Social Scientist. v 1, no. 1 (Aug 1972) p. 58.

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All the King^s Horses and All the King^s Men

(Review of the conference on Priorities in Research on Scheduled Tribes

held at New Delhi, May 26-27, 1972)

THIS conference was one of a series planned in collaboration with the Government to sound intellectuals on how willing and able they were to help the administration. Of course, the appeal was subtly put forward in terms of a 'practical' time-bound two-year programme to wean away the idealistic scholar from his ivory tower. To give this effort academic respectability, the resources of the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies and the Indian Council of Social Science Research were used, as well as those of the Anthropological Survey of India and the Census authorities.

The call was for 'problem oriented5 research ; but the bias of such an approach soon became obvious. After all, the tribals certainly do not see themselves as a 'problem5, and there is some justification in the view that the tribal problem is in reality the problem of an outmoded political and administrative approach in dealing with national minorities. But the exclusion of tribal anthropologists from the conference (with one exception) tended to give a rather one-sided view of 'them5 which a scientist cannot and, indeed, must not accept uncritically.

Furthermore, the administration too, was unrepresented, and was in no way bound to carry out, or even refer to, the advice given by the academics. How this is more practical than the 'ivory tower5 approach assailed by the organisers of the conference escapes one unless, of course, by 'practical5 one means politically expedient.

While in itself this might appear to be a laudable project to some, it bears questioning. The Congress has had the ruin of the country for the last twenty five years and its tribal policy, in spite of all its paternalistic trappings (reminiscent of Verrier Elwin and a lot of brown Englishmen) has been a sad chronicle of dispossession, deprivation, repine and Vietnam-style repression both in the North East and the South East. In fact, the latest reports of the sale of Adivasis coming into the capital speak eloquently enough both of the horrors our fellow citizens are being subjected to and of the patent inability of the Congress to deal with the problem. The complete erasure of the basic rights of Indian citizens is not a matter to be debated between the State and Central Governments but a matter of prime concern to every Indian. And the recent attempt of the Central Government to present it as a State Government matter leads one to question the bona fide of their attempt to deal with the tribal problem.

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