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Right To Seek Solitude: The Forgotten Right of Tribal Communities

The modern men and women considers themselves to be civilized, they brand themselves to be the upholders of the human rights and liberties. They find the tribal communities who isolate themselves from the modern world to be uncultured and uncivilised. The failure of modern education to find its way to the tribal’s, the absence of the modern idea of development and the walls of tribal culture that keep the religion of civilised men out of their boundaries are the reasons upon which this judgment is made upon. But the fact remains that depriving a free, self sufficient and happy man of his liberty and giving him few concessions doesn’t make any sense when looked upon from the boundaries of modern education.

Life and personal liberty are inalienable rights. These are rights which are inseparable from a dignified human existence. The dignity of the individual, equality between human beings and the quest for liberty are the foundational pillars of the Indian constitution… Life and personal liberty are not creations of the constitution. These rights are recognized by the constitution as inhering in each individual as an intrinsic and inseparable part of the human element which dwells within.[2]- Justice Chandrachud

Once you've lost your privacy, you realize you've lost an extremely valuable thing.-Billy Graham

The interference of modern man on the so called self isolated tribal groups of today are doing more harm than good. Today’s governments are taking away their homes, food, culture and dignity, by forcing them to come out of forests which provide them with food, water and shelter. These acts of governments are blatant violation of human rights of these vulnerable groups, it can even be termed as a cultural and ethnic genocide as per the recognised definitions under various international treaties.

The fact remain that many tribal communities like that of the sentinelese who have not faced incursions and interferences from the rest of the world are now under the surveillances of world super powers and religious institutions who prefer to establish their power, authority and strength over these people and their land. These invasions may be under the pretext of making the barbarian tribal’s civilised or may be in the pretext of providing them with better health and developmental facilities, but the fact remains that by doing so you are committing a grouse crime against these people without realising the value of their natural and independent life. Thus in this current era while the governments, courts, and human rights organisations are on hunt searching for new and changing dimensions of human rights it is very important for us to ponder upon the rights of tribal communities to be left alone and not been interfered with.

The recent shocking news of an American missionary is been killed on a remote Indian Island have raced hues and cries all over the world about the need for the governments to interfere with reclusive and self isolated tribal communities like that of the Sentinelese. Debates over this issue have received worldwide attention. The question is whether these tribal communities have to be left alone or not. The views of the experts and the idea of the Indian Constitution on this regard need to be considered and analysed carefully for having a better and balanced understanding of this issue.

Interference with the life of self isolated communities like that of the Sentinelese can be highly dangerous to the peaceful life of these communities.

In the words of Survival International’s Director Stephen Corry:
This tragedy should never have been allowed to happen. The Indian authorities should have been enforcing the protection of the Sentinelese and their island for the safety of both the tribe, and outsiders. Instead, a few months ago, the authorities lifted one of the restrictions that had been protecting the Sentinelese tribe’s island from foreign tourists, which sent exactly the wrong message, and may have contributed to this terrible event. Tribes like the Sentinelese face catastrophe unless their land is protected.

I hope this tragedy acts as a wake-up call to the Indian authorities to avert another disaster and properly protect the lands of both the Sentinelese, and the other Andaman tribes, from further invaders. The Central Government should not have opened North Sentinel and other islands for outsiders. The August declaration of opening the access to all the Islands to outsiders including foreign tourists was beset with the dangers to the tribes as well as to the visitors.[3]

The Europeans during the era of colonisation, the black days where brutal power was exercised over the less powerful to loot and to establish authority, claimed that they are doing the same for the sake of their colonial subjects and they do it out of their Christian duty. Rudyard Kippling glorified this act of valour by naming it the White Man’s Burden.[4]

To seek another’s profit
And work another’s gain
Take up the White Man’s burden—
And reap his old reward:
The blame of those ye better
The hate of those ye guard—
The cry of hosts ye humour
(Ah slowly) to the light:
Why brought ye us from bondage,
Our loved Egyptian night?[5]

However history says that their actual Christian duty was to extort the natural, human and commercial wealth of the colonised nations. This concept is very much related to the recently advocated modern man’s duty to civilise the self isolated tribal communities that keep themselves away from the clutches of modern man. But one forget to realise that by doing so these communities will be forced themselves to leave their identity, culture and tradition behind in the past. This is nothing but a cultural genocide that is been committed by the modern men. This desire to civilise the tribal’s is just based upon the intention to bring a self sufficient, happy and healthy community out into the modern world to submit themselves and their lands as the slaves of the multinational corporations.

The tags of cultural inferiority and social backwardness are been given to these communities by the modern men who are the self declared socially and culturally well developed section of this world.[6] The modern man who have drawn the classification between the haves and have not’s in the society are blaming self sufficient tribal societies to be socially backward. The modern world where people kill each other on the basis of religion, caste and political differences blame the tribal’s to be culturally inferior. These are nothing but the clear pointers to the paradoxes in the claims of the men who argue for interfering with the peace of self isolated tribal communities. A section of the society that is moving forward according to whims and fancies of multinational corporations can in no way claim to bring a better tomorrow for a self sufficient and better cultured tribal society.

These mentalities of the modern men can be traced back to the arguments of the advocates of colonialism, which ultimately resulted in taking over of another land through violent and barbaric means. Many even now argue that one cannot forget the fact that the constitutional, political, administrative, moral, religious and intellectual spheres greatly developed and benefited out from colonisations. But the fact is that colonialism further polluted the world with evils of forced labor, violence and injustice.

The attempts of modern man to conquer the space of the tribal’s shows nothing but his selfishness that can in no way be justified in a world where human rights are something that is intrinsic in each and every human regardless of whether he meets the standards set by the modern formulas, developed by the privileged sections of the society. Denying one of his or her basic right of privacy though he or she doesn’t fulfil the standard of being privileged can in no way be justified regardless of whatever reason on which the denial of right is based upon.

Right To Be Left Alone
Also at this phase of human civilisation where we are advocating and debating upon the need to expand the scope of the idea of one’s right to life, where right to life does not mean mere animal existence but it means the right to live with dignity, it also includes several other rights such as the right to privacy and the right to livelihood

Quoting the famous judgment of Justice Field in the case of Munn v. Illinois[7]:
"By the term "life" as here used something more is meant than mere animal existence. The inhibition against its deprivation extends to all those limbs and faculties by which life is enjoyed. The provision equally prohibits the mutilation of the body or amputation of an arm or leg or the putting out of an eye or the destruction of any other organ of the body through which the soul communicates with the outer world."

This judgment of Justice Field is time and again quoted by the Indian Court’s to make it clear that the right to life enshrined under Article 21[8] of the Indian Constitution provides for a right to quality life which means the one which is free from the unfair interferences of State or any private parties.[9]

Justice Chandrachud in the landmark and revolutionary judgment of Justice Puttaswamy (Retd.) v. Union of India[10]clearly held that the concept of right to privacy is no alien to the Indian Constitution:
To live is to live with dignity. The draftsmen of the constitution defined their vision of the society in which constitutional values would be attained by emphasising, among other freedoms, liberty and dignity… Dignity is the core which unites the fundamental rights because the fundamental rights seek to achieve for each individual the dignity of existence. Privacy with its attendant values assures dignity to the individual and it is only when life can be enjoyed with dignity can liberty be of true substance… The draftsmen of the constitution had a sense of history− both global and domestic– as they attempted to translate their vision of freedom into guarantees against authoritarian behaviour… The backdrop of human suffering furnished a reason to preserve a regime of governance based on the rule of law which would be subject to democratic accountability against a violation of fundamental freedoms… Hence, it would be an injustice both to the draftsmen of the constitution as well as to the document which they sanctified by constricting its interpretation to an originalist interpretation.

Though supported by evidences of high value, advocates of modernisation of tribal communities will further and further question the logic of all these statements, so the concept of right to be left alone needs to be further discussed and substantiated. The concept of right to be left alone or right not to be interfered with is something that is very intrinsic in the right to privacy. Till the time one does interferes with the right of another person, he or she have a right to be left alone. Thus ones right to preserve his identity in the way he is a very integral and important part of right to life. Just because the popular ideology is not in terms with that of yours don’t deprive you of this valuable and inseparable right with which you are born with. This is one of the very important and inseparable part of the right to live with dignity.

In the words of honourable Justice Chandrachud:
Privacy includes at its core the preservation of personal intimacies, the sanctity of family life, marriage, procreation, the home and sexual orientation. Privacy also connotes a right to be left alone. Privacy safeguards individual autonomy and recognises the ability of the individual to control vital aspects of his or her life. Personal choices governing a way of life are intrinsic to privacy. Privacy protects heterogeneity and recognises the plurality and diversity of our culture. While the legitimate expectation of privacy may vary from the intimate zone to the private zone and from the private to the public arenas, it is important to underscore that privacy is not lost or surrendered merely because the individual is in a public place. Privacy attaches to the person since it is an essential facet of the dignity of the human being.[11]

Thus the tribal’s cannot be forced out into the modern man’s idea of development which is based upon mathematical equations and computer programmes and which is of no value to the tribal’s. Depriving them their culture, tradition and skills in exchange of whatever it may be can in no way be justified. A beautiful lady kept as a detainee in someone’s home even if provided with all facilities and comforts will continue to be a detainee

Prof. Amartya Sen in his writing in The Country of Young Boys cites the inseparable link between the notions of freedom and development:
…development cannot really be seen merely as the process of increasing inanimate objects of convenience, such as raising the GNP per head, or promoting industrialization or technological advance or social modernization. These accomplishments are, of course, valuable – often crucially important – but their value must depend on what they do to the lives and freedoms of the people involved. For adult human beings, with responsibility for choice, the focus must ultimately be on whether they have the freedom to do what they have reason to value. In this sense, development consists of expansion of people’s freedom.[12]

Thus freedom and the right to be left alone with one’s culture and identity is something that cannot be sold out for development.

The right to be left alone is a very important right of man and especially that of the self isolated tribal communities like that of the Sentinelese’s. It is also a well recognised right according to the existing standards of human rights and Constitutional values. Just because of them being a less or underprivileged section of the society their right to live with dignity by holding on to their values and culture is no less important or less protected than the rights of the modern men. Thus the burden of the modern man should not aim at interfering with the rights of these communities, but instead should focus upon protecting and upholding their rights.

[2] Puttaswamy (Retd.) v. Union of India, (2017) 10 SCC 1
[3]Rajath Ghai, Do we need to ‘save’ the Sentinelese?, ( Feb 23, 2019, 19:00)
[4] The Philosophy of Colonialism Civilisation Christianity and Commerce, (Feb 2019, 19:00) of
[5]Rudyard Kippling, The White Mans Burden: Text of the Poem, (Feb 23,2019, 18:00)
[6] Supra note 4
[7] 94 U.S. 113
[8] Article 21 of Indian Constitution, 1950: No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.
[9] Francis Coralie Mullin v. The Administrator Union Territory of Delhi, 1981 AIR 746
[10] Supra note 2
[11] Supra note 2
[12] Amartya Sen, The Country of Young Boys (Oxford University Press, 2015)

Written By: Arjun Philip George - 3rd semester LLM, Department of Law, Central University of Kerala, Thiruvalla,
Mob:7411790629, email: [email protected]

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