As the first field visit of the fellowship, I was thrilled with excitement as I stepped foot into the beautiful Royda, the breathtaking village sitting in the midst the Aravalli hills. Post a rather adventurous and turbulent journey, our group decided to call it a day. The following day, our energized and enthusiastic group decided to explore the village, immerse into the community and interact with the locals. The locals were enthusiastic, friendly and curious, which made it easier for me and my group to strike up a conversation. During the conversation, most villagers appeared confident and assured that the entire community in the village believed in equality, and lived in harmony without any conflict on the basis of elements like caste or religion. As a skeptic, I was reluctant to buy that story.
After our experience in the village, we were told about the tribal settlement of the village. Our group decided to check out the tribal settlement. The segregation of the tribal settlement from the main village was quite apparent. After having a stroll across the tribal households, I decided to talk to the tribals who were approachable, but not necessarily friendly like the people from the main village.
During the conversations, I eventually gathered some shocking revelations. First, the tribal settlement had no electricity. All of them survived on manual labor work in Udaipur/Gujarat or grazing. On the contrary, the main village had electricity, despite the power cuts. Second, I could see the clear differences in terms of infrastructure, hygiene, construction of houses and the apparent poverty in the tribal settlement; and third,there was scarcity of water, as the tribal community had to travel around 3-4 kilometers everyday for water, unlike the main village,where water was freely available.
The extent of the problem
After observing the differences and listening to the narratives of the people of the tribal settlement in the Royda village, I was in a constant mixed bag of emotions and it left an everlasting impression of the plight of the Scheduled Tribes in Royda. It is important to realize that the village, under the influence of a Non-Government Organization Aajeevika Bureau, is quite liberal and progressive as compared to other cohort of villages. It’s not very hard to imagine the situation of tribal population in other villages.
According to research by Mamgain, Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs), who together constitute nearly one-fourth of the Indian population, have traditionally suffered from social exclusion. Despite being numerically significant, they continuously lag behind the other social groups in various social,economic and political aspects of development (Mamgain, 2013). Their progress in attaining higher levels of development is much slower than that of other social groups, particularly other caste Hindus and religious. Much of these differences in development outcomes are attributed to the long and complex history of Indian caste system, which is based on division of people in social groups (or castes) in which the occupations and property rights of each individual caste are predetermined by birth and hereditary. The division of occupations and property rights across castes is unequal and hierarchical (Akerl of, 1976; Mamgain, 2013). Some occupations are considered socially inferior (or polluting) with low social status for those engaged in them (Mamgain, 2013).
The caste system based economy is maintained or enforced through the instruments of social ostracism (a system of social and economic penalties) with support from philosophical elements in Hindu religion (Ambedkar, 1936, 1987; Mamgain, 2013). Though such caste system has subsided over the years with the constitutional reforms after the Independence, STs still face social exclusion and discrimination in their daily lives (Mamgain, 2013). Their voices for their rights, entitlements, dignity and justice are frequently suppressed with atrocities on them by other caste groups. This happens so even after the comprehensive constitutional safeguards and laws enacted over the years for the protection and development of SCs as well as STs (Mamgain, 2013).
There’s a popular catchphrase,”Old habits die hard”. In this case, the age old hierarchical caste based segregation should be blamed for this ostracization of Scheduled Tribe community. Despite the fact that the progressive constitutional reforms and laws for the Scheduled Tribes are in place, the government fails to implement them, due to caste based bureaucracy; subsequently leads to the disparity and inequity in the progress of this country’s citizens. The plight of the tribal population of Royda made me forget most of the wonderful moments of my time in this beautiful village. I’ll sign off by rephrasing the famous quote by Aristotle, “you can judge a nation by the way it treats its most vulnerable citizens”.
- Ambedkar, B R (1987; 1936), “Annihilation of Caste”, in Vasant Moon (ed.), Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches,Vol. 1, Education Department, Government of Maharashtra, Bombay.
- Akerlof, George (1976), “The Economics of Caste and of Ret Race and Other Woeful Tales”, Quarterly Journal of Economics, XC-4, November.
- Mamgain, Rajendra P. (2013), “Situating Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in the Post-2015 Development Framework”, Oxfam India Working Papers Series, OIWPS-XIX, June.