"Vital important, yet neglected" – Ramchandra Guha

This post is about how the whole concept of development made me think and I still am thinking. In the process, we were invited by the Alumni association of IISc, Bangalore, to attend a talk on “the Tragedy of Indian Adivasis” by Ramchandra Guha. A historian, a columnist and the one who wrote ” India After Gandhi: History of world’s largest democracy”.
I was so excited to meet this man (*grins*), who is regarded as a “democrat” in the world’s largest democracy and the TIME magazine called him “Indian democracy’s preeminent chronicler”.

                                                            Ramchandra Guha

He began the talk by giving a gist of how Jaipal Singh, a former Indian Hockey player, became the representative of Adivasis and questioned, the then President of India, Rajendra Prasad, about the rights of Adivasis in India. (They are the Adivasis of Peninsular India. Note: Adivasis also were dominant in the N.E of India and have a different past, but, here the discussion is about the Adivasis of Peninsular India).

Most importantly, he brought out the distinction between the Dalits and Tribals or Adivasis. (Most of us, including me, assume/assumed Dalits to be tribals and vice versa. But, both belong to different categories, which is later explained in detail, how and why).
He also mentioned that dalits see B.R.Ambedkar as their national leader but, adivasis do not have anyone like that.
The adivasis are a much lower category of people in our society. They form 8% of the Indian population and are among 40% of those displaced in the country. Adivasis are neglected in the society and, dalits and muslims are regarded as pan-Indian communities. The statistics provided by Mr.Guha were as follows:
Literacy rate of Adivasis – 24%
Literacy rate of Dalits – 31%
School drop rate among Adivasis – 31%

Main reasons for the isolation of Adivasis were:
They lived in the forests.
Their votes do not matter (but, dalits’ votes do)

                                                               During the lecture

This exclusion of adivasis by government and people, is the cause for adivasis to become part of naxalite movement. More than 200 of 500 districts are naxal affected.

He categorized the tragedies of Indian Adivasis into nine segments, they are:

  1. Adivasis sit on the most important resources (forests, water, food)
  2. They were neglected in the National movement (the freedom movement involved Dalits but not tribals)
  3. Demographic situation (Minorty)
  4. They did not have any national leader to represent the community
  5. Skills they possess are related to land and forests (which makes it difficult for them to live, if they are displaced, becoming ecological refugees)
  6. They do not get real benefits by affirmative action like reservations.
  7. Apathy of public officials.
  8. They are used by naxalites as tools to fight against the government.

Religious context of Adivasis:
Adivasis do not belong to any religion.
Mr.Guha divided them into three categories – namely:

  1. The RSS work on the pretext of forcing the adivasis to worship Hindu gods and presume them to be hindus.
  2. Chirsitan missionaries work on converting them saying “there is no lord in the forests except for theirs”
  3. And, the Maoists – use them as tools or instigate them against the government to join the arms struggle.

                                                           Interacting with students

He pointed out at the state’s failure to deal with naxal issues. Also, the idea of naxals to make Dandakaranya forest as their central zone (main area) as the hills and forests are well suited for guerrilla warfare.
Mr.Guha also highlighted the role of media in this context. The media concentrates on Dalits due to the presence of political leaders like Mayawati of Bahujan Samaj Party, who is a dalit. “Media wants to stay protected due to security issues and has to come out of it to tackle such issues”, he said.  He also said ” when dalits and adivasis are included in the constitution, Why different rights for Dalits and why less preference and rights for Adivasis?” (Which none of us might not have thought of)

The whole discussion was meant to make us critically think on how the adivasis are neglected, exploited and used by various communities for their gains.

According to Guha, development mean “economic efficiency, social inclusion and environmental sustainability”. Another definition given by him was, “Minimisation of suffering and maximisation of welfare”.
“Maximisation of welfare” – Karl Marx and “Minimisation of suffering” – Mahatma Gandhi. (P.S. – See the statements made by them and observe the contrast in ideologies).

P.S:   Nanadan Nilekani –  Chairman, UIDAI, was also present at the talk

Note: My next post is on development!!! wait for it….. :):):)


3 thoughts on “"Vital important, yet neglected" – Ramchandra Guha

  1. Teju,
    It is nice to think that the plight of India's neglected population , has started leaving it's imprints on the minds of country's intellectual future like you. Please divide your research on this subject into the following-
    – The socio-economic background.
    – The political background.
    – The environmental background.

    Each section above should be studied through history , supported by different schools of thought like Nationalistic, Neo-liberal and communist. This will give you a total clarity and you will be able to think on this subject and start contributing to it.

    Basu uncle.

  2. @
    Basu uncle – thanks for the suggestion…I will start reading more on it and try to include more extensive info and also write an article on the same :)… thanks a lot

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