Tribals dominant yet ignored in Palghar and Bhiwandi seats

Mumbai, Apr 15: The tribal population in Palghar and Bhiwandi constituencies is an ignored lot, despite being a dominant force with over 35 per cent population in the two Lok Sabha seats.

While a sizeable part of these two constituencies falls under the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR), as many as six tribal-dominated assembly segments that fall outside it are yet to see development. These assembly segments — Vikramgadh, Palghar, Dahanu, Vasai (rural), Shahpur and Bhiwandi (rural)— have remained backward despite their geographical proximity to Mumbai. Problems like malnourishment have been rampant here, though recently there has been a significant decline in the number of cases.

The newly formed Palghar Lok Sabha seat has been reserved for Schedule Tribe (ST) candidate. It includes tribal dominated segments like Vikramgadh, Palghar, Dahanu and Vasai (rural). The Vikramgadh assembly segment consists of Jawhar tehsil, considered to be one of the most under-developed tehsils in the region.
Similar is the case with assembly segments like Shahpur and Bhiwandi (rural), which fall under the Bhiwandi Lok Sabha seat. The tribal population here never aligned with any single party. “There has been a mixed support from the tribal here. Some belts have traditionally supported the Congress while some are with the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Even the Shiv-Sena BJP has a base here due to the influence of the RSS-led Vanvasi Kalyan Ashra— an organisation to counter influence of missionaries. So the voting pattern has always been different,” says Vivek Pandit, founder member of Shramajeevi Sanghatana, a tribal organization.

The tribals, despite their large numbers, could never be a deciding factor here due to the dominance of the local caste equations. Apart from tribal, the Agris and Kunbis play an important role, followed by Muslims and North Indians.

The tribals have their own set of problem, with unemployment being one of the major issues here. After the harvest, the tribal leave their villages to earn a living mostly from the brick-making industry. But they are often duped by the contractors and subjected to abuses. Many tribal from the coastal belt of Talasari and Dahanu are still languishing in the Pakistani jails after the Gujarat fishing trawlers they worked for strayed into the neighbouring country’s waters.

Conversions and re-conversions have also played a major role. Clashes between the Christian missionaries and Hindu radicals are frequent. The missionaries accuse the Hindu groups of attacking the converts whereas the radical groups accuse the missionaries of luring the tribals for conversion with money. “Both indulge in conversion and re-conversion but sufferers are the tribal. Even before the conversion and re-conversions, they had never professed any religion,” said a tribal activist.