Tribal India today is at the crossroads. The tribals are between societal self-awareness and cultural synthesis. On one hand, their problem is to protect their culture from the onslaught of alien cultural forces, and on the other, they are required to integrate themselves in the cultural mainstream. They have become, it is said, victims of ‘cultural terrorism’.
There are efforts by fundamental Hindu organizations such as Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Bajrang Dal and others to identify the tribals as Hindus. On the other hand, there are Christian missionaries who convert them into Christianity. To recall the discussions which took place in the Simla seminar of 1969, a Naga participant observed that the country should make it clear as to what it wants to make the tribals in future. The participant, Krieleno Terhuja, said:
It was often alleged that the Nagas have become anti-national and have not quite come into the mainstream of Indian life because they have become Christian and have been kept isolated.
Is the Hindu way of life the mainstream? I believe that this should not be so. But even the Nagas calling themselves Indians are treated differently in the plains of Assam.
The Nagas did not come under the influence of any other religion of the world prior to their contact with Christianity around 1880 and in the present circumstances they are not likely to become Hindus. This should not, however, lead to a conclusion that they are off the mainstream.
The problem with the tribals is that they do not know what is meant by national mainstream. Surely, it should not mean Hindu mainstream. If it is secular mainstream determined by the Constitution, what will happen to the civil life of the tribals? They have their customary laws and if they part with it, their very identity is jeopardized.
It appears that the tribals have to be integrated into a common whole, where all diverse cultures of the country, along with various populations and geographical regions, are brought together. Besides, the tribals have to be integrated into a common productive organization and finally into a secular and democratic set up provided by the Constitution.
Basically, the problems faced by the tribals are not homogeneous. For instance, the problems of north-east tribals, such as Nagas and Bo- dos, are different from those of central India. The former are geo-political. These problems are international and related to our neighbouring countries like China.
On the other hand, the heartland tribals have problems of land alienation, poverty, illiteracy, exploitation and victimization from former jagirdars, dikus and high caste Hindus.
Apart from these, there are other issues which have cropped up as a result of social change observed among the tribals.
A meeting of anthropologists was held in May 1972 at Vigyan Bhawan in collaboration with the Indian Institute of Advance Study, Simla, and the Indian Council of Social Science Research, New Delhi. This meeting set out to identify the basic problems of tribals along with the problems emerging from social change. We specify some of these problems.