UPSC Sociology Mains Syllabus
Paper 2 – Section B – Social Structure
(iii) Tribal communities in India:
(a) Definitional problems.
(b) Geographical spread.
(c) Colonial policies and tribes.
(d) Issues of integration and autonomy.
The 15th Conference of Parties (COP15) to the Convention on Biological Diversity is being held at Montreal, Canada from Dec 7, 2022 to discuss the goals and targets to restrict global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and restore the loss of biodiversity by 2050. The role of indigenous people in protecting and conserving biodiversity will be prominently discussed in the COP.
INDIGENOUS PEOPLE IN INDIA
India has over 84.3 million tribal people belonging to 550 communities of 227 ethnic groups as per the classification made by anthropologists on linguistic basis. In India, indigenous people (tribes or Adivasis) constitute 7 per cent of the population; they live in forested areas that occupy 25 per cent of the country’s land and 80 per cent of the biodiversity is found in forests.
Biodiversity, a contraction of “biological diversity,” generally refers to the variety and variability of life on Earth. It is an essential component of nature and it ensures the survival of human species by providing food, fuel, shelter, medicines and other resources to mankind. The richness of biodiversity depends on the climatic conditions and area of the region.
ROLE OF TRIBALS IN CONSERVING BIODIVERSITY
- Many plants are conserved in their natural habitat by tribals due to magico – religious belief that they are habitat of god and goddess.
- The ethnic and indigenous people have conserved several plants and endangered cultivars of agricultural crops such as rice, maize, millets, grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables which have originated under diverse agro-ecological climates.
- Many plant species are of great economic importance to tribals as rhizomes of such plants like Acorus calamus, stem bark of Bunchania lanzan, stem and leaves of Moringa oleifera, Achyrnthus aspera, Gynandropsis gynandra, Bombax ceiba are being used as antidote of snake – bite and scorpion sting.
- Primitive and indigenous people have been using several plants for combating disease from centuries and are found wide acceptance in traditional medicinal use.
- In terms of wildlife protection, tribal communities often employ totems and religious beliefs that restrict the culling of animals and certain plants. For example, for the Adi tribes in Arunachal Pradesh, tigers, sparrows, and pangolins are believed to be well-wishers of humankind and hence are not hunted.
- Some of their practices have helped formulate policies on conservation. For example, Indian tribes in the Dindori district of Madhya Pradesh grow red gram along with rice to prevent soil erosion, these are exchanged with Mahua flowers and black gram to replenish soil fertility. This sustainable model was borrowed by the Regional Agriculture Station and further refined to propagate sustainable agricultural practices.
THREATS FACED BY TRIBALS
Despite the sustainable lifestyle of tribes, their populations have dwindled with several communities migrating to cities for lucrative jobs. The ones left behind are under threat of eviction by government bodies and anti-poaching squads. The creation of protected land by the government has led to several displacements and the 2006 Forest Rights Act has been an inadequate response to address land rights, leading to the forced eviction of several tribal dwellers. Cases of harassment, bribes, delays in claim settlement, and illegal evictions have also been reported.
Tribals depend on traditional knowledge for our own existence and livelihood. They live in harmony with the forest ecosystem, flora, fauna and wildlife. The final message is: Preserve biodiversity of forests not only to control climate change but also to discover new edibles, medicines, millets, among other things.