Cultural chauvinism versus citizenship

A citizen of every country is entitled to certain fundamental rights even while discharging his citizenship duties. Both are synchronous. One cannot exist without the other. In some states of India, however, there is the concept of ‘son of the soil’ which conveys the underlying meaning that the first settlers or indigenous people have first right over every natural resource, such as land, forests and water and other economic resources. The indigenous people enjoy reservations (positive discrimination) in employment and education meaning that they do not have to compete on a level playing field with the non-indigenous person who is allocated only 20 % of the available quota. Attempts by the central government of different dispensations to alter or amend Article 46 of the Constitution which guarantees these special privileges to SCs and STs, is met with loud protests, although the authors of the Indian Constitution have clearly laid down that this would be reviewed every ten years.

When Scheduled Tribes are viewed as a category they may appear to be primitive and lacking in education and basic infrastructures such as health and education in the areas they inhabit. But there is a perceptible difference between tribals in North East India and those in the central, southern and eastern belts of India who still live primitive lives. The tribes in the NorthEast have fared educationally and enjoy greater rights over their land etc. But they continue to wallow in victimhood and blame the Centre or other factors for their apparent economic backwardness.

Ironically they also demonstrate a dominant form of cultural chauvinism.  They believe that the first right principle should dominate every aspect of life. But India has transitioned into a democracy where all citizens enjoy the same fundamental rights, except that they cannot buy or own property in the tribal states because of the land holding laws of the states here. The tribals do not live in isolation. The different groups of non-tribes who were brought to this region during the British era and settled here consider this their home. But their assimilation into the state of their birth is not allowed to happen.

Intermittent communal clashes between tribal (indigenous) and non-tribals have been the hallmark of Meghalaya, often on flimsy grounds. Interestingly the tribes swing between victimhood and domination. This often borders on ethnocentrism or an inflated sense of cultural superiority.

There is no space for cultural synthesis. The absence of this synthesis makes one group feel constantly threatened when it is the minority in a particular state. This is also because the sense of nationhood is not all-encompassing. The tribal feels the territory bequeathed by his ancestors is nation to him. The non-tribal with his more advanced ideas of nationhood, democracy et al feels he has equal rights to live with dignity and to access all resources available to the tribal within his own nation. Herein lie the flashpoint. Unless this is resolved the differences will simmer and the flashpoints take on new and dangerous contours.

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