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Connecting the vanishing tribes

There are 75 primitive tribal communities in India who are having low level of literacy, declining or stagnant population, and live in pre-agricultural level of technology. The Union Tribal Affairs Minister of P R Kyndiah talks to Sarat C Das about the definite provisions his ministry is making to reach out to these groups.

delhi Updated: Sep 17, 2008 23:43 IST

The Government of India has identified 75 Primitive tribal groups (PTG) located in a host of states and the Union territory Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Do you see more groups being identified under PTG?


Well, these primitive tribal groups have been identified following their confirmation to four criteria. These include primitive traits and whose development is pre-agricultural level of technology as they depend on hunting, fishing, forest produces for their livelihood. Also, there is a remoteness of their location as these primitive tribal groups live in small hamlets and habitats and their population is either stagnant or diminishing.


Are all the primitive tribal groups in the country have been identified?


Yes! Only recently there is a tribal group from Sikkim, which we discussed to include within the purview of PTG, but they failed to meet the stated criteria for PTG.

Primitive tribal groups are vulnerable to our way of life. How do you ensure development of these groups keeping in mind of their vulnerability?


Primitive tribal groups such Santhals in India have gradually come up on the scale of social development. But I agree there are a few primitive groups who are vulnerable to our way of life. I recall one tribal boy who was found to be floundering with a broken leg from a helicopter survey. He was rushed to hospital where he was fed with rice but succumbed to diarrhea. Later he was found to be living off on a diet of wild pigs but never had rice. These instances are rare!

Are we making a definite contact program with some of these primitive tribal groups?


Well, our effort is to bring these primitive tribal groups to some stage of development when they can receive state benefits. We are hugely focusing on the conservation of these primitive groups to ensure their population is not dwindling or stagnant. Our efforts include the focus on the primitive tribal groups of Andaman and Nicobar Island such as Shompens of Great Nicobar. I met two of them during my visit to the Island post-Tsunami. The Shompens generally do not mingle with people. Also Sentineleses are not approachable but there is a little increase in their population recently. There are some reported marriages of Great Andamanese with other Islanders but they find it difficult to protect their identity. So we have to look into the development of these primitive tribal groups in a more sensible way.

How forthcoming has been the fund for Primitive Tribal Groups that constitute the most vulnerable among tribal groups?

In April 2008, we have embarked on a new vision to develop the tribal life of India. The new long conservation-cum-development will focus on habitat or hamlet not village or larger regional centric units. Also, there is a quantum jump in the budget allocation for tribal welfare from Rs 105 crore in 10th Five Year Plan to Rs 370 crore in 11th Five Year Plan.

Does your ministry have any comprehensive development plan for Primitive Tribal Groups?

We have asked the state governments to prepare a comprehensive Five-Year development plan. Through this plan we aim to introduce them to development in such a way which will not dilute their cultural identity. For instance, we understand the need of healthcare or some specific technology. There are a lot of primitive tribal groups coming forward to receive these benefits. But there are large segments of the primitive tribes in the backwater of development. We want to bring them up. We are also focusing on the tribes who are less accessible such as Great Andamanese of Strait Island, Onges of Little Andaman, Jarawas of South and Middle Andaman, Sentinelese of Sentinel Islands, and Shompens of Great Nicobar.


How are you protecting the land of the primitive tribal groups?


We know land is sacrosanct to them. The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers Act, 2006 is a key piece of forest legislation which really concerns the rights of forest dwelling communities to land and other resources, denied to them over decades.

The PTG consider their habitat and environment as a source of food and shelter. The habitat and environment are the property of the community and traditionally no restrictions are imposed on any member to eke out their subsistence. Sometime this causes enormous damage to forest resources. Even for a small ounce of honey these forest dwellers set the entire jungle on fire. Do you see a way out through which we can take care of their interest and preserve forest?
Well, the Forest Rights Act will redress the "historical injustice" committed against forest dwellers, while including provisions for making conservation more effective. I believe the forest people have the same conservation ideas that we have because they live on the forest produce and see the trees are protected to their own interest. Also we need to entrust them as the upkeepers of bio-diversity and environment and thus, make them more responsible towards environment.


The indigenous knowledge in medicine and other life skills offer new models for development that are both ecologically and socially sound. The main objective for the promotion of indigenous knowledge is its effective use for sustainable development. Do you think the widespread failure of 'top-down approach' to development should lead us to a focus more on the 'bottom up participatory approach'?


Well, we do believe in the efficacy of the bottom up participatory approach. But any case we do a meticulous planning for either of these approaches to be successful.

How your recently released book "'Walk With Me" occurred to you?


I come from hills where walking and trekking is a way of life. It is personal book through which I intend to share my experience with my readers. It is a mean to good health. It is scientifically proved that walking 20 minutes a day will make you healthy and you can withstand pressure. However, my own experience goes beyond this - I recite couplets and psalms from good scriptures, or compilation of Pandit Nehru, Guru Rabindranath Tagore, or William Wordsworth. William Wordsworth's really connects me the nature: "There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream, the earth, and every common sight, To me did seem apparelled in celestial light." I memorise them, reiterate them, and play them in my memory valves. As prime minister said this book would lead you to a rich spiritual experience.

Also, for me walking is a way of learning. Gandhji said, "Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever." Further, I am fond of Guru Rabindranath Tagore's who says: "Let us not pray to be protected from danger but the fearless to face them." And it frequently crosses my mind during walking, "That I exist is a perpetual surprise which is life." There is a huge repertoire of these quotes, wise sayings and proverbs in my book which I have organized into six days. However, not necessarily anybody should go by that format. They may pick and choose as they like. I was not sure if I should bring out the book in this form until my grandson came and said, "Small minds discuss people / big minds discuss events / bigger minds share ideas/ great minds work silence". I thought why should I hesitate on this form of a book as my aim is to share ideas. My life has been an open book so why should not I share it with others! My focus is not on merely physical walking but to attain a mental agility through walking. And I believe through these quotes in your mind you can imbibe some of the spiritual component which would bring you to a tranquil harmony.


Do you think your book can engage Indian youths to walking as a spiritual perspective?


See, walking for the sake of walking is not enough. Walking apart from physical mobility should create a mental state of agility. Walking should engage them to a spiritually enhanced experience with certain innovations in their life. I am looking at a very comprehensive view of walking. Nelson Mandela said, "Man's goodness can be hidden but can not be extinguished."