Published: 30th June 2020
We need to conserve the heritage and practices of India's tribals, prune detrimental ones: Prof S B Roy, IBRAD
Professor S B Roy also added that India has a problem of food security, climate change, use of fertilisers and to solve these the tribals are the best bet
The cultural heritage and practices of tribals across India have to be conserved, however, the ones that are objectively detrimental to health should be modified, said Professor S B Roy, Chairman, Indian Institute of Bio-Social Research and Development (IBRAD). Professor Roy was in conversation with senior journalist and author Kaveree Bamzai and Manoj K Das, MD, North Eastern Regional Agricultural Marketing Corporation on The New Indian Express' E-Expressions, a series of webcasts by TNIE on June 30.
Responding to Kaveree's questions whether to allow tribals to govern themselves and develop at their own pace, Dr Roy said, "The question is what to allow. The cultural heritage of tribals has to be preserved but as an outsider, we don't have the ability or intent to change the culture of the tribals. These statements are very popular and can be exciting for debate. However, if we look closely, some of their cultural practices are objectively detrimental to health. For example, some tribes have a practice where they are not allowed to eat protein, give antenatal care for the pregnant mother, not allow immunisation, practice hunting — for debate, these topics are fine. These cultural practices may not be conducive. As a human being, we should facilitate change for those cultural practices. It might be controversial but we need to try," said Professor Roy.
However, Professor Roy added that our country has a problem of food security, climate change, contaminated agricultural lands due to high usage of chemical fertilisers and to solve these the tribals are the most important players. "For the conservation of forests, to mitigate climate change, increase organic farming, increase the cultivation of traditional seeds, they play a prominent role. Good agricultural practices, forest conservation, livestock, fisheries are all taken care of if tribal development is present. Tribal higher education is also important. However, we have to remember that a tribal working in IT, or pursuing PhD will not take care of farming, agriculture and food security. All tribals are not homogenous — farmers choose to continue farming, they don't aspire for PhD, we have to segregate and reach them," he explained.
Manoj K Das, MD, North Eastern Regional Agricultural Marketing Corporation, who was also present, had a different take on the whole issue. Speaking especially about the tribals in the NE part of the country, he stated that they have been doing quite well with a high literacy rate and cultivable stretches of land. "I would say give them land rights, they should be allowed to govern themselves and there should be guaranteed government funding. The high-sounding schemes of the government ultimately don't get much done as half of these tribal communities do not have the required documents to obtain the benefits. It is better to lend the tribals money to help them build a community environment, run by locals," he added.
Speaking about improving entrepreneurship skills among the tribals, Manoj said, "The linkage to the market is important. We are coming up with One village, One product model to promote these small communities, their handicrafts, costumes and more which can then be linked through proper channels to the markets whether online or physical. We are trying to rope in at least 30 villages in the Northeast for this."
Finally, commenting on what they would do if they were made the Minister of Tribal Affairs, Manoj said he will first change the nomenclature 'tribal'. "It is something quite patronising, we should be called a better name, this has to change. Northeast hasn't industrialised and is organic by default. It can be called the land of slowness but we like to be called that. I will also preserve food security at our level with the help of naturally-grown fruits and vegetables. I hope the money that is earned from selling the tea grown in our plantations comes back to us directly. The Northeast is demanding its due," said Manoj.
On the other hand, Professor Roy focused on women empowerment and its importance in conserving traditional culture and the survival of human beings. He also emphasised the tribal and non-tribal communities in the country to work together towards development.