Scrabble for Special Status

By Prabhakar Timble
30 July 2012 22:00 IST

Life in the hilly regions and areas of the North-Eastern States of India even after 65 years of Independent India would be a revolution and revelation for the population inhabiting the plains.  These hilly tracts in British India were inhabited by tribal and aboriginal populations totally isolated from the mainstream of Indian society. They followed their traditional agricultural and social customs and their own animistic and tribal faiths. They were primitive, simple, unsophisticated, innocent and improvident.  There was risk of their agricultural land passing to the civilised section and the looming threat that these tribal population may crawl into the clutches of the moneylenders.

Nothing much has changed with the special status provided under the Indian Constitution except two things. The Christian missionaries brought the “Ganga” of education and along with it clothed the tribals with a religion. The second is the Damocles sword of conflicts and bloodshed hovering all the time, making life and peace a casualty.   

Great Wall of Protection

The problem of these backward areas was summed up in the Constituent Assembly formed to draft the Constitution for free India: “The areas inhabited by the tribes, whether in Assam or elsewhere are difficult to access, highly infested and lacking in civilizing facilities as roads, schools, dispensaries and water supply. The tribes themselves are for the most part extremely simple people who can be and are exploited with ease by plains folk……..While a good number of superstitions and even harmful practices are prevalent among them, the tribes have their own customs and way of life with institutions like tribal and village panchayats or councils which are very effective in smoothing village administration. The sudden disruption of the tribals’ customs and ways is capable of doing great harm. It is essential to provide statutory safeguards for the protection of the land which is the mainstay of the aboriginal’s economic life and for his customs and institutions which, apart from being his own, contain elements of value”.

The Report of the Sub-Committee on the Tribal and Excluded Areas of Assam (1947) documents the fear of exploitation by the people of the plains on account of their superior organisation and experience of business. Even if it is argued that the fear is unjustified, it has been the experience that land is taken up by people from the more advanced and crowded areas. In tribal areas, land is regarded as the property of the clan, including the forests. The Report also records that the hill people are extremely nervous of outsiders, particularly non-tribals. Hence, they value regulations like the requirement of an outsider to possess a pass to enter the hill territory beyond the Inner Line so that an undesirable person could be expelled.

It is against this backdrop that the Article 371 of the Indian Constitution strikes the balance between isolation and development. The objective was primarily directed to the preservation of social customs from sudden erosion and to safeguard the traditional vocations. This was to be supported by the second major objective of raising the educational level and standard of living. Biswanath Das from Orissa was totally opposed to the whole concept of Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Areas. He characterised this as nothing short of creating racial issues in the place of the communal issues which had resulted in the partition of the country. Munshi defended the object stating “We want the Scheduled Tribes in the whole country should be protected from the destructive impact of races possessing a higher and more aggressive culture and should be encouraged to develop their own autonomous life. They should not be isolated communities or little republics to be perpetuated for ever. Kuladhar Chaliha was critical of the proposals of the Drafting Committee and warned that the provisions of the Sixth Schedule giving considerable amount of autonomy to the district and regional councils would lead to the establishment of “Tribalistan” and the ultimate result would be “Communistan” there. Dr. Ambedkar reiterated that all safeguards have been provided in the constitutional framework to give inherent right to tribal people themselves and at the same time to ensure the authority of the State Legislature and the Parliament through process of consultation.

Groping in the dark

Earlier, there were feeble demands for special status for Goa. These weak voices were branded as the last residue of friends of Portugal or a section of Goans who are not comfortable with Indianisation of the land. This was the view held by groups claiming to be nationalists. Today, a demand for application of special provisions of the Indian Constitution to Goa similar to those enunciated under Article 371 have been made by the Chief Minister of the State belonging to a political party which advertises “justice to all, appeasement of none”. This could be the beginning of selling of an impossible dream to Goans. If Goans buy this project which can never reach completion, it is advantage for any incumbent in power at the State level and can shift the agenda of election politics to throwing put-shots at the Centre all the time.

I do not wish to say that there are no special aspects of Goa. There are in fact many things special about Goa which we do not find in the rest of the country. Goa does not have a single government-run primary school in the language of the land since 1961 to date. Goans want their children to be educated through English-medium, not just from primary level but from nursery onwards. Majority of our MLAs take pride in taking the oath of office in any other language except the tongue of the soil. Hindus of Goa confidently believe that the language on their lips cannot be the language of their Gods and rituals. Even a “shradanjali” to Dr. Jhalmi cannot just be in native idiom.  To cap it all, we have the history of the Opinion Poll (verdict immaterial) and the struggle for recognition of Konkani by Goans themselves. The opposition was more internal rather than external. These speak volumes of how and why Goans deserve a special status! Till date, we do not wish to affirm our language identity in one voice and all successive governments have been nervous on this front. What could add bright colour to our demand for special status is the craze for Portuguese passport and citizenship.

In a serious tone, let me say that trust was the traditional value wealth of Goa. It is already replaced by distrust in public and private life. Post-statehood has made greed an inseparable ingredient in the diet of Goans. Left to us, Goans were secular in mind, heart and worship. This pillar is infested with white-ants due to immigration and the inflow of religious capital from the rest of the country. However, if we are looking at special treatment for drawing additional funds from the Central Government and additional funding for specific projects, it is possible through economic negotiation and political management.

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

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Prabhakar Timble

Mr Prabhakar Timble is an educationist and a legal expert. He has served several educational institutions, especially as the Principal of Government College at Quepem, Kare College of Law in Madgao as well as couple of Management Institutes. He was also the State Election Commissioner of Goa.

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Previous Comments

i ment goa news, also various interviews on prudent in written formet, if possible, can be published by goa news. A wealth of information will be available to us readers if such features are made available which we can read in our own time. Editor, please note.

- jayesh nayak, porvorim | 31 st July 2012 17:30


special status was essentialy a demand made by goa unit of congress party before assembly election to the central govt. Shantaram naik was one of the leaders in forefront. Why not goa today ask shantaram naik to write an article or take his interview and publish it as to exactly what is special status, how it is possible and other aspects so that there will be clarity in the matter.

- jayesh nayak, porvorim | 31 st July 2012 13:55


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