Tribal people are distinct. They are not necessarily inferior; they have their way of life that must be respected and protected rather than being mainstreamed into the mainstream concept of so-called development.
Development for all does not have the same connotation, and imposing the majority's idea is a direct assault on their individuality, diversity, and, most importantly, human rights. We must recognise that we cannot continue to interfere with their livelihoods to quench our thirst—constant deforestation has pushed tribals to the edge. As the lives of these Adivasi communities are inextricably linked to forests, lands, and natural resources, which have served as the foundation of their survival.
Due to the political significance of tribal zones, different mechanisms were provided in the Constitution, and these have changed significantly over time. Ironically, when a deeper understanding (and empirical analysis) of these provisions is required in light of tribes' existential crisis and India's ecological crisis, very little is understood or attempted to be understood. While their life appears simple on the surface—tilling the land, working on the commons, and collecting from the forests—what is not apparent is the complex knowledge systems passed down through generations that have enabled them to make the best use of the resources available to them sustainably.
The Indian Constitution provides special protection to Adivasi/tribal/indigenous people, who account for more than 8% of India's total population and live in the country's last remaining forests.
The two schedules namely the fifth and sixth are probably the most enigmatic parts of the Indian Constitution. These two schedules establish alternate or special governance mechanisms for certain "scheduled areas" on the mainland and certain "tribal areas" in northeastern India.
Isolation, exclusion, and occupational subjugation are major impediments to integrating these social groups into the country's socio-economic development.
Another major issue is governance, which includes a lack of inter-ministerial convergence and suboptimal beneficiary targeting.
There is a lack of awareness about the schemes, resulting in leakages and benefit denials; and
Mainstreaming these groups has also been hampered by the inability to incorporate specific cultural and social needs of SC/ST groups when designing policies.
Way Forward: Institutional and programmatic interventions
Conduct a baseline survey and identify remote and tribal communities for the implementation of various development programmes.
Create solutions that are tailored to and narrowly focused on the challenges and needs of specific communities.
Conduct social audits to assess the impact of these programmes based on quantifiable benefits to targeted households.
Set up mechanisms to regularly monitor the implementation of laws such as the Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act and the Forest Rights Act (FRA) of 2006.
Establish residential schools in uncovered blocks/districts with vocational training facilities. Establish and enforce quality parameters for existing and new residential schools. Increase the number of scholarships available under the pre-matric and post-matric programmes.
Create a Vulnerability Index and a Vulnerability Intervention Index for PVTGs using the methodology recommended by the National Institute of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj in Hyderabad. These indices will be useful in assessing socioeconomic disparities between PVTGs and other social groups and designing appropriate policy interventions.
Promote community-owned radio stations to empower marginalised communities.
Encourage settlements along the lines of Samasthapuram in Tamil Nadu, where people from all communities coexist.
Promote sustainable livelihood and self-sufficiency among tribal people by promoting cooperatives and culturally appropriate employment opportunities; Strengthen the role of tribal women and youth in economic development and decision-making; and Promote social dialogue and development partnerships between tribal people and government agencies by disseminating good practices of community-based participatory development.