes have been disproportionately targeted.

Thirdly, the old colonial idea of primitivism continues under the impression of protecting cultural autonomy. The Fifth and Sixth Schedules of the Constitution lay out a set of special provisions for tribal areas.

Under this, governors are empowered to prevent or modify the application of both central and state laws to these scheduled areas. These areas were previously ‘typically and really backward tracts’ under the Government of India Act, 1919 and ‘partially and wholly excluded areas’ under the Government of India Act, 1935.

Read more: Dilemma of tribal rights and forest conservation
How India’s approach to tribal rights can be changed?

The duty of the government is to address the social and educational backwardness affecting members of the tribal population. It cannot be done by protection or assimilation, but with respect and equality.

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