The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) lamented that tribal people have become the biggest victims of “development” for several reasons – lack of numbers and political voice in a democracy run on a first past the post ballot being foremost. They have been scattered and unorganized and thus unable to employ their votes as a weapon of change. The fact that Dalits and other backward classes with no pan Indian leadership have grown from their ranks has added to their woes in a centralised majoritarian democracy.The estimates for the 1951 to 1990 period put the total number of displaced Indians at 21.3 million, a whopping 8.54 million of them were tribal. The AHRC deplored that the trend has merely accelerated with the opening up of Indian economy in the 1990s with estimates pegging the total number of displaced people at 60 million, with tribal people being the worst affected.
The only thing worse than the displacement is the government’s track record in rehabilitating those affected. Between 1951 and 1990 only 2.12 million of the displaced 8.54 million tribal people were resettled; the government abandoning the rest to swell the urban poor population of the country. As the resettlement policy of the government has not changed for any better, the numbers should give an indication of the fate of those displaced post-1990.Thought the government has the numbers on its side in the lower house of Indian Parliament, AHRC felt that it might wish to reconsider the move that will end up violating the rights of millions of tribal people and exposing them to displacement and hunger. A strong nation and leadership is not one that postures across its borders, but one mature and sensitive enough to protect its most precious resources and vulnerable citizens: its teeming natural forests and its rich diversity of tribal communities.