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Friday, Dec 06, 2019

Decoding tribal alienation in Chhattisgarh | HT Editorial

Two recent reports point to State excesses and insensitivity. STs deserve a fairer deal

editorials Updated: Dec 04, 2019 20:19 IST

Hindustan Times
Governments have often talked of the development-first approach and winning the hearts and minds of the tribal population
Governments have often talked of the development-first approach and winning the hearts and minds of the tribal population(Sanchit Khanna/HT PHOTO)
         

A panel appointed by the Chhattisgarh government to review the cases against scheduled tribes (STs) in the state’s Maoist insurgency-affected region has prepared its report. And the findings are harsh. Headed by Justice (retired) AK Patnaik, the panel said that tribals are alienated from the mainstream due to a large number of criminal cases pending against them. This may have, it added, even pushed them to Maoism. As reported in the Hindustan Times, the panel lists 313 cases registered under the local excise law for withdrawal. It says that members of the ST community are often unaware of the amendments made to the excise law, changing the limit of liquor one can possess. This is often the reason for such a high number of cases under the Excise Act, pushing them to years in prison.

It is not just the cultural insensitivity while implementing a law that raises difficult questions about the nature of State authority. Security excesses, especially during anti-Maoist operations, are also responsible for the tribal disaffection with the government. On Sunday, The Indian Express reported on the findings of a one-member judicial commission set up to probe an alleged encounter in which 17 people, including six minors, were killed in the state’s Bijapur district in June 2012. The state had then claimed all of them were Maoists. But the commission concluded there was no firing by the villagers; there was no evidence to suggest they were Maoists; the villagers were assaulted and killed from close quarters; and the security personnel may have fired “in panic”.

Governments have often talked of the development-first approach and winning the hearts and minds of the tribal population. But, on the ground, the administration has often been insensitive to questions of tribal rights over resources, their cultural practices, and has treated them with suspicion. The two reports acknowledge this fundamental flaw. Both the Centre and the Chhattisgarh government must empower tribals, rather than treat them as second-class citizens.