‘Unmasking Inequalities’ –      “Exposing the Broken Promises and Roots of Adivasis and Dalit Oppression”

‘Unmasking Inequalities’ –                                                                                         “Exposing the Broken Promises and Roots of Adivasis and Dalit Oppression”

Author:  Md.Sameer Ul Ain,

                a student at Damodaram Sanjivayya National Law University (DSNLU)            

In rural areas, people from Scheduled Tribes often face exploitation when they are enticed with small amounts of money to work in labor-intensive units, where they are subsequently treated poorly. Many attribute this exploitation to the poverty and powerlessness of these laborers. However, it is important to recognize that the issue of bonded labor is closely connected to the vulnerability of specific communities, such as Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. This means that these communities are at a higher risk of falling into bonded labor situations due to their social and economic disadvantages. In this introduction, we will explore the intricate linkages between bonded labor and the susceptibility of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, shedding light on the underlying causes of this unfortunate phenomenon. They are treated in the following facets 


There was a case in Tamil Nadu where a person named Kasi was rescued along with 27 others, including 10 children, of eight families. They are all members of the Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PVTG) known as the Irula community. The Irulas, who make up the second-largest tribe in Tamil Nadu. The Irulas have consequently had to rely on wage jobs to exist; many of them, like Kasi, are compelled to serve as bonded labour.

They had been engaged for more than five years at a wood-cutting unit in the Tamil Nadu region of Kancheepuram, along with the others. The families had taken out small loans totaling between Rs 9,000 and Rs 25,000. In the years that followed, the labourers were forced to give up their freedom, receive insufficient rations to subsist, and were banned from sending their kids to school in order to pay back the debt.

Section 2(g) of the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976, (BLSA) 

Labour in lieu of a debt or social obligations when the labourer forfeits any one of the following rights: (1) minimum wage (2) fundamental right of movement, (3) right to employment, or  (4) right to sell his/her product at market price. In such cases, the District Magistrate is mandated to take positive action of rescue, release and rehabilitation of the victim, and prosecution of the offender.

A group of released bonded labourers called the Released Bonded Labour Association (RBLA) brought Kasi’s case before the authority. This calls for the District Magistrate to follow the BLSA and take the appropriate action. When the government representatives came at the wood-cutting unit, Kasi and the others were spared. Nevertheless, following an investigation, the authorities disputed the RBLA’s charges and did not file a BLSA violation against the business.

Most people assume that this sort of worker exploitation is directly caused by the poverty and powerlessness faced by labourers. On the other hand, ILO research demonstrate “a clear link in Asian countries between forced labour and long-standing patterns of discrimination” is referenced in a 2009 UN Special Rapporteur report on modern forms of slavery. The vast majority of bonded labour victims in India come from Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and work in agriculture, bricklaying, mining, and other industries. 

According to a Planning Commission report from 2010, titled “Bonded Labour Rehabilitation Scheme from Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh,” 83% of the bonded labourers who have been rehabilitated are from SC and ST tribes. Recent data from a sample survey undertaken by Telangana’s labour department (February 2019) suggests that 80–90% of the state’s child labourers are from SC/ST tribes.


Gunshots resounded through the Muthanga forest in the Wayanad district of Kerala on February 19, 2003, as armed police officers deliberately burned and destroyed the tents and huts erected by the Adivasis people who were engaged in a struggle to claim the cultivable lands that had been pledged to them by the State Government. the worst part is that even today, after a long span of 20 years, the lives of numerous indigenous families that participated in the protest in 2003 have remained mostly unchanged.

Following that, the adivasi people of Wayanad assemble every year on February 19th in Muthanga to commemorate Jogi, an Adivasi who died in encounters with law enforcement.

Staying in different settlements in Wayanad, these indigenous families continue to hold onto the hope of obtaining the one-acre property that was pledged to each family. The Adivasi people states the necessary for cultivable land as follows: 

“Once we acquire our designated territory, we will cultivate coffee and pepper, enabling us to sustain ourselves independently without relying on the forests or external sources for our livelihood,” 

Where it all started……???

The Kerala government adopted a law in 1975 that guaranteed all indigenous people in the state agricultural land. However, in spite of this legislation, the state’s subsequent governments fell short of their pledge.

 It started in 2001 when thirty tribe members died from starvation in Attappady. Studies performed since then have suggested that the lack of cultivable land among the Adivasis in Wayanad was a main contributing reason to their malnutrition, as noted by citizen groups’ inquiries into the deaths. It was partly in response to these findings that a new political outfit, the Adivasi Gotra Maha Sabha (AGMS), was formed Thousands of tribal people protested outside the Chief Minister’s office in Thiruvananthapuram using kudil kettal samarams (protest tents) after their deaths, The protests were organised by the AGMS. The Thiruvananthapuram kudil kettal samaram lasted for nearly 50 days until the government promised to offer each Adivasi in the state between one and five acres of land.

At the time, Chief Minister AK Antony’s United Democratic Front (UDF) government was in control. The adivasi people stated that the government began to break its word after honouring its pledge for a year.

Hundreds of tribal people from various Wayanad colonies entered the Muthanga forest region near the Karnataka border in 2003 and pitched up tents there, began to cultivate the land as a message of protest against the Kerala government, as the government is inactive in the prospect of allotting the lands. In Muthanga, about 617 families had pitched their tents, indicating that nearly 1,000 Adivasis, including children, were involved in the protest.

The state dispatched police personnel to drive out the Adivasis from the region on February 19, 2003. The police used violence to force the Adivasis to leave Muthanga instead of engaging in any kind of negotiation with them. as a result Jogi wasn’t the only adivasi who died in the struggle. That day, Vinod, a police officer named vinod was also passed away in during agitations.

How far it is implemented?

In the last 16 years, only 283 families, out of the 617 that took part in the agitation, have received the one-acre land each. Adivasis stated that the government has cited the lack of availability of land as the reason for the delay. “But this is not true,” she added.

Who are the real protectors of the forests?

Adivasi groups like Kattunaykkar, Adiyar, Paniyar, Kurumar, and Kurichyar resided in the Muthanga forests before it was declared a wildlife sanctuary and placed under the control of the state.

 According to Geethanand and his associates, the state government’s initial disregard for their “encroachment” was primarily due to its attention being drawn to the Global Investors Summit (GIM), which took place in Kochi on January 18 and 19, 2003, and was organised in conjunction with the international corporate consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers Private Limited. 

Among other things, the Summit featured considerable measures to boost ecotourism in the ecologically fragile regions of Aralam, Thenmala, and Silent Valley, as well as a number of other places in Kerala. “We learned that the Muthanga land had been put up for sale to a tourism company at the Global Investors Meet (GIM), held a month before the police firing,” revealed Geetanandan he also stated that Simply because they arranged a protest there, it did not occur. If not, the land would not appear like it does now.

The Ongoing struggle..

Currently, landless Adivasis are agitating in a way identical to Muthanga at the Wayanad marianad estate. Participating in the protest since May 2022, Beena from Nadavayal village wonders, “It has been nearly two decades since the Supreme Court granted 1,200 acres of this land to the Adivasis.” It has not yet reached us. For what amount of time can humanity endure without land? Can’t we receive it prior to our demise? Does the verdict of our nation’s top court have no significance? We cannot be let down by the government as we were in Muthanga. We are protesting here and have created thousands of shelters as a result.

My opinion:

The ST communities require the government to defend them, not to work against them. The mere allocation of crores of rupees to support the execution of the Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989 (POA) and the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1995 is insufficient. The legal system needs to be able to address continuing systemic inequality of power and coercive approaches used against marginalised communities and tribes in all areas.

The Central government is also allocating hundreds of crores through Special Central Assistance under the SC/ST category for a variety of purposes, with a particular emphasis on livelihood options, education, skill development, road connectivity, toilets, etc. in collaboration with the relevant State line Departments and Union Ministries. However, there is also continuous discrimination and exploitation of ST people, especially in rural areas. This includes both visible and invisible kinds of exploitation, such as trafficking for bonded work.

The issue does not lie in the ST communities’ inability to obtain services. Welfare and reservation policies allotted to them cannot stop the marginalisation of Scheduled Tribes. It is necessary to address everyday violence since it continuously restricts the implementation of welfare programmes intended to reduce poverty and encourage the development of ST communities.

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