Sunday, February 5th, 2023 07:52:43

Rairangpur to Raisina A Journey to Savour for Present and Posterity

By Prof. Tapan R. Mohanty
Updated: August 1, 2022 4:58 pm

The swearing of Smt. Draupadi Murmu as the 15th President of India on 25th July, 2022 marks a watershed in the history of India, gold letter day. The event needs to be celebrated across the county and world for a variety of reasons, the least being her political profile. It is indeed a moment of great importance for the tribal brethren of India, for the women, for the deprived and discriminated and for the aspirational India. It was possible due to the sagacity of the Prime Minister and sanguinity of Sangh Parivar which truly wants the resurgence of India as model for the world, in terms of intellect, wealth and democratization of society. The call for ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’ finds a resonance now as a political slogan but the firm commitment of a leader and his party that wants to transform India, socially and economically. By choosing and appointing presidents from marginalized and deprived communities, the government has shown that it walks the talk. The process that Atal Bihari Vajpayee government began assiduously is now getting entrenched. Both the vision and implementation has remained the same, firmly establishing the ethos of the party and its fountainhead the Sangh.

The ideology of Sangh and its political manifestation through the policies and actions of BJP was to establish humanistic social order based on ancient Vedic philosophy, culture and wisdom, primarily founded on inclusiveHinduism and celebrate Bharatiyata. The values of universalism, humanism and the quest for knowledge which were the foundation of Hindu civilization due to internal conflict, external aggression and vested interest groups. The prolonged subjugation and Islamic rule and later colonialism ravaged the social fabric and exacerbated fault lines, some real, perceived and imaginary. First the Musliminvasion and later the colonial conquest with propagation of Christianity as a mission resulted in largescale destruction of Hindu learning centres, texts, and conversion either by force or by allurement. Both these exogenous religions and their preachers made unabated and unabashed lambasting of Hindu scriptures and pitted one group against another, thus, reaping benefits while rupturing the society. The banishment of tribals deep into forests, hill tracts and inhospitable localities and exclusion of scheduled castes from general community was result as well as success of such strategy.

The Sangh took it upon itself to unite Hindus and bring the tribal community or we call Vanvasi into the mainline. However, the transition from margin to mainline was not easy as mutual distrust, centuries of neglect and successful conversion strategy of missionaries has to tackled. But where there is will and intense desire to do good, no force in the world can stop. Consequently, the RSS leads the massive educational and social reform project in tribal India. The spread of dedicated RSS pracharaks into the hinterland of India at the cost of personal happiness and material pleasure has brough rich dividends in terms bringing a qualitative change in lifestyle of tribal communities as well as integrating them with rest of India. The spread of RSS into tribal heartland has certainly negated the rabid conversion process carried out by zealous missionaries and violent anti-State agenda of the Naxalites.

In fact, tribals have been largely used as vote banks and their lands have been sued for development projects largely without adequate compensation. The tribal land alienation and exploitation has the been the rule rather than exception.  The tokenism shown by government by occasional provision of freebies and fringe benefits have only exacerbated the problem. With a number around 9 percent of India, they were not treated as stakeholders in governance and administration but BJP’s foray into tribal areas and its support to their cause has now shifted them from Congress and they see BJP as their political capital. It would not be wrong to say that the Ramjanmabhumi movement and presentation of Ram as unified divine emblem by BJP is both a conscious and probably a serendipitous symbolism. Conscious because it forms the emotional and spiritual base in North India. Lord Ram represents more human form with all emotions and difficulties that are common to ordinary mortals. Further, unlike Krishna he does not show the Vishwarupa nor change the destiny rather he faces the trial and tribulation of life with ethics and stoicism. The trajectories of life and its challenges faced by Lord Ram is often run parallel to the life and times of faced by the commoners. The scenic drama of our life world and their world view. Yet, what separates him from ordinary is his patience, honesty, courage and compassion. He transcends the seemingly impossible barriers through his dedication, bravery and abilities while still being rooted to dharma. This humanness of his divinity becomes a lesson to follow and lives an indelible imprint in the hearts of people because they believe it is possible to achieve. This connects Him to the devotees and put him in centre of Hindu worldview.

The serendipitous part is the character of Lord Ram, a prince who becomes pauper overnight but retains both his sanity and sanctity. His kindness and compassion reflected in affection for Jatayu, otherwise a lowly creature, his loving caress to the squirrel, his friendship with simians and bears, and his stay in the forest makes him an ideal symbol for divine integration. The transcendence of boundaries of human and animal world, the world of elites and ordinary, the world of cities and slums. The poignant part of this narrative is the equanimity, egalitarian ethos and overflow of human sensitivity is reflected in his interaction with scheduled caste boatman (Kewat) and the tribal Mata Sabari. Nothing could have probably fit better in the assimilation and integration of tribal India with mainline society other than the life and times of Lord Shree Ram. By carefully negotiating and developing the new narrative with significant effort towards the development of tribal community the RSS and the BJP have been able to gain foothold and created a space in their life.

The appointment of Mrs. Draupadi Murmu as the President of India is result of such assiduous and long-term efforts. Its not flash in the pan or political gimmick as many adversaries would like to paint. In fact, in BJP’s political narrative tribal forms an integral part of Hindu Social System. It is not just Ramayan even Mahabharata has tales of frequent interaction between the vanvasi, gramvasi and nagarvaasi. The ‘Kiratarjuniyam’ of Bharvi give a beautiful depiction of such interaction in a poetic form. Further, life of Maharana Pratap unequivocally shows the trust and faith between the two communities. Needless to add, the Raj Gonds of Chhattisgarh proudly proclaim them as Hindus.

But what is significant is that the choice of Mrs. Murmu, she is an extraordinary woman on her own terms. Her personal tragedies notwithstanding, her persona reflects a warmth, of courage, conviction and courage of conviction. Where education was an impossible prospect, she went to school and her class was populated by boys. She worked hard to earn her merit and went to a distinguish women’s college at Bhubaneswar to her degree amidst all adversities. She joined as school teacher initially as a volunteer and later at lower salary but her vocation was public service. She left the job to join politics began her political career as a council in municipality and soon rose to became an articulate and adroit tribal leader. Her political capabilities won her an election to the State Assembly and a ministerial berth. It is interesting to note that in her first term itself she distinguished herself from others and received the award as the ‘Best MLA’.

Her loyalty, sincerity and commitment led her to adorn the gubernation post at the Raj Bhavan at Ranchi. There too she showed her political acumen and commitment to development of tribal community and safeguarding their interest. A Bill brought by her own government was retuned with comments as she felt the proposed changes to Chhotanagpur Tenancy Act will be against the tribals and help the industrialists and builders, thus making their land alienation and homelessness complete. Her firm stand forced the government to backtrack and, in another circumstances, she sought legal opinion to nullify a policy proposal as the Governor of the State. She then towed neither political line, nor party line but listened to heart and conscience. Now at the Raisina hills and as the first citizen of the country she has arduous responsibility of safeguarding the Constitution, the safety and security of the country as Commander-in-Chief, and sanctity of Parliament as its integral part. She is already a role model for many but her work, commitment and administration will live a legacy for generations and knowing her I am sure that legacy will one of which we all shall be proud.

Lastly, her ascendancy to the highest constitutional post has also a symbolic value which cannot be negated in times of social media and intense civil engagement. As Dr. Ambedkar said that when a tribal becomes the President of India, we should abolish reservation, as it will make assimilation and road to equality complete. Similarly, former speaker Purno Sangma’s son has said that my father would have been proud to see a tribal as President of India. These statements show the marginalization of tribal community at the one end and their euphoria in becoming a recognizable part of Indian power structure. Brining the marginalized, excluded and deprived people to the precinct of power is as much ethic as it is about the setting process of democratization on run. But it is also about ethnicity and identity. Tribals from an ethnic group and display a distinct identity that needs to be understood, respected and celebrated. In order to understand these dynamics, it is pertinent to have an analytical description of the concept.


Identity, Ethnicity and Tribal Problems

Blumer defined an ethnic group as ‘a collectivity within a larger society having real or putative common ancestry, memories of a shared past and cultural focus on one or more symbolic elements which define the group’s identity such as kinship, religion, language, shared territory, nationality or physical appearance . According to Max Weber, ‘ethnic groups are those human groups that entertain a subjective belief in their common descent because of similarities of physical type or of customs or both, or because of memories of colonization and migration; this belief must be important for the propagation of a group. Conversely, it does not matter whether or not an objective blood relation exists .

Probably for this reason Benedict Anderson uses the expression ‘imagined communities’ to describe ethnic groups in general and ethnic communities in nation-states in particular. However, in the context of anthropology, primitive tribes and tribal groups comes much closer to a definition of ethnic groups forming a close-knit community with several commonalities often questioning the basis of Anderson’s theory. The attributes of tribal communities expressly denote geographical proximity, face-to-face interaction and cultural and occupational sameness which led to Durkheim describe them as ‘mechanical solidarity—the solidarity of similarities. It is indeed this notion of ethnicity and identity that needs to understood and examined. There have been a series of measures by national and international agencies to protect the ‘indigenous people’- their identity and culture.

The UN Human Rights Committee in its 1314 held in April 1994 adopted a resolution which while inter alia dealing with cultural rights enshrined in the UN Covenant on Cultural, Social and Economic Rights stated that:

Culture manifests itself in many forms including a particular way of life associated with the use of land resources, specifically in the case of indigenous peoples.

In the backdrop this assessment the Committee further resolved that indigenous people have the right to control their lands, territories and natural resources and to maintain their traditional way of life. This perspective is also reflected in the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (1997):

In many indigenous cultures, traditional collective system for the control and use of land, territory and resources, including bodies of water and coastal areas, are a necessary condition for their survival, social organizations, development and their individual and collective well-being and that the form of such control and ownership is varied and distinctive and does not necessarily coincide with the system protected by domestic laws of the states in which they live.

The social context of tribal denotes a particular way of life around which their society, economy and polity are revolves round.


Contemporary Threats

to Tribal Life

In interesting work titled ‘globalization and Indigenous People in India’ the editors have argued that globalization comes to the local communities largely through the markets. They access new goods and communities through market. It is through market they producers and collectors of Non-Timber Forest Produce (NTFP) get to know what they could sell without understanding their actual use. For example, the indigenous peoples of Andhra Pradesh had for decades been collecting and selling gum called karaya without any idea of its use in making denture (Nathan, Kelkar and Walter eds. 2004: 293-94).

Nathan et al. argue that the growth of the market has led to a process of privatization of formerly communal land; of devolution of ownership, at least de facto if not de jure, from supra-village and community or clan to the family. The market for timber and NTFPs grew in colonial or immediate post-colonial periods. To that extent they certainly pre-date 1990s, which generally regarded as the era of globalization (Waters 1995:3) with the growth of global financial markets. But the process of privatization through market-induced transformation is a feature that has become even stronger in the current era. (Nathan et al. 2004:294).

‘Give us back our forests or we have no alternative but beggary left to us. The coming of the NALCO factory in Damanjodi has not helped us in any way. The promise of jobs has not been kept. The houses at Indira Awas colony are in no condition to live in. We have lost our lands, our forests, and our whole life-support system and have to work in such demeaning jobs as being prostitutes for the workers who have migrated all the way from Kerala to this area. Our men migrate in search of better opportunities. Few come back to their families, leaving them in the hands of destiny. The wives keep waiting. (Excerpt from an interview with a tribal woman from the district of Koraput by Mishra and Roy Choudhury 1993:50)

The process of construction of identity and its expression have gone a serious transformation under the shadow of globalization. It has gone beyond the boundary of community and nation-states and has taken the form of ‘cosmic crystallization’ of norms, values and practices. It is no more indigenous, exotic or ethnic rather it is exogenous, hybrid and plural in its nature and dimension. The cultural mosaic that held together the distinct, determined and comparatively indigenously developed traits of culture has developed cracks under the onslaught of globalization expressed in terms of mass media, global sports events and consumer culture.  For example, Indian villages have suddenly been propelled into the electronic information age. The communities that used to be defined by their own oral traditions and stories are now being structured and reorganized by the medium of television. As President of India, Mrs. Murmu has to address these critical issues as former President K. R. Narayanan used to albeit often with an ideological flaw. It will be an onerous responsibility for her as well as her litmus statae. Because her step will be in direction of safeguarding the unique identity, culture and values of her society while ensuring them a standard of life, where hunger, illness and marginalization will be in the margin.

Last but not least, her identity as a Santhal woman, a brave community which took to the arms and rebelled against Britishers and Zamindars making them pay for their atrocities two years before the Revolt of 1857. The women of the community too participated in revolt andheralded a sense of patriotism and anti-colonial sentiment despite their poor socio-economic conditions. It should that there has to will to fight and courage in heart to challenge the might Britishers rather than submitting self-respect.  Secondly, her identity as an Odia, a community often forgotten in the history and politics of India because of their docile and non-confrontationist nature. It is a community which organized and orchestrated the war against colonialism almost half a century before the first war of independence. With her as the President of the India as her country cousin it’s a moment of personal happiness. I am sure with this dawn of ‘Acche Din’ has come.


By Prof. Tapan R. Mohanty
(The author is Professor of Sociology of Law at National Law Institute University, Bhopal. The views are personal.)

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