Tribal groups set to oppose UCC, say it will strip indigenous people of their identity, way of life

Prominent leaders of indigenous people feel their opinions were not considered. They termed the proposed legislation anti-tribal.

BySreerag PS

Published Jul 08, 2023 | 1:00 PM Updated Jul 08, 2023 | 2:02 PM

Tribal groups set to oppose UCC, say it will strip indigenous people of their identity, way of life

As the BJP-led Union government tests the waters over its plan to table a Bill to implement the Uniform Civil Code (UCC), the objections of the Muslim — and even Christian — community is well known.

What is less well known is that tribal communities, too, have serious reservations over the UCC and fear it will impact their unique customs and traditions at a time there is already a concerted effort to “bring them into the Hindu fold”.

The contentious UCC issue once again hit the headlines when Prime Minister Narendra Modi invoked it at a BJP-organised event in Bhopal on 27 June.

Tribal leaders South First spoke to are strongly opposed to the proposal. They felt the government had not considered their views and termed the proposal on UCC anti-tribal.

Incidentally, Modi raised the UCC issue — one of the BJP’s poll promises — a few days after the 22nd Law Commission of India had sought views of the public on such a code.

Related: Muslim League to fight Union government’s move on UCC

‘Impact on tribals not considered’

Modi speaking during 'Mera Booth Sabse Majboot' campaign in Bhopal. (Twitter)

Modi speaking during ‘Mera Booth Sabse Majboot’ campaign in Bhopal. (Twitter)

Tribal leaders felt that while the impact of UCC on minority communities was being discussed threadbare, its effect on the indigenous people has not been considered.

They expressed the fear that the implementation of the UCC would pose a threat to their identity and, eventually, their very existence itself.

It would be pertinent to note here that tribal organisations in North India have already opposed the proposed legislation, saying it would affect the Constitution-granted special status that assured them rights over jal (water) jungle (forest), and zameen (land).

The UCC envisages a uniform legal framework for all citizens, irrespective of their religion, and was one of the BJP’s poll promises.

With more leaders raising apprehensions over the UCC, former minister of state for law SP Singh Baghel tried to allay fears. He clarified that the proposed legislation would not affect the tribal rights and customs in the Northeast and other parts of the country. Baghel is currently the minister of state for health.

Related: AIADMK, the BJP’s southern ally, says it will oppose the UCC

Adivasi Gothra Mahasabha to hold protest 

Tribal leaders in Kerala were the first to oppose the proposed UCC. Adivasi Gothra Mahasabha president M Geethanandan told South First that the UCC would be detrimental to the indigenous people of the country.

CK Janu. (Facebook)

CK Janu. (Facebook)

“Currently, the discussion on the Uniform Civil Code is on its possible impact on minority communities such as Muslims. But a new legislation would affect the indigenous people the most, and the tribespeople in Kerala have reached a consensus to oppose the UCC,” he said.

Geethanandan said the Adivasi Gothra Mahasabha would hold a protest on 9 August, the International Day of World’s Indigenous People, in Kochi.

“The laws that the indigenous people follow are framed based on those communities’ customary practices. There is a huge disparity in these laws existing in different parts of the country. Currently, there is no clarity on how the 22nd Law Commission will address such issues,” he added.

Adivasi leader CK Janu of the Janadhipathya Rashtreeya Party (JRP), a member of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, also voiced her opposition to the proposed legislation.

“The Adivasi way of life is beyond the ambit of laws governing other civilians in the country. The identity and existence of human beings should never be wrecked. It should be sustained,” she told a private television news channel.

“We don’t need development and infrastructure at the risk of losing our identity. This (laws governing Adivasis) doesn’t adversely affect anything in the country,” she further said.

She added that JRP would continue to voice its opposition to the UCC from within the NDA.

Related: Will Jagan offer BJP ‘the force of nine’ for UCC in Rajya Sabha?

‘Ploy to create rift between tribals, others’

Several tribal outfits in Andhra Pradesh, too, raised their voice against the UCC.

Girijana Sangham, a tribal body in the Visakhapatnam Agency area, asserted that it would oppose the implementation of the uniform code.

“Tribals are the original natives of this land and country. The UCC is only a ploy by the union government to create a rift among tribespeople, the public, and other religions. We will oppose it,” Girijana Sangham’s national executive member G Appalanarasa told South First.

“Our Constitution safeguards and protects several castes, creeds, communities, and religions, and their distinct cultures. Who is this Union government to destroy it?”

He added that the Sangham would hold a meeting with its district committees in Andhra Pradesh to chart out its future course of action.

Adhi Kumaran, the secretary of Palankudi Nala Urimai Sangam, a tribal organisation from Tamil Nadu, said most tribal communities in that state were not fully aware of the UCC.

“There is no doubt that it will affect the education and employment of the tribal community members. We are making efforts to create awareness among the tribespeople. We also believe that the Tamil Nadu government will not agree to the civil code,” he told South First.

Related: Owaisi slams PM Modi over comments on Uniform Civil Code

Threat to tribal identity

Balu Gadi, the state co-convener of the Rythu Swarajya Vedika, a farmers’ organisation, and a tribal rights activist in Telangana, drew attention to another aspect.

“The implementation of the UCC is wrong. The tribals’ identity will be lost. Even in tribal communities, there are Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTG), and non-PVTG groups. The PVTG groups are extremely vulnerable. Many of them know nothing about the mainland Hindu society,” he told South First.

He felt clubbing indigenous people with the Hindu society would lead to the former losing their identity and rights.

“The UCC should be implemented after caste is eradicated,” he added.

Juwala Bapuji, the state secretary of Andhra Pradesh Vyavasaya Vruthidarula Union said Adivasis, historically, were not Hindus, and they did not belong to any of the four Varna’s specified in the caste system.

The Varna system described in Dharma Sasthras divides society into four: Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishya and Shudras. Those who commit grievous sins are ostracised from the system and are considered untouchables.

“It is an ongoing debate. Even the Hindu Succession Act doesn’t apply to Adivasi women. They don’t have property rights. In this case, how will you put Adivasis and Hindus under one umbrella? The Adivasi customs, rituals, their way of living —  everything is different from the way Hindus live,” Bapuji pointed out.

However, he opined that there was a need for a dialogue with community leaders and members to understand the stand of the indigenous people on the UCC.

“Adivasis still worship Mother Nature; unlike Hindus who worship Pitru devatas (patriarchal worship). Adivasis worship matru devathas (matrilinear worship). Even Ambedkar said UCC should be implemented when caste is eradicated. Even now, Article 14 is not implemented in its true sense,” he told South First.

“There is still caste discrimination. They (tribesmen) are not allowed in upper caste spaces. If they say under UCC everyone is equal, they should first eradicate the caste system,” he said.

“Certain tribal communities follow polygamy. Will they take away this right under the UCC? Unlike in Hindu society, in tribal communities, polygamy is different. The woman has the right to choose who to marry. The marriage rituals are different. There are no mantras or dowry in Adivasi weddings.  Will the Hindu society accept these rituals? Adivasis will lose their culture (if the UCC is implemented),” he expressed his concern.

Kerala: Manipur violence, UCC push leave pro-BJP Christian leaders miffed

Tribal leaders in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka opined that the members of the community lacked awareness about the legislation and that the proposal could affect the customs being followed by the indigenous people.

Madai Gowda, a tribal rights activist from Karnataka, too, concurred that tribals were not aware of the UCC.

(With inputs from SNV Sudhir in Vijayawada, Ajay Tomar in Hyderabad, Vinodh Arulappan in Chennai, and Bellie Thomas in Bengaluru)