The cultural heritage and practices of tribals across India that are detrimental to health should be modified, said Professor S B Roy, Chairman, Indian Institute of Bio-Social Research and Development. Speaking about the Northeast tribals, Manoj K Das, MD, North Eastern Regional Agricultural Marketing Corporation, said it’s better to lend them money to help build a community environment. They were in conversation with senior journalist and author Kaveree Bamzai, on TNIE Expressions, a series of live webcasts with people who matter.
Speaking on whether to allow tribals to govern themselves and develop at their own pace, Dr Roy said, “The question is what to allow. The cultural heritage of tribals has to be preserved. But as an outsider, we don’t have the ability or intent to change the culture of the tribals. These statements are very popular and can be exciting for debate.
However, if we look closely, some of their cultural practices are objectively detrimental to health. For example, some tribes have a practice where they are not allowed to eat protein, give antenatal care for the pregnant mother, not allow immunisation and practice hunting. These cultural practices may not be conducive. We should facilitate change for those cultural practices.” However, Professor Roy added that our country has a problem of food security, climate change and contaminated agricultural lands due to high usage of chemical fertilisers and to solve these, the tribals are the most important players.
“For the conservation of forests, to mitigate climate change, increase organic farming, increase the cultivation of traditional seeds, they play a prominent role. Good agricultural practices, forest conservation, livestock, fisheries are all taken care of if tribal development is present. Tribal higher education is also important. However, we have to remember that a tribal working in IT or pursuing PhD will not take care of farming. All tribals are not homogenous…We have to segregate and reach them,” he explained.
Speaking especially about the tribals in the Northeast, Das said they have been doing quite well with a high literacy rate and cultivable stretches of land. “I would say give them land rights. They should be allowed to govern themselves and there should be guaranteed government funding. The high-sounding schemes of the government ultimately don’t get much done as half of these tribal communities do not have the required documents to obtain the benefits.
It is better to lend the tribals money to help them build a community environment run by locals,” he added. On improving entrepreneurship skills among the tribals, Das said, “Linkage to the market is important. We are coming up with a ‘one village, one product’ model to promote these small communities, their handicraft, costumes and more which can then be linked through proper channels to the markets, whether online or physical.”