“It is a tribute to the power of our democracy that a daughter born in a poor house in a remote tribal area can reach the highest constitutional position in India. That I attained the post of President is not my personal achievement, it is the achievement of every poor person in India. My election is a proof of the fact that the poor in India can have dreams and fulfil them too”.
— SMT. DROUPADI MURMU, ON HER ASSUMPTION OF OFFICE AS PRESIDENT OF INDIA, on July 25, 2022
Smt Droupadi Murmu’s assumption of the office of President of Bharat has been a historic and watershed moment in our democracy. She being the first tribal person to occupy the highest Constitutional office is the primary reason for that. She is the second woman to reach that position after Pratibha Patil. Though these two factors are good enough to celebrate the vibrancy of our democracy, there is something more to this anointment than just tokenism, in historical, socio- political and global terms.
Historically, the Scheduled Tribes of Bharat have a unique position in the national evolution. They have been part of the larger national consciousness while retaining their distinctive identities and customs. Though Jal, Jungle, Jameen has been the usual expression that is used to describe the uniqueness of tribals, in real terms their association with the nature and religious practices ingrained in them constitute the real tribal identity. British colonists had to face the toughest resistance from all the forest dwellers. The British could never occupy those areas which they chose to isolate from the rest of Bharat by applying their European understanding of the indigenous. Besides Kol, Bhils, Gonds etc, Santhals of Eastern Bharat exemplified their valour for the cause of Swadesh and Swadharma. The new President also comes from the same Santhal community. There could not have been a better and bigger tribute to those unsung heroes of our freedom struggle than this.
At the socio-political level, Smt Murmu represents the last woman standing. Her personal life, the hardship she has gone through, everything exemplifies the true spirit behind our Constitution – an instrument of socio-economic transformation. She came into public life after a long struggle for basic education and continued there even after the demise of her husband and children. She symbolises the grit and fighting spirit of the common Bharatiya. Hence, a statement in her maiden speech, “My election is a proof of the fact that the poor in India can have dreams and fulfil them too”, is significant.
Recently, there is a lot of talk about the so-called indigenous rights at the global level. The apology rendered by Pope Francis to the indigenous communities of Canada is just a symptom of what the so-called developed world has done to entire humanity. The developed world systematically annihilated the indigenous culture, people and space through the imposition of religious and economic practices. In Bharat, Tribal problems and concerns are distinct from the rest of the world. Though they have faced institutionalised exclusion and exploitation, the root cause for the same is not our civilisational history but the colonial structures and legal instruments. Civilisationally, the tribals have been part and parcel of the same Bharatiya ethos, despite their unique cultural identity and practices. An indigenous tribal woman, deeply rooted in the customs and practices, has reached the highest Constitutional position. For the same reason, Bharat rejected the international standards on the issue of indigenous rights.
The missionaries and Maoists have always played their game around institutionalised exclusion of forest dwellers created by the colonial legal regime. The nationwide celebration, especially among the tribals, is the testimony that the divisive forces have failed in their agenda. Political critics may see just political symbolism in Smt Murmu entering the Rashtrapati Bhawan. At a deeper level, there is a more profound substance involved in this historic event of Bharatiya democracy.