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New Delhi, 2 December 2018

Nurturing Tribal Traditions

By R. Sreenivasan


Contemporary tribal traditions are under severe challenge from ongoing globalisation and its accompanying processes of development, making it imperative for policy makers to take notice. As a result, longstanding tribal practices and customs, particularly of art & craft, why even cuisine, need special care and attention so as to be nurtured in the face of such threats. Dovetailing such a need with the march forward of economic growth, taking advantage of the benefits offered by newer avenues of trade & commerce could be one way of sustaining tribal communities in the long run.


In our country, it is a long established fact that there is a huge and rich repository comprising several such age-old traditions, which are uniquely existing in the tribal pockets, some in the most remote far-flung areas. Take for example, long known medications based on extracts of herbs, leaves or bark of wild plants and trees, which could be very useful in treating many lifestyle-related ailments. Not only are these plentiful in our abundant forests, these are also free from side effects. The truth is people in these areas themselves often, unfortunately, are unable to either get on to the bandwagon offered by today’s world or unwilling to do so, resulting in dwindling knowledge (and utilisation) of these practices and traditions.


Even more so, an added aspect is the fast reducing number of people who know or have access to such traditions as many move to the cities due to the lure of a sustainable source of livelihood, maybe better healthcare and such other attractions of urban life, possibly with greater opportunities. Consequently, of late, indeed, there is fear, not without reason, that much of this, what may well be a priceless treasure-house, may soon be completely forgotten or lost.


The second aspect is the vast diversity & countrywide spread of tribal traditions in India itself, which could both prove to be a bane (and a boon perhaps) for policy makers. With India’s tribal population being, experts believe, about 8.14% of the total population of the country, touching approximately 100 million, geographically spanning across say 15% of the country’s area, there could be doubts of a uniform approach on account of the logistics and owing to the sheer magnitude involved too. To make matters difficult, if not worse, at least half India’s tribal population is Below Poverty Line and may have no access to either communication or transport.


However, in these days of a prevalent market-driven economy, the invigorating aspect here is that these very factors may prove attractive for market-driven pull forces. The bewildering wide variety of choice that our tribal produce offers certainly ought to come in handy for drawing customers. It is often said that every 50 kms there may well be a different, distinctive touch to this tribal Indian-ness! Encouragingly here, technology tools such as e-commerce could be leveraged as options for policy planning. As a result then, every region in India, which has a unique deep-rooted vibrancy in its tribal culture and traditions, usually reflected through its arts and crafts, could have an individual target set for itself.


This will also enable direct and transparent transactions between the global customers and our tribal producers, be they skilled artisans, craftsmen or any others. The pantheon of tribal arts of India is characterized by one unifying feature: all their forms are downrightly very ethnic and simple, and yet colorful and sparkling enough to fetch a big price in conventional markets, capable of taking on even the billionaire merchandisers.


The need of the hour then, is to have a whole spectrum of countrywide livelihood generating activities based on locally available resources so that gainful employment opportunities could be created at the doorstep of tribal people itself. The Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs has indeed recognised the importance of initiating such efforts, being seized of having to work too in a sustained and focused manner. Working in this direction, it set up way back in 1987, the Tribal Cooperative Marketing Development Federation of India Limited (TRIFED). The primary objective of this well-designed move was to serve the interest of the tribal community and work for their socio-economic development by “conducting its affairs in a professional, democratic and autonomous manner for undertaking marketing of tribal products”.


In its Year End Review 2017, the Ministry of Tribal Affairs observed that
it has been continuing this kind of its endeavors for socio-economic development of Scheduled Tribes (STs) through especially tailored educational, infrastructure and livelihood schemes to fill in for critical gaps. It highlighted various schematic initiatives; the recent ones being rationalisation of scholarship schemes and launching of online portal for NGO Grants. The Budget allocation for the Ministry too has gone up from Rs. 4827.00 Cr in the year 2016-17 to Rs. 5329.00 Cr in 2017-18.  Also, allocation for the welfare of Scheduled Tribes across all Ministries has witnessed an increase from Rs. 24,005.00 Cr in the year 2016-17 to Rs. 31,920.00 Cr in the corresponding period. 


No doubt, being the nodal Central Ministry mandated for the overall policy, planning and coordination of programmes for the development of the STs, the Ministry is best placed today to achieve “inclusive growth” of tribal population in the country. Mainly, its current programmes and schemes support and supplement, through financial assistance, the efforts of other Central Ministries, State Governments, and voluntary organisations. In order to nurture India’s tribal traditions and “with a view to preserve and protect the distinctiveness/uniqueness of tribal culture, habit and language”, the Ministry has over the decades, extensively, in a flagship scheme, extended support to Tribal Research Institutes (TRIs), which are run by State Governments. This has played a major role in various parts of the country in the areas of Research & Documentation (preservation of tribal culture), Training and capacity building (on laws/constitutional provision) and capacity building of functionaries and tribal representatives.


It would perhaps be a good idea if such a dedicated agency also be entrusted with the overall responsibility of both promotion & preservation of India’s tribal traditions. This could perhaps be on the lines of the Ministry of Culture being delegated to do so for other forms of India’s art & craft traditions.


Recently, while delivering the inaugural address at the “Aadi mahotsav”, organised in the national Capital, Delhi, Union Minister for Tribal Affairs Jual Oram pointed out that: “the Adivasi way of life is guided by primal truths, eternal values and a natural simplicity. The greatness of the tribes lies in this that they have managed to retain the primal skills and natural simplicity. Their creations issue from the depths of time. This quality gives their arts and crafts a timeless appeal. The crudest tribal handicraft instantly touches a primal instinct in all of us”. Nurturing such tribal traditions therefore, becomes the responsibility not of the government alone but of each one of us.--INFA


(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

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