"About 30% of all Dalits are literate in the country, compared to just 23% adivasis. In terms of poverty, too, they lag behind, with 49% below the poverty line, as opposed to 41% for Dalits. Walter Fernandes' study on displacement shows that 40% of all displaced people in this country are adivasis, who form just 8% of the population." These were the words of historian and author Ramachandra Guha, who addressed the hundred-odd Young India Fellows last week at the Sri Aurobindo Centre for Arts & Communication. Guha spoke in two distinct sessions, the latter of which dealt with the problems faced by tribals in the central region of the country. According to Guha, there are eight tragedies concurrently happening to these tribals:
Adivasis sleep on some of the richest resources of the country. They live in some of our biggest forests, next to some of our fastest forests and in areas which house some of the most bountiful mineral reserves.
Historically, they have been neglected by the national movement, including Gandhi, Nehru and Ambedkar.
They have been concentrated in small, isolated upland areas. This means that their votes are important only in a small percentage of constituencies, nationally speaking. In contrast, the Dalits are rather more dispersed throughout the country, so they'll have a say in maybe 400 out of 550-odd constituencies.
The adivasis have lacked a charismatic leader like Ambedkar, who's still admired across India. Jaipal Singh was the closest thing in this respect, but his influence was limited to Jharkhand.
The apathy of public officials is nothing new for the adivasis. A majority of civil servants posted in tribal-dominated areas start angling for a transfer from the day they assume office. Alex Paul Menon, (the Sukma DC who was kidnapped and later released by Maoist rebels) is a rare example of a public official who actually wanted to serve in a tribal area.
The Maoists, their presumed liberators, only want to use them as cannon fodder, in order to create a new political order through armed struggle. They are neither liberators nor friends of the adivasis.
Responding to a question related to the Maoist crisis, Guha said, "Perhaps the most profound remark I've ever heard about the Maoist situation came from a Muri tribal boy in Chhattisgarh, who said, "We're arguing about this situation every day. But this discussion will not be possible in a Naxalite state. They don't have the guts to leave their guns behind and come to the village to discuss things."