Draupadi Murmu became the first person from an indigenous people group to be sworn in as President of India on 25 July. She is the 15th president of India and only the second woman to hold the office.
President Murmu was the candidate put forward by the National Democratic Alliance, a political alliance led by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which holds over 48% of the Electoral College votes.
Some citizens have welcomed President Murmu’s appointment, however some activists have questioned whether her election will bring about positive changes for the Adivasi community, to which she belongs. The BJP has repeatedly pursued policies to the detriment of the community, including forcing Adivasis out of their traditional lands with deforestation and mining projects.
Adivasis are also often denied proper representation in Indian society. On 7 July 2022, tribal representatives from across India gathered at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi, demanding the right to choose their tribal or aboriginal religion in the country’s upcoming census, and other forms such as those relating to school admissions and birth certificates.
Commenting on President Murmu’s appointment, John Dayal, a civil rights activist and writer told CSW: “She may not be able to curb the corporate sector’s march into her beloved forests of central India, or ensure more constitutional posts for Scheduled Tribes, or to keep large numbers of their youth out of jail on trumped up charges, but [President Murmu’s] ethnicity is surely a marker in the march of the Adivasis for a share in the country’s political sunshine.”
“Under the Constitution, a President’s executive powers are limited to calling the leader of the largest political group to form a government after a general election. For everything else, the President is correctly pilloried in Indian political lore as a rubber stamp. Mrs Murmu was handpicked by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who brooked no opposition, and who in any case takes his policy and personnel decisions on his own, without caring much for cabinet or parliament.”
According to CSW’s sources, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which serves as the ideological arm of the BJP, has been promoting the narrative that all Adivasis are Hindus and have been trying to assimilate them into the Hindu religion. President Murmu’s view on the matter is unclear.
CSW’s Founder President Mervyn Thomas said: “CSW congratulates the Honourable President Draupadi Murmu on her recent appointment. While we welcome the historic appointment of a member of an indigenous community to this position, the interests and rights of the tribal communities of India are widely marginalised, and they continue to face injustice and exploitation. Their demand to choose their tribal or aboriginal religion on official forms for example, including the census, has not yet been met. We hope that the president will do everything within her power under the constitution to ensure that these communities are significantly empowered, uplifted and protected under her watch.”