Tribes are the ‘Guardians of the forest’. The reserved forests of India are inhabited by different tribes, and the legacy is an ancient gift. Even epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata have mentioned about tribal occupancy amidst the jungle. According to the 2011 census, the tribal people comprise about 8.6 % of the total population. Of these, the majority of the tribal population lives in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Bihar, Maharashtra, Gujarat, West Bengal and Rajasthan.
The closed knit community of the tribes is dependent on the forest to fulfill their basic requirements of food, shelter and even clothing. Their lives revolve around the natural sources of energy. They worship trees, rivers, sun, air and land. They have a strong survival instinct and they know the deal when you are into the wild.
The tribal people love their habitat. Although not formally educated, they have gathered knowledge from years of experience and nature has been their greatest teacher.
The civilized society often looks down upon the tribal people because of the chaos in their traditions but they forget to estimate the order in the chaos through which they have made it this far. Filmmaker Satyajit Ray’s last masterpiece ‘Agantuk’ deconstructs the layers of surviving in the wild in the interaction between Utpal Dutt and Dhitriman Chatterjee, where the two gentlemen discuss the pros and cons of surviving with/without technology.
The arguments between the two highlight the features of the contrasting world of the tribes and the civilized. Without any medicinal books or knowledge of architecture, the tribes around the world can extract life from more than 500 plants and make potteries. Dutt quotes that “the ice huts made by the igloos are made of two kinds of ice –opaque for the roof and transparent for the walls”, so one can imagine the kind of technological progress they have achieved over the years. While in the civilized world, technology has gifted us with needle full of drugs that are sabotaging the lives of an entire generation. And if we talk about cannibalism amongst the tribes, we cannot possibly forget the barbarism that wars and terrorism exhibits.
The tribal people resist any form of invasion into their habitat, as any living entity would do for its survival. So, time and again, they have stood against the invaders- zamindars, money lenders, middleman, or the government. They never got distracted and they ritually followed their own rules and regulations. The issue that hinders the development of tribal habitat is that the developmental plans are impractical most of the times. They lack guidelines that preserve the tribal culture.The tribes are ignorant of their own rights and thus are being oppressed by the powerful since time immemorial. Invasion of their territory for hydropower or thermal power projects would not only harm their habitat but would affect the balance of nature as well.