GUWAHATI, Dec 19 � Democratic politics in India is keeping alive the tribes and castes in the country, even as economic developments have led to creation of middle class within the tribes, said noted sociologist Prof Andre Beteille. Prof Beteille was delivering the Ninth Dr Amitabh Chowdhury Annual Memorial Lecture at the Rabindra Bhawan here this evening. The lecture was organised by Dr Amitabh Chowdhury Memorial Trust.
Chancellor of the North Eastern Hill University (NEHU) and Professor Emeritus of Sociology of the University of Delhi, Prof Beteille maintained that emergence of middle class within the tribes means that these tribes should cease to exist as tribes, which are essentially homogenous entities.
When the Britishers came to India they started mapping Indian society and found that India had a society of tribes and castes and it was not a nation of citizens. They regarded the Indian society as static and rooted in the past as castes and tribes.
During the time of Jawaharlal Nehru there was a distinct hope that India could be a nation of citizens with its members able to judge the things on their respective merit. Nehru held the hope that instead of the groups, individual members of the society would come to be reckoned with in the Indian society.
But now after more than 150 years, when the Britishers found ours to be a society of tribes and castes, the question that naturally arises is � whether we have lost our way to become a nation of citizens, said Prof Beteille.
New occupational order, since independence has created a new middle class in the Indian society. But politics has been playing a large part in making the tribes stick to their original identities. This is despite the fact that anthropologists have found the determinants of the tribes undergoing changes.
The Indian tribes do not want to desert their original identities unlike in the European countries where tribes have emerged as nation of citizens, Prof Beteille said citing the examples of Germany, Scandinavia and other countries.
Electoral politics has given a new lease of life to the tribes and castes. Significantly, some North Indian OBC groups have now started agitating for the status of scheduled tribes (STs) to their communities, he said.
�Nobody can tell (under such a situation) as to what course democracy will take in India. But I think democracy in India is secured,� said Prof Beteille.
The function was also addressed by Justice Amitabh Roy, Prof AC Bhagaboti and former bureaucrat Jatin Hazarika, among others.
It needs to be mentioned here that Dr Amitabh Chowdhury was a promising cardiothoracic and vascular surgeon. He succumbed to his injuries in a road mishap on September 10, 2003.