Tribal Identities

Letters

‘Rent a State’ Economics

S
uhas Chattopadhyay in ‘A Rejoinder to ‘Rent-a-Womb Economics’ ’ (February 11, 2006), endorses the proposal of selling off agricultural land in West Bengal to foreigners on the ground that the amount realised from such sales, if put in a savings account in a bank or post office, would fetch a sum more than double of what a peasant currently earns from agricultural activities. This argument reduces the problem of development to the functioning of a real estate dealer-cum-rentier: some destination to arrive at for a regime, which claims to have faith in Marxist tenets!

The total landmass of West Bengal amounts to 88,752 square kilometres. If the entire state is put up for sale to foreigners, the realisation, at the quoted price of Rs 1,20,000 per acre, should be, in case my arithmetic is correct, in the neighbourhood of 1,500 billion rupees. If kept in banks, with an interest rate of 8 per cent per annum, the people of West Bengal would then have an annual income of 120 billion rupees. Would they agree to such a transaction?

AM

Kolkata

Tribal Identities

T
he recent ruling by the Supreme Court that a “non-tribal man” married to a woman belonging to a scheduled tribe (and scheduled caste) cannot claim a corresponding scheduled tribe (caste) status for securing employment in the government under the reserved category seems, on the face of it, both inconsistent and deeply offensive to the concept of gender equality and justice and indeed the very dignity of a woman, tribal and non-tribal. Such cautionary limitation is not prescribed in instances where a tribal man is married to a non-tribal woman, perhaps on the patriarchal assumption that the non-tribal woman in such unions would axiomatically assume and be entitled to a tribal status.

There could be an element of opportunism (“procuring of bogus caste certificates”) in instances of marriage between non-tribal males and tribal women, though there are also numerous instances of such unions inspired by genuine love and loyalty.

Rather more problematic is the extension of a similar cautionary limitation, in respect of the rights and entitlements available to scheduled tribes, to children born to a non-tribal father and a tribal mother, in effect denying the very tribal identity of children born of such unions. The ruling, as reported in The Hindu (February 17) explicitly lays down that the “offshoots of the wedlock of a tribal woman married to a non-tribal husband (forward class) cannot claim scheduled tribe status”, the reason being that children out of such unions were brought up “in the atmosphere of forward class”. In other words, since the non-tribal father was not subjected to any disability, the child born of the union of such a father with a tribal mother too should be considered as not suffering from any such disability.

Apart from not being true, such a distinction and the prescription that follows will certainly not work in matrilineal tribal societies, as for instance among the Garos and the Khasis of Meghalaya, where what has historically determined and in current practice continues to define a child’s identity and informs the course of the child’s whole life unto death is the mother’s identity, not the father’s.

(Continued on p 836)

Correction

World Wide Fund for Nature

In the article ‘ ‘Million Revolts’ in the Making’ (February 18, p 571), under the sub-heading ‘Background and Process’, the sentence should read “This introductory article and the 18 case studies (see the figure for the listing of the cases and their locations) that follow have their roots in a process initiated by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) project, ‘Dialogue on Water, Food and Environment’ ”. WWF was wrongly rendered as World Wildlife Fund for Nature.

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Economic and Political Weekly March 4, 2006

Letters

(Continued from p 766)

Attempts to “reform” such practices have not made any progress because of the involvement of too many disputatious material issues, like inheritance rights, organically linked to the very structure of such societies.

Perhaps someone with legal expertise and understanding of tribal societies should clarify the judgment.

M S PRABHAKARA

Guwahati

Urban Schooling

I
t was heartening to read Vimala Ramachandran’s commentary on ‘Urban Schooling’ (February 4, 2006). But I wanted to place my apprehensions about one of the mechanisms she has suggested: Holding of “periodic activities such as competitions, exhibitions of the work of children, science and mathematics fairs and so on” (p 384).

My experience with the schools in Delhi shows that such activities might have a negative effect on learning levels of children, in the concrete context of our municipal schools. Whether to participate in the science fairs or scholarship exams, what happens is that teachers choose a few children, naturally the best ones and spend time with them to prepare them. Meanwhile, the rest of the class is left to its own devices. In effect this means that the learning opportunities for the class as a whole and for the ones who need it the most, are actually reduced.

Perhaps we could consider random assessment exercises of children’s learning levels by an independent agency and prizes for the teachers of the classes which perform better. Maybe the teachers need more incentives than children, who as has been mentioned, are already very eager to learn. The class character of teachers is not easy to change, but an immediate step, which could be taken, is the holding of special sensitisation workshops for the teachers of first generation learners. These workshops would have to be specially designed keeping in mind the real belief systems that teachers may hold.

USHA MENON

New Delhi

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