Lest We Forget: Nehru’s Panchsheel

Into the Heart of Light: Beyond the Indravati.

Nehru’s Panchsheel for Tribal Development is well-known yet it risks falling down the abyss of the Orwellian memory hole. There isn’t anything ambiguous about it, and it stands in complete contrast to Mr. Chidambaram’s idea of industrial development – Vedanta and its desire to eat the bauxite from the Dongria Kondh’s Sacred Mountain.

‘We can respect the fact that they worship the Niyamgirhi hill, but will that put shoes on their feet or their children in school?’ He told  Tehelka a while back, yet I wonder if he ever asked the adivasis if they wanted shoes, and am I wrong or isn’t education meant to be free?

I am reminded of a man I met in just-another-village-that-was-burnt down, who told me what he wanted from the government:

‘We’re fine, we need nothing, just give us a road so we can travel to the market and electricity. The rest we can get by ourselves.’

And a long time ago, in 1955, Nehru had addressed an All India Conference of Tribes in Jagdalpur, Bastar District of Chhattisgarh (Then Madhya Pradesh) and had said: ‘Wherever you live, you should live in your own way. This is what I want you to decide yourselves. How would you like to live? Your old customs and habits are good. We want that they should survive but at the same time we want that you should be educated and should do your part in the welfare of the country.’

And now, here are his five fundamental principles for tribal development –

  1. People should develop along the line of their own genius and we should avoid imposing anything on them. We should try to encourage in every way their own traditional arts and culture.
  2. Tribal rights to land and forest should be respected.
  3. We should try to train and build up a team of their own people to do the work of administration and development. Some technical personnel from outside will no doubt, be needed, especially in the beginning. But we should avoid introducing too many outsiders into tribal territory.
  4. We should not over administer these areas or overwhelm them with a multiplicity of schemes. We should rather works through, and not in rivalry to, their own social and cultural institutions.
  5. We should judge results, not by statistics or the amount of money spent, but by the quality of human character that is evolved.

I’d like to especially stress on the last part, ‘but by the quality of human character that is evolved.’  I’d like to simply avoid unnecessary rhetoric and say, sorry, there’s not much human character in the ‘consumer’ class and its lust for unbridled greed.

The Muria, on the other hand, who I have spent my time with, possess qualities of a long lost humanity that didn’t drown in the nihilistic dirge of mass-produced pop-crap-cultural bankruptcy. The other day I read the old reports that were written by administrators such as B.D Sharma and Noronha and on some of the work that was done by anthropologist Verrier Elwin. They had noted that the Muria who were isolated from the mainstream were far more independent and free-spirited than the ones who were in regular contact with the mainstream populace. It is easy to understand why.

We’re corrupting them with our own weaknesses.

The Muria have survived centuries of violence – they had rebelled against them in 1842, all the way to 1863. They had rebelled in 1876. And of course, there was the Bhumkal Rebellion in 1910, a culmination of all oppression, a desire to reassert their rights over their jungle.

Operation Tribal Hunt, like all counter-insurgencies aim to destroy the spirit and the will of the people.

These, are not people who can be broken so easily. And that, is human character.

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