ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Under the Shadow of the Gun

Will the government, under pressure from the Maoist movement, tackle the root causes of tribal unrest?

Addressing the Conference of Chief Ministers and State Ministers of Tribal Affairs, Social Welfare and Forest Departments on the rights and welfare of the scheduled tribes and other traditional forest dwellers on 4 November, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh talked of applying balm, as he put it, “the state should give a healing touch to the tribal communities”. Sadly, it is only “under the shadow of the gun” that those who govern this country begin to realise that the “systemic exploitation and social and economic abuse of our tribal communities can no longer be tolerated”. But most of the chief ministers who should have been around, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, for instance, were not there to listen to the prime minister, and, despite some radical rhetoric thrown in, palliatives were all that were there on offer.

The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 came into force on 1 January 2008, but progress in distribution of titles to land to the adivasis has been poor. As of 30 September 2009, adivasis had filed 25 lakh claims across the country, but only five lakh titles had been distributed. Frankly, the states which should have begun to implement it faithfully – those for whom the tribal question should have mattered, like Bihar, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Orissa, and West Bengal – could not have cared less. Bihar and Orissa have not distributed a single title so far, while West Bengal, Jharkhand and Maharashtra have between them awarded less than 12,000 titles.

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