People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)

Vol. XXX

No. 05

January 29, 2006

Struggles A Must For Tribal People's Emancipation



Biman Basu

INDIA is a unique country, with the Indian nation composed of multi-national, multi-lingual, multi-cultural and multi-religious constructs with an ethos of unity in diversity. Within our country’s vast expanses from Kashmir to Kanyakumarika and from Kutch to Kohima, a vast majority of the Indian population lives in rural India. It is therefore understandable that our country’s development crucially depends on the socio-economic, educational and cultural progress of different sections of the society obtaining in rural India.


Unfortunately, however, sometimes our rulers tend to become short-sighted and try to strengthen and develop the urban areas without looking deeply into the problem of development of the rural stretches. India has a vast contingent of tribal population living in rural areas in the main, with only a few of these tribal people living in urban areas. Out of about eight crore fifty thousand tribal population, perhaps only a few thousand may be residing in the cities for professional reasons.




The struggles of the tribal people that commenced during the British Raj, continued down the pages and chronicles of history to the recent times. The annals of the great Santhal rebellion led by Siddhu, Kanu and Dahar and the rebellions led by Birsa Munda and Tilka Murmu are glorious. These magnificent revolts were directed against the British rule as well as against the zamindars and mahajans (moneylenders) for the establishment and protection of the tribal people’s rights on land and forests, and for their identity.


In independent India, the path of capitalist development under a bourgeois-landlord regime always sought to evict the tribals from their land and deny them their right of access to forest and its minor products. In the present day context of imperialist globalisation and liberalisation, the tribal people are becoming hapless victims of land sharks, of forest contractors and of industrialists. The killing of adivasis at Kalinganagar in Jajpur district of Orissa is the latest example.


Para 3.27 of the CPI(M)’s Party Programme notes:


"The Constitution of the Republic of India which was adopted in 1950 had laid down a set of directive principles to be followed by the State. These include: adequate means of livelihood for every citizen and the right to work; an economic system which does not result in the concentration of wealth; right to education and provision of free and compulsory education for children; living wages for workers and equal pay for equal work for men and women. None of these principles have been realised in practice."


Despite the long practice of implementing secularism and of protecting the unity and integrity of the nation, we still face fratricidal conflicts and arousal of feelings of disunity in the minds of the common people, which has been witnessed in many states innumerable times. This phenomenon was dealt with seriously by late Comrade P Sundarayya, the departed general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), in 1968 when he placed an important document which is worthy of note. Sundarayya wrote thus:


"Under the cover of political and social activities, the old evils of communalism, casteism, provincialism and linguism have appeared again in some measure… Communalism which has in the past done so much injury to the nation, is again coming into evidence and taking advantage of the democratic apparatus to undermine this unity to encourage reactionary tendencies."




Now after 37 years, can we say that the situation has changed to any significant extent? How else can we explain the birth of caste based and religion based parties? Comrade Sundarayya also put forward, in these words, the CPI(M)’s outlook on the tribal issue:


"The Communist Party of India (Marxist) supports the just and legitimate demand of the tribal minorities for equality and social justice with economic and cultural development."


Even after 37 years, however, these goals and aspirations remain unfulfilled. We iterate that the tribal people are sombre victims of brutal capitalist and semi-feudal exploitation. Their lands have been either totally or partly alienated from them; they stand deprived of their rights to forest land and produce; and they continue to serve as a source of cheap and bonded labour for the forest contractors and landlords. It is noteworthy that several of the segments of our tribal population have distinct languages and culture of their own, which they can enjoy, utilise and develop in their day to day life.


This deplorable condition of our tribal people needs to be changed by bringing them right inside the mainstream of struggle against the present day exploitative social structure. This is a Herculean job and cannot be done by making them wait outside the orbit of general democratic struggles and movements. We note how some of the protagonists and self-proclaimed messiahs of the tribal people are trying to divert their justified and just struggles in a wrong direction. We also note how the vested interests like the self-professed leaders of the tribal and Dalit masses are indulging with impunity in various kinds of discrimination against and exploitation of these very sections.




Our experience of struggles for land and for the due share of the crop to the rural poor and kisans has shown us that, without land reforms, no real wellbeing of the tribal people can be achieved. We note that none of the casteist leaders or tribal leaders makes a move to go in for land reforms even after they take charge of administration in a state. On the other hand, they engage themselves in denying the tribals their rights to land and even to minor forest produce. Also, they never hesitate to stop the onerous practices of untouchability and social discrimination that continue to plague certain Indian states.


In fact, not a single casteist or Dalit leader can claim that they are able to establish social justice, though they themselves belong to a scheduled tribe or scheduled caste community. Taking into consideration the regressive outlook of the so-called think-tanks of tribal and Dalit masses, the CPI(M) has come to the conclusion that looking at the issue of exploitation from a casteist point of view or tribal point of view, in isolation from societal relations, can never help in their salvation from the exploitation of bourgeois and landlord classes.




Keeping this understanding in mind, the CPI(M) held an all-India tribal convention at Ranchi, in mid-November 2002, where we accepted a charter of demands which is to be made known to the people at large.


There are 13 points in this charter of demands. The salient points are as follows.

  1. Stop to the alienation of land belonging to the tribal people; plugging of loopholes in the existing laws, and steps to restore the land already transferred from the adivasis. Creation of a register of records for tribal lands. In scheduled areas under the fifth schedule of the constitution, adherence to the Samata judgement of the Supreme Court regarding the use of land for industrial and commercial purposes.

  2. Take-over of surplus land above the ceiling and its distribution among the landless adivasis, along with other landless families. Provision of irrigation facilities in the remote tribal areas. Allotment of degraded forestland to the tribal people.

  3. Amendment of the forest act in such a manner as to recognise the rights of the adivasi forest dwellers to access and use forests. People’s participation in forest management through community should be introduced.

  4. No project, industrial or developmental, must be undertaken if displacement occurs — unless a comprehensive a sustainable rehabilitation package is put in place. Such a scheme must be put in place before any displacement takes place or work on a project begins. Provision of employment and rehabilitation for the already displaced persons.

  5. Women should have equal rights in land. The practice of dowry, which is currently infiltrating into the tribal society, must be countered. Practices such as witchcraft (dain) must be combated. Provision of drinking water to remote hamlets must be given priority in order to lessen the hardships of tribal women. Sexual harassment of adivasi women who go to the forests to gather produce and firewood, must be strictly punished.

  6. Under the act for prevention of atrocities on SC and ST, there should be strict action against the atrocities being perpetrated on adivasis. The public distribution system should be revamped so that all tribal areas are covered by fair price shops and cooperatives. There must be expansion of Antodaya scheme in tribal areas.

  7. A special composite educational programme for tribal students, especially for girls, should be promoted by the central government and all state governments.

  8. There must be proper and vigorous implementation of reservations for the ST sections in all categories of employment and education.

  9. Public health facilities are to be provided and strengthened. The rich cultural heritage of the tribal people needs to be preserved. All tribal languages should be recognised. A vigorous campaign must be carried out against social evils which are now swaying the youth because of the penetration of bourgeois values and commercialisation.


We of the CPI(M) are aware of the fact that the tribal people are victims of the worst forms of social and class oppression. The organisations of the working class, peasantry, agricultural workers, women, youth, students and cultural activists need to come forward to get the problems of the tribal people mitigate. Only by drawing the tribal people into the mainstream of general democratic movements and struggles, can the emancipation of the tribal community be achieved in a true sense of the term.