INTEGRATING TRIBAL PEOPLE INTO INDIAN MAINSTREAM

(With special reference to Nehru’s approach and the formation of a hill states in North East India)

The task of integrating tribal people into the mainstream of Indian society was extremely complex. It is due to the fact that they lived in different parts of India, speaking different languages with distinct cultures. According to 2001 Census, the tribal population reached Sonia-dances-with-tribals84,326,240 (constituting 8.2% of the total population) from different tribal communities. They were spread over different parts of India and the greatest concentration was in Madhya Pradesh, Maharastra, Orissa, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and Karnataka. These states were having larger number of scheduled tribes accounting 83.2% of the total Scheduled Tribe population of the country. The north eastern states like Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tripura, Mizoram, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and others like Jammu & Kashmir, Bihar and Tamil Nadu account for another 15.3% of the total Scheduled Tribe population.

Except the north eastern states, the tribal peoples are minority in their own states, but in the north eastern states, they lived mostly in the hilly areas while the non-tribal peoples were concentrated in the plain area.

During the colonial period, a number of merchants, money-lender, landlords, petty officials etc. coming from the non-tribal community disrupted the life of tribal people by acquiring their land, disrupting their traditional way of life, exploiting them in their own business at a lower cost etc. In this particular sense, Verrier Elwin comments that ‘…they(tribal people) suffered oppression and exploitation, for there soon came merchants and liquor-venders, cajoling, tricking, swindling them in their ignorance and simplicity until bit by bit their broad acres dwindled and they sank into the poverty in which many of them still live today..’ (See Bipan Chandra et.al India after Independence, p106)

From the above comments, it clearly shows that the tribal people suffered a lot from the non-tribal community. Therefore, the sufferings of tribal people particularly from the non-tribal led a number of uprisings and rebellion during the 19th and 20th century AD. For example, Santhal uprising, Munda uprising etc.

The Independence India laid a great emphasis on the preservation of the rich and distinct culture of the tribal people living in various parts of India. In this relations, what Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru thought was that the capable of accommodating the uniqueness of tribal people into the naga-tribesmainstream of India. He also proposed to inspire them with confidence and to make them feel at one with India, and to make them realize that they are part of India and have an honoured place in it.

He never thinks about the assimilation and liquidation of distinct tribal culture into the India’s mainstream. Some of the thinker observed that there may be two approaches regarding the place to be accorded to tribal in Indian culture – firstly, the tribal people were to leave alone and let them stay as they were; secondly, assimilating them completely into India culture.

But Nehru completely disagrees and rejected the two approaches of isolating and assimilating the tribal people. To him, it was ‘one kind of insulting’ when they were left alone and isolated from the outside world. It was not possible and desirable to isolate them. The second approach as Nehru believes was, a path leading to the loss of social and cultural identity of the tribal people.

Nehru’s approach of integrating Tribal People:

Nehru firmly believes in the ‘Unity in diversity’ in which different peoples from different cultural identities and different ethnic background were cordially lived in. He led a campaigned for the development tribal areas in the field of economic, social, political and intellectual. For the purposes, he laid down certain guidelines or instructions for the upliftment of tribal people which would later be helpful for the framing of government policies towards the tribal areas.

  1. The tribal should develop along the lines of their own genius. There should be no imposition or compulsion from outside and non-tribal should not approach them with superiority complex.
  2. Their (tribal) rights in their land and forest should be respected and no outsider should be able to take possession of tribal lands. The incursion of the market economy into tribal areas had to be strictly controlled and regulated.
  3. To encourage the tribal languages
  4. In administration, reliance should be place on the tribal people themselves and administrator should be recruited from among them. If an outsider is chosen or appointed to administer, they should have sympathetic approach or attitudes towards them.
  5. No over-administration of tribal areas. Efforts should be made for administration and development through their own social and cultural institutions.

The attitudes of Nehru towards the tribal and his approaches were also agreed by Rajendra Prasad, the then President of India and other political leaders.

Constitutional Safeguards:

After Independence, the government of India laid down certain number of provisions for the safety and preservation of the tribal peoples by incorporating into the Constitution as follows:

 

  •  Article 46 of Indian Constitution states that the state should promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the tribal people and should protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation through special legislatures.
  •  Article 244(2) (Sixth Scheduled) provides a self-government to the tribal peoples by making a provisions of the creation of autonomous district council, creation of districts and regional councils. The objective of Sixth Scheduled was to enable tribal peoples to live according to their own ways.
  •  Article 275(1) provides special grant-in-aid for promoting the welfare of the Scheduled Tribes.
  •  Article 330, 332, 335 allocates a reservation of seats for the Scheduled Tribes in Lok Sabha and in state legislatures as well as in services.

Besides, there are a number of constitutional provisions for the promotion and upliftment of the tribal peoples in India.

Tribal in North East India:

As already states that, the north eastern states of India were inhabited by the tribal peoples and particularly the greatest concentration was in the states of Mizoram, Nagaland and Meghalaya. The tribal population in the north eastern states as in 2001 may be summarized as follows:

Table : Tribal Population of North East India, 2001

  State Total Population Tribal Population % of Tribal Population
1 Arunachal Pradesh 1,091,117 700,497 64.20
2 Assam 26,638,407 3,303,162 12.40
3 Manipur 2,388,634 821,928 34.41
4 Meghalaya 2,306,069 1,980,913 85.90
5 Mizoram 891,058 842,049 94.50
6 Nagaland 1,988,636 1,767,897 88.90
7 Tripura 3,191,168 992,453 31.10
8 NE India 38,495,089 10,408,899 27.04
9 India 10,27,015,247 84,326,240 8.2

The tribes in north east India were speaking a wide variety of languages, having distinct cultures and living in the hill areas of Assam province during the colonial period. They share many of the features and common problems of the tribal people in the rest of the country. Though they were living in Assam provinces they were given separate administrative unit under the provision of Article 244(2) of Indian constitution. For example, the Mizo district, Khasi and Jaintia hills, Garo hills, North Cachar hills and Mikir hills were given an autonomous district council.

Since independence, the government of India laid down certain number of developmental programmes for the upliftment and promotion of the tribal peoples in north east India which resulted more or less becoming Indians.

Besides, the wave of political consciousness struck the hills of north eastern India soon after the country got its independence. The educated and emerging tribal leaders quickly picked up the spirit and ideal of the struggle for emancipating the backward hill tribes, held till independence by the foreign rulers in ‘excluded’ and ‘partially excluded’ areas, isolated from the mainstream of national life. Soon after the attainment of independence, the people of the hills of the then composite state of Assam felt that their only way to help them catch up with the more advanced sections of the people of Assam in particular and of the country in general lay through getting a state of their own, which they then loosely termed as ‘hill state’. So that they might develop according to their own genius, culture and distinct way of life.

Formation of a hill state :

The movement for a separate hill state first took roots in the Khasi and Jaintia hills where the leaders preached their idea openly. The movement was spearheaded by the Khasi National Durbar which commanded the respect of all the Khasis. On June 27, 1952, a large rally was held in Shillong against the principle of nomination to the district Council. The organiser boldly declared that their main goal was the attainment of a separate hill state. The Khasi National Durbar (KND) took up the leadership of the movement and submitted memorandum to the then Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru on October 19, 1952, by pointing out a number of inadequacies in the Sixth Scheduled of Indian Constitution.

In December, 1952, Capt. William A. Sangma, the Chief Executive Member (CEM) of Garo hills autonomous district council convened a meeting of the representatives of tribal areas at Tura to discuss matters relating with the promotion of tribal welfare. The meeting resolved to form the Assam Hills Tribal Union which was later renamed as the Eastern India Tribal Union (EITU) in October, 1953. The objectives of EITU would be the formation of a hill state which would include all the hill areas of Assam, whole of Manipur, the present Nagaland and the tribal belt of Tripura. Accordingly, the member of the Executive Committee of the autonomous district council of Garo, Khasi and Jaintia Hills, Mizo District Council and North Cachar Hills were met in Shillong on June 16-17, 1954 to discuss things of mutual interest. The meeting was presided over by BM Roy, CEM of Khasi and Jaintia Hills. No representation from Mikir Hills attended the meeting. BM Roy suggested that the deliberations might be confined to two important subjects - the formation of separate states for hill areas, and the amendment of the six scheduled of Indian constitution.

Capt. Sangma , the CEM of Garo Hills pleaded for the establishment of a separate hill state by saying ‘there was no adequate safeguard for the preservation of the identity, race, language and culture of the hill peoples in the Sixth Scheduled, that the Sixth Scheduled did not endow the District Council with adequate powers to safeguard their interest - social, economical and political; and said that the attitude of the peoples of the plains was one of contempt and subtle hostility towards the hill peoples’. But Lalsawia the CEM of Mizo District Council and Khotland, CEM of North Cachar Hills did not agree with him. At last, the meeting decided to demand the constitution of a separate states for all the hill areas of Assam with an area of 27, 599 Sq.miles with population of 11,71,098. The state would be known as Eastern Hill State. the meeting also decided that English would be the official language of the hill state untill it was replaced with Hindi.

On the eve of the visit of the members of the State Reorganisation Commission (SRC) to Shillong, the leaders of EITU decided to submit memorandum in the name of the peoples of the autonomous district. In the meanwhile, Capt. Sangma convened a conference of the people of autonomous district on October 6, 1954 at Tura. Not only the Tura Conference, other tribal organisation like KND, the Highlanders Union, UMFO and the Hill union of Assam, the Garo National Council submitted memorandum to the SRC demanding a hill state.

The memorandum claimed that the hill people of all the autonomous districts were one and fundamentally different from that of the plain people in every respects- social customs, morality, language, dress and even food. It also said that the autonomy given to the district council under Sixth Scheduled was not real and substantial. It is also highlighting that the Assamese were making every effort to impose their language and culture on the hill peoples, and also trying to dominate the hill peoples.

The memorandum listed a number of advantages in having a hill state, and also sketched briefly the structure of the hill state. it would comprise the six autonomous district council and the tribal areas of the NEFA , and any other areas contiguous to the autonomus district predominantly inhabited by tribal people. The states would have a legistive assembly of 25 members, a council of ministers in which all the autonomous districts would be represented. It would also have its own Governor, who might be incharge of NEFA, so that the NEFA became a part of the hill state. It was also suggested that Assam should have its own capital, but untill the construction of the capital, Assam might function from Shillong, which would be the capital of the hill state.

The memorandum submitted by the other tribal organization other than Tura Conferences to the SRC also contained the same proposal with that of the Tura Conference’s memorandum. But the Mikir hills and North Cachar hills did not asked for a separate state and only for a greater autonomy and greater financial power to the district council.

Rev JJM Nichols Roy’s Proposal

In May 1947, Rev JJM Nichols Roy submitted his personal memorandum ie. ‘Hill Districts of Assam - Their future’ to the Cabinet Mission by suggesting that the hill areas should not be converted into a crown colony as suggested by some of the British officers like NE Parry, Robert Reid and JH Hutton. He pleaded that all the hill districts of Assam should be closely connected with trhe Assam Legislative Assembly. He had also made concrete suggestions including the formation of Khasi federated state by amalgamating the Khasi and Jaintia hills.

Proposal of Govt. of Assam

On the other hand, the government of Assam pleaded that there should be one state for the whole of Eastern Himalayan sub-region consisting of Assam, Manipur, Tripura, Sikkim, the district of Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar in West Bengal, NEFA and Nagaland. This area consisted of most varied mixtures of races and tribes, though it had certain common features. It appears that the government of Assam proposed an impossible formula merely as diversion. Thus, in a real sense, it opposed the demand for a separate hill state.

Recommendation of SRC

The recommendation of SRC was self-contradictory and recommended that special attention should be paid to the development of the hill areas. Therefore, the commission’s recommendation seems to have been based on two considerations:i) it did not like to encourage the formation of a small state
ii) it appears that it was suspicious of the patriotism of the hill people when it said that the security of the frontiers should not be affected.

Opposition to the hill state

Rev JJM Nichols Roy opposed the creation of a separate hill state with the argument that the district council would disappear with the formation of the hill state. He feared that the non-tribals would then be able to acquire land in the hill district and they would push out the original inhabitant from their ancestral landed property. He also expressed his fear that the government of the hill state might fall into the hands of the non-tribal. Besides, there arose various numbers of opposition to the hill state like, the demanded area of a state was not compact and contiguous, the maintenance of existing communication would be difficult if hill state was separated from Assam. It was also argued that each autonomous district is not homogenous and for security reasons, the integrity of Assam must be maintained.

In the meantime, Assam Pradesh Congress Committee (APCC) directed the Chief Minister of Assam to declare Assamese as state language and BP Chaliha, Chief Minister of Assam announced on June 22, 1960 that official language bill should be introduced in the Assembly. The immediate reaction was the meeting of All Assam Hill Leaders Conference at Tura on April 28, 1960 which vehemently opposed the decision of APCC. This was the beginning of the process of disintegration of Assam and finally gave birth to the All Party Hill Leader Conference (APHLC).

Capt. WA Sangma called for a conference of all leaders of all political parties of the hill areas on July 6, 1960 at Shillong. The conference resolved to constitute itself into a political entity to be known as the APHLC. The third APHLC meeting was held during November 16-18, 1960 at Haflong chaired by Joy Ehadra Hagjer and discusses the demand of a separate hill state; and resolved to sent its delagate to meet Prime Minister. On November 24, 1960, the delegation of the APHLC met the Prime Minister and he assured that no legislation passed by the Assam Legislative Assembly could be enforced in the hill areas without the consent of the representatives of the hill areas and also promised that he would seriously consider the measures necessary to ensure adequate delegation of powers in order to enable the hill people to undertake development programme in the hill areas.

In short, the government has offered a number of alternatives like the Scottish pattern, Nehru Plan etc. for the administration of the hill areas, but the hill leaders rejected. Lastly, the APHLC accepted the Autonomous State Plan and then the government of India drafted the Constitution (22nd Ammendment) Bill for the creation of the Autonomous State of Meghalaya within Assam. Thus, on December 24, 1969, the Assam Reorganisation (Meghalaya) Bill, 1969 was passed in both of the house of Parliament by unanimous vote. It became an act when it received the assent of the President of India on December 29, 1969.

The twenty first session of APHLC was held in Shillong during January 25-30, 1970 and resolved to accept the Autonomous State Plan and work for the all round development of the state and for well being of the peoples. Then, the Conference also appealed to the district council of North Cachar Hills and Mikir hills to join the autonomous state of Meghalaya, and assured them that each autonomous district would get equal opportunities for participation in the various fields of administration and development, opportunity for preserving their distinct identity and culture. The autonomous state of Meghalaya consisted of the Garo hills district and United Khasi & Jaintia district, was inaugurated by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi at Shillong on April 2, 1970. The Mikir hills and the North Cachar hills did not join the new state.

Lastly, the government of India also announced that Manipur and Tripura should be raised to the status of states on September 3, 1970. Then in October, 1971, the drafting of the North Eastern Areas (Reorganisation) Bill was completed, and passed by both of the house of Parliament in December, 1971. The act conferred statehood on Meghalaya, Manipur and Tripura, it also converted Mizo hills into Union Territory to be known as Mizoram, NEFA was also converted into UT as Arunachal Pradesh. On January 20, 1972, the full fledged state of Meghalaya was inaugurated by the then Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi.

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