To mark the first-ever ‘Janjatiya Gaurav Diwas’ or Tribal Pride Day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 15 November reached out to tribal people, inaugurating the Birsa Munda museum in Ranchi, Jharkhand, as well as a slew of welfare schemes in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh.
The PM said that as the country celebrated 75 years of Independence next year, it had been decided to honour the contributions of tribal people. “For this, a historic decision has been taken that from today, every year the country will celebrate 15 November, that is, the birth anniversary of Bhagwan Birsa Munda as ‘Janjatiya Gaurav Diwas,” he stated.
“After Independence, for the first time in the country, on such a large scale, the art-culture of the entire country’s tribal society, their contribution to the freedom movement and nation-building is being remembered and honoured with pride,” the PM was quoted as addressing the crowd in Bhopal by The Hindu.
In the city, PM Modi dedicated several railway projects to the nation, including the redeveloped Rani Kamalapati Railway Station.
"Some people were surprised when the contribution of tribal society in nation-building was discussed as these details were not told to the country. This happened because those who ran the government in the country for decades after Independence gave priority to their selfish politics,” he stated.
The Prime Minister inaugurated, in Ranchi, the Bhagwan Birsa Munda memorial-cum-freedom fighter museum, marking the birth anniversary of the tribal freedom fighter. It is the first of 10 new museums dedicated to tribal culture and contribution to the freedom movement.
Nine other tribal freedom fighter museums are being set up in the States of Andhra Pradesh (Lambasingi), Chhattisgarh (Raipur), Goa (Ponda), Gujarat (Rajpipla), Kerala (Kozhikode), Madhya Pradesh (Chhindwara), Manipur (Taminglong), Mizoram (Kelsey) and Telangana (Hyderabad), and are at different stages of completion.
“This museum [Birsa Munda museum] will become a living venue of our tribal culture full of diversity, depicting the contribution of tribal heroes and heroines in the freedom struggle,” he noted.
Birsa Munda knew that social welfare could not be achieved by eschewing India’s diversity, ancient identity and nature in the name of modernity. He believed in modern education and speaking out against societal ills. Mahatma Gandhi was fighting against racial discrimination in South Africa and Birsa Munda was fighting against British rule in India.
PM Modi said that former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s strong will was behind the formation of a separate state of Jharkhand on 15 November 2000. “It was Atal ji who was the first to form a separate Tribal Ministry in the government of the country and linked the tribal interests with the policies of the country,” he added.
Outlining his government's approach to tribal welfare, in a TH Op-Ed, Union minister G Kishan Reddy said that a lot of tribal contributions today were either not known or not fully appreciated.
Tribal Freedom Fighters
"The aim of commemorating 15 November, the birthday of Bhagwan Birsa Munda, as Janjatiya Gaurav Diwas is to ensure that the freedom fighters from various tribal communities who fought for India’s Independence get their rightful recognition. It will also ensure that the heritage, culture and the values of the 705 tribal communities (Scheduled Tribes) that constitute approximately 10 per cent of our population is protected and is made accessible across the nation," wrote Reddy.
He said that various tribes across India had resisted British rule vehemently. "From Birsa Munda and Tantia Bhil in the north and central parts, Komaram Bheem and Thalakkal Chandu in the south to the likes of Rani Gaidinliu in the northeast, tribal movements in different regions of the country waged spirited battles against the British colonial rule," he wrote.
He further said: "Bhagwan Birsa Munda was only 25 when he died in prison (1900). He fought bravely against the exploitative system of the British Raj and spearheaded a movement against the oppressive British colonial system. It is unfortunate that the contributions of several other tribal freedom fighters including those of tribal women freedom fighters such as Rani Gaidinlu, Jhano Murmu, Helen Lepcha and others have nearly been forgotten."
There are records of over 200 tribal freedom fighters across India who participated in about 85 instances of revolts and uprisings against colonial rule, the minister said, adding that the Janjatiya Gaurav Diwas every year will bring awareness on the achievements and contributions of tribal communities, their cultural heritage, and practices and traditions, especially among the younger generation.
Referring to the friendship between Nishadraja Guha and Sri Rama in Ramayana, Reddy said, "As India celebrates its 75th year of Independence with Azadi ka Amrit Mahostav, this would be a thoughtful gift for our tribal community and a recall to Ram Rajya — where the likes of Guha are given due respect, their cultural diversity is respected, and their contributions celebrated."
Steps By Modi Government
Reddy pointed out that PM Modi's government had given meaningful representation to the tribals unlike previous governments who considered them as mere figureheads, restricted to the odd figurehead Ministry such as Tribal Affairs.
He said: "The recent expansion of the Union Council of Ministers led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi saw the inclusion of eight Ministers belonging to the Scheduled Tribes representing the States of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha and West Bengal. They represent the Gond, Santal, Miji, Munda, Tea Tribe, Kokana and Sonowal-Kachari communities. The Union Cabinet now has three Ministers who belong to various tribal communities."
"Contrast this with the period between 2004- 2014. Under the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, between 2004-2014, the Ministers from the tribal community were fewer and primarily restricted to the Tribal Affairs Ministry."
Reddy also talked about the economic progress and better human development indicators for the community. "This received renewed impetus in 1999, when former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee set up a separate Ministry for Tribal Affairs."
"Now, under PM Modi, imbalances in budgetary provisions are being addressed in mission mode. For the year 2021-2022, the Ministry of Tribal Affairs saw a budgetary allocation of Rs 7,524.87 crore. This is nearly double the budgetary allocation made in the last UPA Budget of 2013-2014."
Reddy also pointed out that the Modi government had amended the Indian Forest Act of 1927, after close to 90 years, so that bamboo is no longer classified as a tree. "This has allowed for the economic value of bamboo to be leveraged to its fullest potential and also brought the Act in consonance with the Forest Rights Act of 2006. The biggest beneficiaries of this are the forest dwelling tribal communities who are now able to use such forest produce to make value-added utility products."
The government has also launched various schemes like Van Dhan Yojana, to improve tribal incomes through value addition of tribal products.
Reddy said that the new National Education Policy (NEP) puts additional focus on the tribal communities to address issues like higher dropout rates.
"The NEP, by ensuring that the medium of instruction until at least Class 5, will be the mother tongue or local language of the child has ensured that tribal languages are protected and are treated on a par with languages mentioned in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution."
He also said that the government had undertaken expansion of the Eklavya Model Residential Schools — from 90 new schools sanctioned in the UPA years to 472 new schools sanctioned since 2014 to ensure better education outcomes.
"This coupled with health interventions in the form of primary health and wellness centres and nutrition programmes will see improved HDIs among tribal communities in the long run," he wrote.
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