Law and Society

Tribal Health and the COVID-19 Pandemic

Introduction

Since the colonial period tribal and Adivasis have been subject to poverty, discrimination, land indebtedness, poor health and sanitation system, and lack of education. They were and they are the most deprived section of our society. They are still on the same page as if they are not the part of a community which requires social and economical development. Development of the country doesn’t lie in the only particular section of society, it is led by all. We need to look into the matter of why they always go vestigial in any of the government policies.

Considering the current scenario due to the coronavirus pandemic, due to the obscurity of the making of the vaccine, the government had announced a notion-wide lockdown and Unlock guidelines to meet requirements of the on-going crisis. But now they are in exigency of our government policies, and our amenity. It is not hidden that they also want to live in the jungles; worship trees attached to the environment and want no intervention from outsiders.

Intervention by outsiders in their life have created a plethora of complications in their life, in the era of globalization, their daily life has been disrupted by capitalist class[i] their socio-economic condition is not as good as it used to be, due to the intervention of external agents. The framers of the Indian Constitution were very much aware of the tribal people, thus providing an overarching framework for their protection and advancement of this distinguished section and to enable them to catch up with non-tribal as early as possible.[ii]

Lack of a pre-planned strategy for this pandemic has led to social and economic difficulties for the Adivasis.[iii] We in our vanity can say that this is the best government can do because we live lavish lifestyles but these tribal people have a very low level of literacy as compared to non- tribal people and have very less understanding of contemporary- nation-state and rights provided to them within the state.[iv] Thus adaptation of same safety measures in this pandemic for them as others would not be good for their welfare.

By applying a country-wide lockdown, nobody thought about the most deprived and underprivileged section of our society i.e. tribal and Adivasis, though authorities think there are no chances that coronavirus can hit these people, but if any one of them gets infected, the situation will be out of hands, as they can’t perform social distancing, and can’t even follow the guidelines given by the government to the people of the country because they are different from us, that is the reason they have been provided with a distinguished constitutional status.

Over half of the indigenous people with about 635 tribal groups and their subgroups live in India.[v] Most of the time they are governed by their customary laws, prevailing between the tribe and we also have some special laws to govern them as they are different from other people of the country.[vi] Indian tribal people are administered as per the provision of 5th and 6th Schedule of Indian Constitution. Governor of the concerned state is empowered to whether to apply any particular law of the parliament or state legislature to the autonomous district/ region of the areas of 5th and 6th Schedule, or he can also apply any legislation with some specified adaptation or the President may also exercise the power to apply or not to apply any legislation to that area or apply the same with some specific adaptations.[vii]

What we need to focus on is that these areas are different from other parts of the country and people living there have a totally different lifestyle, they still follow the old tradition, they are not aware of the modern technology, already living in misery. It is egregious to know that these people are not like us, the non- tribal people; they don’t have shelter, food, clothing facilities like us. Their socio, economic, cultural circumstances distinguish them from other people of the country.[viii] Treating these people like non- tribal people will result in nothing and will dig another pit in their detached life.

Ignored Aspect — Their health

Health is one of the dominant features which leads to social development,[ix] but the development of tribal people is caused by many factors. They are most likely to suffer from any disease, unlike non-tribal people. These tribal people are most unprivileged, exploited, neglected, and vulnerable to malnutrition and have a higher mortality rate[x]. The imposition of the Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA), has even led to Human Right Violations and limited their access to the health care system and social services.[xi]The elderly section of a tribal society has consistently suffered from both communicable diseases like Malnutrition Malaria and a higher mortality rate[xii]. Filaria, tuberculosis, leprosy, skin infection, sexually transmitted disease, HIV, typhoid, cholera, diarrheal disease, hepatitis and viral fevers[xiii] are the most common communicable disease. Nutritional anaemia is common among Indian tribal women, it has also been found that tribal women decrease their intake during pregnancy[xiv]which can lead to premature childbirth and this can lead to future health-related problems for both mother and child, all these diseases require better medication, health facilities to be cured, to which tribes don’t have access to.

As per the WHO, older people and people with pre-existing medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, and heart disease) appear to be more vulnerable to becoming severely ill with the virus.[xv] Hence the only prevention is social distancing. Absence of safe drinking water, poor sanitary condition,[xvi] HIV, Malnutrition, certain types of cancer, anaemia, digestive issue, diarrhoea, growth or developmental delay in child and infants[xvii] — all this can lead to low immunity and analysis has shown and doctors have observed that people who have lesser immunity are more likely to die due to coronavirus.

Conclusion and Recommendations

The approach of “one universal solution fits all” doesn’t seem to be fit here. So, different approaches should be guided and provided by the governor of the concerned state having Tribal population to deal with this pandemic situation.

Treating tribal people like non-tribal people is not social justice in the face of a deadly pandemic. The government should take proactive initiatives and teach such vulnerable populations about the pandemic, create awareness, and encourage basic sanitation and precautionary practices. One picture in the recent times, went viral where a tribal girl had to wear a mask made up of leaves. It shows the dire situation at hand and that the government needs to distribute masks, sanitizers and hand wash to them and to tell them about their usage in order to better equip them in the face of the pandemic.


Endnotes:

[i] John Kujur, Assessment of Health and Economic Status of Adivasis during Covid- 19 Crisis, Round Table India,(2020).

[ii] Planning Commission, 2009. Https://Tribal.Nic.In/Writereaddata/Annualreport/Mungekar3rdreport2.Pdf. Delhi: Ministry of Tribal Affairs, p.3.

[iii] Vinuchakravarthi, V. and Srinivasan, M.S., 2020. A Study on Impact of Consumers Food Habit During Covid Lockdown and Tracing An Opportunity For F2c (Farmer To Consumer) Model–With Reference To Chennai City. Purakala with ISSN 0971-2143 is a UGC CARE Journal31(41), pp.41-50.

[iv] Jones, S., 1978. Tribal underdevelopment in India. Development and Change9(1), pp.41-70.

[v] Balgir, R.S., 2006, October. Tribal health problems, disease burden and ameliorative challenges in tribal communities with special emphasis on tribes of Orissa. In Proceedings of National Symposium on “Tribal Health” 19th-20th October (pp. 161-176).

[vi] ‘Who are indigenous and tribal peoples?’ International Labour Organization, (June 8, 2020, 3:31 PM), https://www.ilo.org/global/topics/indigenous-tribal/WCMS_503321/lang–en/index.html.

[vii] B.K. Manish, ‘Very little is understood about the fifth and sixth schedule of Indian constitution’ Down to Earth, Sept 7, 2017.

[viii] International Labour Organization, Who are Indigenous and Tribal Peoples? (June. 8, 2020, 4:15 PM), https://www.ilo.org/global/topics/indigenous-tribal/WCMS_503321/lang–en/index.html.

[ix] Mishra, M., 2012. Health status and diseases in tribal-dominated villages of central India. Health and Population-Perspectives and Issues34(4), pp.157-175.

[x]Debnath, D., 2016., The health problems and status of the particularly vulnerable tribal groups of Madhya Pradesh – A case study in anthropological dimension, Man In India94(4), pp.597-609.

[xi] Situation of Indigenous people and Right to Health, Overall health status of Indigenous Population of India; Key Issues and Concerns (June. 7, 2020, 5:24 AM) https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/IPeoples/EMRIP/Health/IndigenousWomenNetworkIndia.pdf.

[xii] Vivek Desphande, ‘Adivasis & Health: When new lifestyles diseases compound ‘old’ problems’ Indian Express Jan 14, 2016.

[xiii] Supra, 11.

[xiv] Basu, S., 2000. Dimensions of tribal health in India. Health and Population Perspectives and Issues23(2), pp.61-70.

[xv] Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public: Mythbusters, FACT: People of all ages can be infected by the COVID-19 virus,(June. 7, 2020, 9:13 AM), https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public/myth-busters.

[xvi] Supra, 14.

[xvii] Jenna Flethcher, How to stay healthy with a weak Immune System, Medical News Today, June, 3, 2020.

This post is authored by Kshitij Gautam and Sarika Maurya, currently a third-year and second-year law students at the Indore Institute of Law.

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