Development with dignity

RETHINKING INDIA: BEING ADIVASI: EXISTENCE, ENTITLEMENTS, EXCLUSION. Edited by Abhay Flavian Xaxa and G.N.Devy, Vintage, Penguin Random House, India. ₹699. Pages 182.

RETHINKING INDIA: THE DALIT TRUTH: THE BATTLES FOR REALIZING AMBEDKAR’S VISION, Edited by K.Raju, Vintage, Penguin Random House, India. ₹699. Pages 230.


THESE two books are in a series of 14 volumes highlighting innovative ideas that seek to deepen and further the promise of India.  The series, brought out by Samruddha Bharat Foundation, an independent socio political organisation established in July 2017 to further India’s constitutional promise,  with the contribution of eminent academics and experts, aims to address some of the most glaring social questions that India faces from a modernist perspective and proposes a progressive blueprint to secure spiritual, civil and political liberties for one and all. 

The first volume, Being Adivasi, was to be edited by Abhay Xaxa, a promising young activist-researcher.  After his sudden and sad death, the series editors asked G.N.Devy  to complete the volume. In his introductory essay, Devy explains that this volume is about the missing dialogue between Adivasis and those who are required to think about them.  

Former civil servant, Naresh Chandra Saxena makes the point that the Scheduled Tribes, unlike other disadvantaged groups, generally suffer and endure their exploitation silently.  As the middle path of agitational politics is alien to them, Saxena suggests that all tribal activists should not be branded as Maoists. Saxena stresses the need for more democratic, well-informed and overground grassroots organisations for effective advocacy both in policy and implementation. 

The essay on Tribal development in Fifth Schedule Areas, written by Virginius Xaxa, suggests that the whole discourse on tribes has been around the question of integration through the extension of civil, political and social rights.  Yet, the economic rights which tribes enjoyed – and which was their critical asset – have been usurped by the state in exchange for the above-mentioned rights, Xaxa argues.  The extension of civil, political and social rights has become the arena of legitimising the expropriation of resources of the tribal people, he says. 

Thus, while the integration of tribes has been seen as the panacea of their problems, their relationship with non-tribes and even the State, has been overwhelmingly interspersed with domination and discrimination, which is conveniently overlooked, Xaxa asserts. 

Some of the other essays in this volume explore the status of India’s denotified tribes, and how not to manage tribal affairs. 

The second book under review, The Dalit Truth, edited by K.Raju, the national coordinator for the SC, ST, OBC and minorities departments of the All India Congress Committee, opens with a stimulating introductory essay by Raju.  Taking a leaf from Ambedkar’s comparative understanding of untouchability in India, and abolition of slavery and serfdom in other societies, Raju reminds the readers that untouchability poses a challenge because it is embedded in religious dogma itself. 

Raju suggests that only a minuscule section of Dalits benefited due to privatisation  and globalisation.  The book has an essay, written by Priyank Kharge and Neeraj Shetye, on annihilating entrepreneurship casteism, to address this issue.

The Dalits’ share of ownership of the nation’s wealth is far lower than their share in the population.  Budithi Rajsekhar, a civil servant from Andhra Pradesh, sheds light on how much we can change by changing our approach to the development paradigm that has defined the Dalit community’s economic empowerment for decades.  

Readers of The Leaflet would find the essay by Kiruba Munusamy, an advocate practising in the Supreme Court, on caste and judiciary in India, insightful. Her proposal for reservations in the higher judiciary may be debatable, but as a remedy for elite institutionalism in the judiciary, it does make sense. 

As Raju observes, progress cannot happen without acknowledging the persisting social discrimination against the Dalits; an inclusive society, which fosters empathy and compassion, can help every individual to realise their true potential.