The Indian Constitution prescribes protection and safeguards for the scheduled tribes, and other backward classes either specially or by way of insisting on their general rights as citizens with the object of promoting their educational and economic interest and of removing the social disabilities. The main safeguards are :
(i) Art 46.
The promotion of their educational and economic interests and their protection from social injustice and all forms of exploitation.
(ii) Art 25.
The throwing open by law of Hindu religious institutions of a public character to all classes and sections of Hindus.
(iii) Art 14.
The removal of any disability, liability, restriction of condition with regard to access to shop, public restaurants, hotels and places of public entertainment or the use of wells, tanks, bathing ghats, roads and places of public resort maintained wholly or partly out of State funds or dedicated to the use of the general public.
(iv) Art 19 (5).
The curtailment by law, in the interests of any scheduled tribe to settle in, and acquire property.
(v) Art 29.
The forbidding of any denial of admission to educational institutions maintained by the State or receiving aid out of State funds.
(vi) Art 16 and 335.
Permitting the State to make reservation of the backward classes in public services in case of inadequate representation and requirring the State to consider the claims of the scheduled tribes in the making of appointments to public services.
(vii) Arts. 330, 332 and 334.
Special representation in Lok Sabha and the state Vidhan Sabhas to scheduled tribes till 25 January 1990.
(viii) yl/ts. 164 and 338 and Fifth Schedule.
The setting up of tribal advisory councils and separate departments in the states and the appointment of a special officer at the centre to promote their welfare and safeguard their interests.
(ix) Art 244 and Fifth and Sixth Schedules.
Special provision for the administration and control of scheduled and tribal areas and
(x) Art 23. Prohibition of traffic in human beings and forced labour.
Suggestions for reform
Thus, it is clear that the Indian Constitution has made important provisions for the welfare of tribal people. Posts have been reserved for them in public services, in State and Centre. Seats have been reserved for then- representatives in the legislatures of different States and in the Indian Parliament. Special provisions have been made regarding their administration. District and regional councils have been established to carry out their welfare.
The governments have given special attention to their education and economic development. This has not appreciably improved the condition of tribal people. The following suggestions can be made in connection with tribal welfare.
1. Economic reforms.
Efforts should be made to encourage tribal people to permanently establishfor cultivation, because the shifting cultivation practised by them results in much wastage. The co-operative forests utilization societies can help the tribals in utilizing the forests in which they live.
The government should arrange for technical help and education to improve the condition of tribal crafts and provision should be made for the marketing of the goods produced by them. Laws should be strictly imposed in tribal areas to solve the problem of indebtedness and to restrict exploitation. Co-operative credit societies can be organized to provide money for small scale industries. Labour laws should be strictly enforced in tribal areas.
2. Educational reforms.
At the base of the fallen state of tribal society is their widespread illiteracy. Educational expansion, therefore, should be given primary consideration. The tribal education should be given through their own language and in their own cultural background. Colleges should be established to safeguard the tribal fine arts.
Provision should be made for technical and commercial education in the tribes. Along with education, the tribal music, dance, plays and recreation should be encouraged. Religious dogmatism and superstitions should be removed through scientific education.
3. Reform in the level of health.
Efforts should be made to improve the level of health of tribal people. This will require provision of medicines, pure water, nutritive food, clean and properly ventilated houses and generally healthy atmosphere.
4. Social reforms.
Whatever may be the opposition from certain vested interests, efforts to carry out social reforms in tribals must be realized. The evil customs of bride price, magic and ritualiyn, child marriage, prostitution etc. should be removed. These social reforms can be carried out only after economic reforms.
5. Political reforms.
It is a pity that the Government officials posted in tribal areas misuse the ignorance of tribal people and exploit them for different purposes. They scorn the tribal culture and are completely indifferent to their welfare. The Government should appoint such officials as are conversant with tribal culture and intend to improve the condition of tribal people.
In free India the State and Central Governments have made incessant efforts in the direction of tribal welfare. At the central level a Commissioner attached to Home Ministry takes care of tribal welfare. Under him there are several regional Assistant Commissioners whose number has now increased to 16.
In the States, there are special Directorates of tribal welfare. In Assam five District and Regional councils have been established for tribal welfare. Tribal Research Institutes for the study of tribal culture and language are working in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and other states. Efforts are being made to expand educational facilities in tribal areas.
Thousands of scholarships have been granted by Central and State Governments. Provisions have been made for special seats for tribal people in medical, engineering and technical colleges. Posts have been reserved for them in public services. Primary and secondary schools have been established in tribal areas where there is provision for free education.
In the political field the tribes send their representatives to State and Central Legislatures, some of whom have risen to the rank of Deputy Ministers and Ministers. Some tribal youths qualify in All India Services and their number is gradually increasing.
For the economic regeneration of the tribes, the Government has enforced rules regarding land ownership and utilization of land. Crores of rupees have been spent for the development of cottage industries.
The Community Projects have been established everywhere. Grain shops have been opened which provide improved types of seeds. Laws in connection with debt have been enforced. Special multi-purpose tribal blocks have been created. Shifting cultivation is restricted and tribal families have been made to settle permanently on suitable land. Efforts have been made to provide housing facilities in some tribal areas.
Hospitals have been opened which provide free medicines, check epidemics and cure all types of diseases. Research Institutes have been opened for the study of tribal culture and language. New roads have been made and old roads improved in the tribal areas. Personnel working for tribal welfare are given special training for this purpose.
Institutes for their training have been established in Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Assam, Rajasthan Maharashtra and other States.
The above brief outline of the State and Central Government efforts in the direction of tribal welfare show the extent of work that has been done in different Five Year Plans. This has definitely led to some improvement in some directions. The solution of tr&al problems, however, requires a multi-sided planning.
To quote D.N. Majumdar, an authority on Indian tribal problems: “There is no one solution to tribal problems, there is no common platform to demand it. There are levels of cultural development and there are different patterns of life that the tribes own. In any scheme of rehabilitation of tribal life, the attitudes and configurations of culture must be known to work out plans, as what is true of one culture area may not be so for a second.”