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World Indigenous Day: What Are The Constitutional Protection Given To Adivasis

Although, Adivasis, who are constitutionally grouped as the Scheduled Tribes (ST) in India, have been constitutionally protected of their rights, their access to basic needs are still a struggle.

Members of Adivasi Sengel Abhiyan block railway tracks during their protest at Adina railway station, in Malda.
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In July, the video of an upper caste man urinating on a hapless Adivasi man, identified as Dashmat Rawat, in Madhya Pradesh went viral, sending waves of anger on social media. Shortly after, on July 8, another footage of an assault of two tribal boys by a group of men in Madhya Pradesh was reported by The Hindu. A few weeks back, another video of Kuki women being marched naked and sexually assaulted in the violence-torn Manipur went viral, creating storms of rage among people, activists, political parties, and communities. Following the incident, several protests broke out and among them were Adivasis of West Bengal who came out in large alliances to shed light on the escalating atrocities against Adivasis of the country. 

These are, however, not isolated incidents and perhaps only a scratch on the surface. The latest report of the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) in 2021 showed that atrocities and crimes against the Scheduled Tribes (STs) have increased by 6.4 per cent in 2021 (8,802 cases) over 2020 (8,272 cases). Madhya Pradesh (2627, cases) reported the highest number of cases of atrocities against STs, accounting for 29.8 per cent, followed by Rajasthan with 24 per cent (2,121 cases), and Odisha with 7.6 per cent (676 cases) during 2021.

Who are Adivasis?

Although, Adivasis, who are constitutionally grouped as the Scheduled Tribes (ST) in India, have been constitutionally protected of their rights, their access to basic needs are still a struggle. For them, access to equal opportunities —education, food security, drinking water and sanitation, community healthcare, sustainable livelihood support, and infrastructure— continues to remain largely scarce. 

As per the 2011 Census, the tribal population of the country is 104.3 million, constituting 8.6 per cent of the total population. And only 10.03 per cent of them live in urban areas. 

Adivasis constitute several tribal communities. However, several arguments also exist among sociologists and states as to who constitutes Adivasis as India has been a land to several tribal communities across states, speaking hundreds of languages. Hence, the Government of India has recognised them collectively as Scheduled Tribes under Schedule 5 of Article 324 of the Indian Constitution, and, like Scheduled Castes, they have been put under a single category so as to make them eligible for certain affirmative action. 

Constitutional protection to Adivasis 

Education and cultural safeguard 

Adivasis are protected under Article 15 (prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth) and Article 29 (protection of interest of minorities), and Article 350 (right to conserve distinct language, script or culture) of the Constitution.

Article 15(4) empowers the State to make any special provision for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward class of citizens or for SCs and STs. Article 29 (1) provides that “any section of the citizens residing in the territory of India or any part thereof having a distinct language, script or culture of its own shall have the right to conserve the same”.

Under Article 350 A: “It shall be the endeavour of every State and of every local authority within the State to provide adequate facilities for instructions in the mother-tongue at the primary stage of education to children belonging to linguistic minority groups…”

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Social safeguard

They are protected under Article 17 which abolishes and forbids the practice of “untouchability”. Article 23 prohibits traffic in human beings and begar and other similar forms of forced labour and since most of bonded labourers belong to the SC and ST communities, this law has special significance in terms of protecting their rights.

The social rights are further safeguarded under Article 24 which provides that no child below the age of 14 years shall be employed to work in any factory or mine or engaged in any other hazardous employment.

Under Article 25(2)(b), all Hindu religious institutions shall be open to all classes and castes of the religious communities. This specifically forbids the old practice of many upper-caste Hindus who would chain members of the ST communities and ban their entry to religious places.

Political safeguards

The political rights of Adivasis are protected under Article 164(1) which provides for Tribal Affairs Ministers in Bihar, MP and Orissa, and Articles 330 and 332 which provide for the reservation of seats for SCs and STs in the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies respectively.

The rights are further protected under Article 371 A, B, C, F, G, and H for special provisions in Nagaland, Assam, Manipur, Sikkim, Mizoram, and Arunachal Pradesh respectively.

Under Article 46, the State shall promote, with special care, the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people, and in particular, of the Scheduled Castes, and the Scheduled Tribes, and shall protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation.

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Under Article 244 (1), provisions of the Fifth Schedule shall apply to the administration control of the Scheduled Areas and Scheduled Tribes in any State other than Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura which are covered under Sixth Schedule, under Clause (2) of this Article.

Under Article 275, grants-in-aid will be provided to specified States (STs&SAs) covered under the Fifth and Sixth Schedules of the Constitution.

Service safeguards 

Reservation in posts and services has been provided in Articles 16(4), 16(4A) and 16(4B) of the Constitution.

What are the Fifth and Sixth schedules?

The Fifth Schedule contains provisions for the administration and control of the scheduled areas and scheduled tribes. These areas are spread across Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Himachal Pradesh, and Rajasthan. The governors of these states also shoulder special responsibilities and power and these states have Tribes Advisory Council. 

The Sixth Schedule contains provisions in relation to administrating the tribal areas of Assam, Mizoram, Meghalaya, and Tripura which have Autonomous District Councils that have a long system of self-management system. 

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