Notes for Modern History (Post-Independence)
Integration of the Tribals I
- The task of integrating the tribal people into the mainstream was extremely complex, given the varied conditions under which they live in different parts of the country , and their different languages and distinct cultures.
- Residing mostly in the hills and forest areas, in colonial India they lived in relative isolation, and their traditions, habits, cultures and ways of life were markedly different from those of their non-tribal neighbours.
- The preservation of the tribal people’s rich social and cultural heritage lay at the heart of the government’s policy of tribal integration.
- There were two major approaches regarding the place to be accorded to tribals in Indian society .
- One approach was to leave the tribal people alone, uncontaminated by modern influences operating outside their world and to let them stay more or less as they were.
- The second approach was that of assimilating them completely and as quickly as possible into the Indian society all around them.
- Jawaharlal Nehru rejected both these approaches. Instead of these two approaches, Nehru favoured the policy of integrating the tribal people in Indian society , of making them an integral part of the Indian nation, even while maintaining their distinct identity and culture.
- There were two basic parameters of the Nehruvian approach: ‘the tribal areas have to progress’ and ‘they have to progress in their own way’.
- The problem was how to combine these two seemingly contradictory approaches.
- Nehru stood for economic and social development of the tribal people in multifarious ways, especially in the fields of communication, modern medical facilities, agriculture and education. In this regard, he laid down certain broad guidelines for government policy .
- First, the tribals should develop along the lines of their own genius; there should be no imposition or compulsion from outside.
- Second, tribal rights in land and forests should be respected and no outsider should be able to take possession of tribal lands.
- Third, it was necessary to encourage the tribal languages which ‘must be given all possible support and the conditions in which they can flourish must be safeguarded’.
- Fourth, for administration, reliance should be placed on the tribal people themselves, and administrators should be recruited from amongst them and trained.
- Fifth, there should be no over-administration of tribal areas. The effort should be to administer and develop the tribals’ through them own social and cultural institutions.
- Nehru’s approach was based on the nationalist policy towards tribals since the 1920s when Gandhiji set up ashrams in the tribal areas and promoted constructive work. After independence this policy was supported by Rajendra Prasad, the first President of India, and other major political leaders.
Relevance: GS Paper II (Agriculture and Economy)
Why has this issue cropped up?
A national policy for internal migration is needed to improve earnings and enable an exit from poverty.
Issues with migration
Though migration is expected to enhance consumption and lift families out of absolute poverty at the origin, it is not free from distress —
- distress due to unemployment or underemployment in agriculture,
- natural calamities, and
- input/output market imperfections.
Drivers of internal migration
- Internal migration can be driven by push and/or pull factors. In India, over the recent decades, agrarian distress (a push factor) and an increase in better-paying jobs in urban areas (a pull factor) have been drivers of internal migration.
- Data show that employment-seeking is the principal reason for migration in regions without conflict.
The costs of migration
- However, at the destination, a migrant’s lack of skills presents a major hindrance in entering the labour market.
- Further, the modern formal urban sector has often not been able to absorb the large number of rural workers entering the urban labour market. This has led to the growth of the ‘urban informal’ economy, which is marked by high poverty and vulnerabilities.
- Most jobs in the urban informal sector pay poorly and involve self-employed workers who turn to petty production because of their inability to find wage labour.
- Then there are various forms of discrimination which do not allow migrants to graduate to better-paying jobs. Migrant workers earn only two-thirds of what is earned by non-migrant workers.
- Further, migrant workers have to incur a large cost of migration which includes the ‘search cost’ and the hazard of being cheated.
- Often these costs escalate which forces them to borrow from employers in order to meet these expenses. And frequent borrowing forces them to sell assets towards repayment of their loans.
The benefits of migration
- Despite the above issues, internal migration has resulted in the increased well-being of households, especially for people with higher skills, social connections and assets.
- Migrants belonging to lower castes and tribes have also brought in enough income to improve the economic condition of their households in rural areas and lift them out of poverty.
- Circular migrant’s earnings account for a higher proportion of household income among the lower castes and tribes. This has helped to improve the creditworthiness of the family members left behind — they can now obtain loans more easily.
- There exists a need to scale-up interventions aimed at enhancing the benefits from circular or temporary migration.
- Interventions targeting short-term migrants also need to recognise the fact that short-term migration to urban areas and its role in improving rural livelihoods is an ongoing part of a long-term economic strategy of the households.
- Local interventions by NGOs and private entrepreneurs also need to consider cultural dimensions reinforced by caste hierarchies and social consequences while targeting migrants.
- There is a need of national policy on internal migration. Policies on this could be twofold. The first kind could aim at reducing distress-induced migration and the second in addressing conditions of work, terms of employment and access to basic necessities.
- There is a need to distinguish between policy interventions aimed at ‘migrants for survival’ and ‘migrants for employment’.
- Local bodies and NGOs which bring about structural changes in local regions need to be provided more space.
- Government interventions related to employment can be supported by market-led interventions such as microfinance initiatives, which help in tackling seasonality of incomes.
- Interventions aimed at enhanced skill development would enable easier entry into the labour market.
- We also need independent interventions aimed specifically at addressing the needs of individual and household migrants because household migration necessitates access to infrastructure such as housing, sanitation and health care more than individual migration does.
- As remittances from migrants are increasingly becoming the lifeline of rural households, improved financial infrastructure to enable the smooth flow of remittances and their effective use require more attention from India’s growing financial sector.