When not left out, they are locked in

SOCIAL EXCLUSION AND ADVERSE INCLUSION — Development and Deprivation of Adivasis in India. Edited by Dev Nathan, Virginius Xaxa; Oxford University Press, YMCA Library Building, Jai Singh Road, New Delhi-110001. Rs. 750.   | Photo Credit: Scanned in Chennai R.K.Sridharan

There are several worlds within India, some of which get ample resources and hold our attention, while some are consigned to the margins, with semi-starvation and invisibility. Adivasis live on the periphery of not just the high productivity systems of “modern” India, but on the fringes of the agricultural and informal sectors, too, beyond their caste and bazaar networks.

The book under review carries papers from a 2009 conference on the painful transformations Adivasis are undergoing as India's different parts follow very diverse trajectories of growth. While the papers themselves take a variety of perspectives, the editors frame the problem as that of socially inclusive development. They hasten to add that even inclusion can be disadvantageous, depending on where one is positioned through it.

The social inclusion framework has often been accused of trying to sweeten and give an inoffensive gloss to systemic discrimination. It was good to observe that the book does not reduce inclusion to an innocent problem of access to welfare, the way it is often done in the west, but like Amartya Sen, connects it to structural features of our society.

The first section of the book deals with the broader processes which shape social exclusion, with several of the papers examining the distribution of resources and referring to the place of Adivasis in the political system. Virginius Xaxa sets the context for the entire book by pointing out that from an initial phase of blaming geography for the state of the tribals and then of celebrating their supposed primeval innocence, we are now in an era where political economy is squarely understood to be at the heart of the matter. The book goes on to document a chilling tale of expropriation of land and denial of justice to Adivasis. Higher rates of child mortality, starvation deaths and even the loss of their very language and culture stares them in the face. It is not as if Adivasis inhabited a pristine shangri-la which was contaminated by development. A paper by Rosemary Dzuvichu debunks the myth of equality for women in tribal societies. In Nagaland women have traditionally had no right to the inheritance of property. Malabika Das Gupta’s article stands out in its methodological and theoretical rigour, demonstrating that class formation has taken place amongst the Mogs of Tripura. Ganesh Thapa and Antonella Cordone point out that building new infrastructure usually leads to growth of market processes in Adivasi inhabited regions. This inevitably increases the inequality within them and usually adversely affects gender disparity in particular. The old culture of generalised reciprocity declines and new social norms of the market emerge, within which women's rights to property and Adivasi identity remain deeply troubled zones.

Fair compensation

Dev Nathan says that it is inevitable that surplus people be moved from agriculture into industry and thereby asks what constitutes a satisfactory compensation. In a carefully argued essay he points out that this must necessarily better the condition of the displaced, not worsen it. Given the difficulties of sourcing alternative land and the poor market orientation of Adivasis, a pension and other such solutions have been proposed. Nathan argues that any solution must also incorporate meaningful labour and not reduce human beings into passive recipients of a handout. He suggests that the state give support for setting up labour intensive industries in or near villages. Fair compensation also implies accepting the right of Adivasis to reject a package. Only then will they have a tangible bargaining power during its negotiation. Members of Adivasi communities, too, articulated similar ideas in the original seminar.

The quality of the papers is uneven, but the book still provides a thumbnail sketch of the Adivasis' predicament when faced by India's development strategy. The role of education in this is missing, but then that is an old blind spot, present since Gandhian Nai Talim was pushed out of our national vision. One is left yearning, though, for a more systematic treatment of what it is that structures and shapes inequality in development. Several papers move in that direction, but then seem to stop short. A discussion of the processes of politics and social stratification would have helped move on to a more complete grasp of what can be a viable future. That would include a vision of work that overcomes individualisation and private profit to deliver just social gains. A fresh look is needed at the social organisation of the work place as well as at political alliances which will support the culture and education that will build such a production system. The creation of a better compensation package for Adivasis cannot stand alone. It has to be part of the creation of a more just and creatively satisfying model of labour and its relation to capital.

SOCIAL EXCLUSION AND ADVERSE INCLUSION — Development and Deprivation of Adivasis in India. Edited by Dev Nathan, Virginius Xaxa; Oxford University Press, YMCA Library Building, Jai Singh Road, New Delhi-110001. Rs. 750.

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Printable version | Oct 10, 2021 11:53:36 AM |

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