‘Politics behind’ Indian state’s tribal university announcement

January 29, 2017 by  
Filed under newsletter-india

New Delhi, January 27, 2017: An announcement by a pro-Hindu state government that it is seeking to establish a university solely for tribal people has been met with skepticism from activists and church leaders who suspect the motivation is political.

State chief minister Raghubar Das of Jharkhand state, a tribal heartland in eastern India, said Jan. 23 they are waiting for the federal government to accept plans to establish a university dedicated to the higher education of tribal people. The state is ruled by the National Democratic Alliance government, led by Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

If the university goes ahead it will be India’s second such university after the Indira Gandhi Tribal University in the central state of Madhya Pradesh.

The announcement — made during a presentation for the state’s annual budget — has been cautiously applauded by some.

Father Stanislaus Tirkey, secretary of the Indian bishops’ office for tribal people, is one who has cautiously applauded the announcement, which was made during a presentation of the state’s annual budget.

“We welcome the initiative. This will be a symbol of tribal empowerment and a symbol of tribal intelligentsia in the tribal land,” Father Tirkey told ucanews.com.

However the Jesuit priest, himself an Oraon tribal, expressed reservations.

“Let’s hope that the government fulfills its promises because many a time such announcements just remain as political statement,” he said.

Anabel Benjamin Bara, who teaches at the Jesuit-managed XLRI–Xavier School of Management, has doubts about the announcement.

“I really suspect it is only a mere political statement. We have to see if the government is serious or not,” Bara said.

Suspicion stems from the past actions of the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party government, which amended a century-old land ceiling act that allows the government to take possession of tribal land for development works such as roads, schools and bridges. The law has resulted in thousands of tribal people conducting street protests against the government.

Mukti Prakash Tirkey, editor of a weekly on tribal affairs published in New Delhi, said the state’s tribal university announcement was made to “pacify the tribal people” who have protested against the controversial law which has taken their land. “It is just vote bank politics,” said Tirkey.

Through this move the government “wants to divert the attention of the people from the core issues,” Tirkey said.

Tribal activist like Gladson Dungdung said the government aims to consolidate the tribal support for itself with the announcement.

“If the government is serious and sincere about tribal advancement, it should focus on primary education,” Dungdung said.

“We are still struggling to bring children to the primary school at the village level. If the students don’t complete even primary and secondary education, how they can join the university?” he asked.

Jharkhand has some 9 million tribal people, who form 26 percent of the state’s 33 million population. About 1.5 million people in the state are Christians, at least half of them Catholics. Government statistics show only some 60 percent of tribal people can read and write their names.

The majority of the tribal people live in remote villages. Many of them become victims of human trafficking while others are forced to join militant Maoist groups who are active in 21 of 24 districts in the state.

Jharkhand state was created 17 years ago when tribal-dominated areas were carved out of Bihar state.

– ucan

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