Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken a revolutionary step by choosing a tribal woman from a humble background to be the Head of the Indian Republic. She has many firsts to her credit — first tribal President; first President born after Independence and first representative of a community to head the Republic that is the most threatened one today from various quarters. Great popularity comes with bigger challenges.
Seeing the euphoria all over on her elevation, especially among the tribal segments and her first greetings to the people of the republic with a ‘Johar’, a Santhali salutation, I can vouch she might emerge the most popular President India has ever seen. People love to have their life’s reflection at the top, they want someone who can reflect their pains, language, sorrows, aspirations and dreams. Droupadi Murmu’s elevation to Rashtrapati Bhavan has rekindled great hopes and expectations she will have to address. From Giani Zail Singh to Ram Nath Kovind, I have seen and interacted with almost all the Presidents, but Murmu stands apart in her own special class.
Her personal achievements, a humble background, highest integrity and an unflinching faith in Indian nationalism will be put to test now. She is hailed as the first tribal woman to become President. What’s does it mean? The tribal forms nearly 8.6% of the Indian population, and almost 98% of terrorism, insurgency, play of foreign money and internal disturbances occur in these areas alone. You see the MHA website’s page on banned organisations. There are 42 listed and 35 are active in tribal areas.
From Nagaland to Manipur and Jharkhand to Chhattisgarh, all tribal majority regions, various terrorist groups, insurgents in the garb of Maoist “revolutionaries and Communist extremists” are active. Described faultily as Left-Wing Extremism, it is purely Communist terrorism working with the aid of foreign funds and training. One of their offshoots is known as Peoples Liberation Army active in Manipur (banned by the MHA). A study by a security think tank Claws says, “Left-Wing Extremism is primarily a tribal insurgency. Twelve percent of the Indian population lives in the Northeast. The Northeastern tribal insurgencies have broken out in 1956 and are yet to be fully resolved. They have tied down two to six divisions of the Indian army and huge numbers of paramilitary and police forces.” In 2015, nearly 20 armymen were killed in tribal Manipur belt by the PLA, and in November 2021, an army colonel, his wife and son were brutally murdered by the same PLA.
Meghalaya and Mizoram have serious offensives against non-Christian Hajongs (Hindu-Buddhist), Chakmas and Riangs. The problem is that these communities are forced to send their children to Bangalore, Delhi, Guwahati and Dehradun for studies. Aggressive proselytisation is robbing the local indigenous faith people of their age-old traditions and cultural colours. The most astonishing story is about the rapid Christianisation of Arunachal Pradesh. According to a paper by the Centre for Policy Research, “In the course of the last decade of 2002-11, the proportion of the Christians in the population of Arunachal Pradesh has risen from less than 19% to more than 30% and they form a majority or near majority population in several districts.” Having returned from Arunachal Pradesh last month, I was told by a senior leader that almost 70% of population now is converted to Christianity.
Arunachal Pradesh has seen a continuous decline in the population of indigenous faith believers, Hindus and Buddhists in the last two decades.
The same is true for the other tribal regions in the country.
Losing faith, cultural VIBGYOR and then getting local dialects and languages replaced by English under the influence of conversions is one of the biggest threats tribal population is facing in India. Suddenly, their names are changed from Tan Mishimi to Robert and Albert and the entire world view of their ancestors becomes an object of hate, breaking families, ruining village life.
The other facet of the tribal people in India that is often ignored is their huge contribution to the nation’s security. Every border region has tribals of local indigenous faith as the first line defenders. Armed forces come later. From Chushul to Tawang and Jaisalmer to Okha, Sikkim and Myanmar border, it is the tribal population who brave all odds, mostly refuse to leave their ancestral place and help the nation’s armed forces in every critical moment of need. The Kargil infiltration was informed by the tribal shepherd to the army and, likewise, on the 300-km-long Uttarakhand-Tibet-China border, the Bhotias, Martolias, Tolias and Hyankis guard the border.
Due to the spread of education and the gradual decline of basic facilities like hospitals, schools, and protection to agriculture, the border areas are now witnessing unprecedented migration to the downhill cities. According to a report in The Hindu, “Migration of the people from near the LAC in Arunachal Pradesh has led to the shortage of people to work in those areas. The outmigration to the hinterland has been compounded by the unwillingness of people from outside to work in those difficult areas.”
Droupadi Murmu can choose to remain a silent spectator to all this, turn her eyes away and be a disciplined occupier of the 350-room Rashtrapati Bhavan or become an Ambedkar or follow Birsa Munda to help her struggling people.
The tribal people are brave, great revolutionaries, brilliant and had contributed enormously in our freedom struggle as well as in defence and sports. Today, a large number of Northeastern tribal boys and girls have endeared themselves to everyone in hospitality sector, airlines services, performing arts and culture. Droupadi Murmu has become the voice of those millions who had to rely for social help earlier on stories woven around Mary Kom and Havildar Hangpan Dada. Tribal power is making a name globally and rightfully so.
After the Modi government has taken over, the Northeastern sector has got a new life in terms of airports, highways, schools and sports colleges. If the funds for tribal development were a meagre Rs 21,000 crore during the UPA government then the Modi government has increased the allocation to more than Rs 78,000 crore. A large number of Padma awardees are from the tribal community.
Murmu at Rashtrapati Bhavan has heralded a new dawn for these unsung, unheard and unlisted stars of the nation. Home minister Amit Shah has rightly described the election of Droupadi Murmu as a proof of Modi government’s commitment to empower the tribals. This era definitely belongs to the age of transformation.
Tarun Vijay is a former BJP member of Rajya Sabha. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the stand of this publication.
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