Approches to the Study of Tribal Development in India

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Among India’s ‘people at the periphery’ are its tribes. Development planning in India (which took place roughly between 1940 and 1960) has attempted to foster their social and economic empowerment by focusing on various areas such as food security, health, education, employment and income generation. Tribal Development in India can be classified into the isolationist approach, the assimilation approach and the integration approach. Verrier Elwin, a citizen of Great Britain, came to India in 1927 as a Christian missionary. Elwin felt that the tribes were the most vulnerable groups in society who must be kept separate from the rest of Indian society in order to conserve and preserve their ethnic identity, their tribal social structures, their culture, and their way of life. He strongly believed that contact with the rest of India would place the tribes in an unequal contest with the nontribal people and would expose them to virtually unlimited exploitation. His approach was known as the ‘Leave Them Alone’, ‘National Park’ or the ‘Isolationist’ approach. Literally, it meant letting tribes live in their own way, not infringing on their economic space, and allowing them to grow in their self-created or self-designed developmental paradigm. The first clue to Elwin’s isolationist approach came from his study on the Baigas. During his study, he strengthened his beliefs relating to keeping the tribes away from the mainstream society. He observed that the level of Baiga exploitation was quite severe, but the tribe dreamt of having a Baiga Raj in which they would have their own king and no abuse by the outsiders. Elwin observed the significance of this dream and translated it into his famous ‘National Park’ approach. Hutton, who was a commissioner for census of 1931, and Elwin suggested that keeping the tribes at a distance or in isolation from the rest of the society in “National Parks” or “reserved areas” would solve two problems: (a) The tribes would be in a position to...
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