(The absence of state accountability is at the core of issues facing tribal communities)
The Report of the High Level Committee on Socio-Economic, Health and Educational Status of Tribal Communities of India, under the chairmanship of sociologist Virginius Xaxa, was circulated last week. The 431-page report details the situation of tribal communities: Scheduled Tribes, de-notified tribes and particularly vulnerable tribal communities. Taking on board the findings and demands of social movements, NGOs, researchers and bureaucrats, the report consolidates what we already know about the situation of tribal communities in this country. Without detracting from its significance as an archive, it is important to revisit some basic questions at this moment that have been brought to the fore yet again.
Sixty per cent of the forest area in the country is in tribal area. Fifty-one of the 58 districts with forest cover greater than 67 per cent are tribal districts. Three States — Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand — account for 70 per cent of India’s coal reserves, 80 per cent of its high-grade iron ore, 60 per cent of its bauxite and almost 100 per cent of its chromite reserves. Forty per cent of those displaced by dams are tribal peoples. A look at violent conflict, whether in Schedule V States or in Schedule VI States, shows that “the state is involved in all of these conflicts in some way or another.” Not surprisingly, the areas where these wars are being waged (with the state as party) are tribal areas with rich mineral reserves. The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act guarantees impunity to state perpetrators of extrajudicial murder and assault, and there are a large number of peaceful mass movements against the appropriation of tribal homelands by the state and by corporations.