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One in a billion! Yes but not just a number. This seems to be the call from the marginalized communities, or the silent majority, as India carries out one the world’s largest head count for its national census.
This exercise is critical as it guides policies and resource allocation in the world’s largest democracy. Being not counted and represented in the Census leads to invisibility for the tribal, persons with disability and religious and linguistic minorities.
ActionAid India is actively campaigning for recording the identity of its indigenous communities. Due to India’s variable levels of economic growth and access to democratic rights, a large number of tribal communities are unable to assert their cultural and religious identities when it comes to the Census.
Our Census, Our Future
Having looked at the last census, which are held every 10 years, ActionAid tribal rights campaigners found that data on many of the most vulnerable tribal groups were not listed.
“It is ironical that some of the earliest groups of people were without an official count in the country’s census,” says Bratindi Jena, who leads ActionAid India’s work for tribal rights and identity.
“For instance, a look at the 2001 census information on indigenous people revealed that Chuktia Bhunjia, Dongaria Kondha, Kutia Kondha, Langia Saura & Paudi Bhuiyan communities in Orissa was missing,” she adds.
What goes wrong?
There is a lack of awareness among the community members about the census. This is reflective of poor attention the state has paid in developing communications channels and material to connect the indigenous groups to various schemes and entitlement.
Most often the enumerator does not visit each and every village in interior pockets, rather calls few informers to one place and collects information. Even when they reach the village, after writing the name of the head of household, they ask people to put their finger prints on blank forms.
A lot is left to the subjective interpretation of the enumerator, especially related to the name of the community, religion practiced and language spoken.
What ActionAid and partners are doing?
Collectively, the focus has been on making community members aware about the Census and their responsibility to give correct information to the enumerator; Orienting enumerators locally on these issues so that they understand the community’s version and record properly; Developing posters in different local languages to facilitate the process.
In the states of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh enumerators have started recording Bhil language and Adi Dharma as a religion. Community names like Bhil, Bhillala, Gond and Saharia are specifically marked and mentioned instead of simply clubbing them generically as tribal. In Jhargram, West Bengal, both Lodha and Sabar tribes are now insisting on getting their own language and name of the community recorded.
In Jharkhand, Munda, Santhal, Ho, Oraon communities are registering their religion as Sarna and their own languages – Mundari, Santhali, Oraon & Ho.
In Orissa, Kutai Kondha has demanded enumeration as ‘Kutia kondha’ which would entitle them for a special protected status as per the Indian constitution. Dongaria Kondha, Mankidia, Paudi Buiya, Lodha, Khadia and Juanga are ensuring that their language, specific community name and religion get registered in this census.