of India - A History of Discrimination, Conflict and Resistance
By C.R. Bijoy
The 67.7 million people belonging to "Scheduled Tribes" in
India are generally considered to be 'Adivasis', literally meaning 'indigenous
people' or 'original inhabitants', though the term 'Scheduled Tribes'
(STs) is not coterminous with the term 'Adivasis'. Scheduled Tribes
is an administrative term used for purposes of 'administering' certain
specific constitutional privileges, protection and benefits for specific
sections of peoples considered historically disadvantaged and 'backward'.
However, this administrative term does not exactly match all the peoples
called 'Adivasis'. Out of the 5653 distinct communities in India, 635
are considered to be 'tribes' or 'Adivasis'. In comparison, one finds
that the estimated number of STs varies from 250 to 593. For practical
purposes, the United Nations and multilateral agencies generally consider
the STs as 'indigenous peoples'. With the ST population making up 8.08%
(as of 1991) of the total population of India, it is the nation with
the highest concentration of 'indigenous peoples' in the world!
The Constitution of India,
which came into existence on 26 January 1950, prohibits discrimination
on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth (Article
15) and it provides the right to equality (Article 14), to freedom of
religion (Articles 25-28) and to culture and education (Articles 29-30).
STs are supposedly addressed by as many as 209 Articles and 2 special
schedules of the Constitution - Articles and special schedules which
are protective and paternalistic. Article 341 and 342 provides for classification
of Scheduled Castes (the untouchable lower castes) and STs, while Articles
330, 332 and 334 provides for reservation of seats in Parliament and
Assemblies. For purposes of specific focus on the development of STs,
the government has adopted a package of programmes, which is administered
in specific geographical areas with considerable ST population, and
it covers 69% of the tribal population.
Despite this, and after the
largest "modern democracy" of the world has existed for more
than half a century, the struggles for survival of Adivasis - for livelihood
and existence as peoples - have today intensified and spread as never
before in history.
Over centuries, the Adivasis
have evolved an intricate convivial-custodial mode of living. Adivasis
belong to their territories, which are the essence of their existence;
the abode of the spirits and their dead and the source of their science,
technology, way of life, their religion and culture.
Back in history, the Adivasis
were in effect self-governing 'first nations'. In general and in most
parts of the pre-colonial period, they were notionally part of the 'unknown
frontier' of the respective states where the rule of the reign in fact
did not extend, and the Adivasis governed themselves outside of the
influence of the particular ruler.
The introduction of the alien
concept of private property began with the Permanent Settlement of the
British in 1793 and the establishment of the "Zamindari" system
that conferred control over vast territories, including Adivasi territories,
to designated feudal lords for the purpose of revenue collection by
the British. This drastically commenced the forced restructuring of
the relationship of Adivasis to their territories as well as the power
relationship between Adivasis and 'others'. The predominant external
caste-based religion sanctioned and practiced a rigid and highly discriminatory
hierarchical ordering with a strong cultural mooring. This became the
natural basis for the altered perception of Adivasis by the 'others'
in determining the social, and hence, the economic and political space
in the emerging larger society that is the Indian diaspora. Relegating
the Adivasis to the lowest rung in the social ladder was but natural
and formed the basis of social and political decision making by the
largely upper caste controlled mainstream. The ancient Indian scriptures,
scripted by the upper castes, all too well provided to further this
Indian epics and Adivasis
In Asia, migrations have been going on for more than fifty thousand
years. The subjugated peoples have been relegated to low status and
isolated, instead of either being eliminated or absorbed. Entry of Europeans
and subsequent colonisation of Asia transformed the relationship between
the mainstream communities and tribal communities of this region. Introduction
of capitalism, private property and the creation of a countrywide market
broke the traditional economy based on use value and hereditary professions.
All tribal communities are
not alike. They are products of different historical and social conditions.
They belong to four different language families, and several different
racial stocks and religious moulds. They have kept themselves apart
from feudal states and brahminical hierarchies for thousands of years.
In the Indian epics such
as Ramayana, Mahabharata and Puranas (folklores) there are many references
to interactions and wars between the forest or hill tribes and the Hindus.
Eminent historians who have done detailed research on the epic Ramayana
(200 B.C to 500 B.C) have concluded that 'Lanka', the kingdom of the
demonic king Ravana and 'Kishkinda', the homeland of the Vanaras (depicted
as monkeys) were places situated south of Chitrakuta hill and north
of Narmada river in middle India. Accordingly, Ravana and his demons
were an aboriginal tribe, most probably the Gond, and the Vanaras, like
Hanuman in the epic, belonged to the Savara and Korku tribes whose descendants
still inhabit the central Indian forest belt. Even today, the Gond holds
Ravana, the villain of Ramayana, in high esteem as a chief. Rama, the
hero of Ramayana, is also known for slaughtering the Rakshasas (demons)
in the forests!
The epic of Mahabharata refers
to the death of Krishna at the hands of a Bhil Jaratha. In the ancient
scriptures, considered to be sacred by the upper castes, various terms
are used depicting Adivasis as almost non-humans. The epics of Ramayana
and Mahabharata, the Puranas, Samhitas and other so-called 'sacred books'
refer to Adivasis as Rakshasa (demons), Vanara (monkeys), Jambuvan (boar
men), Naga (serpents), Bhusundi Kaka (crow), Garuda (King of Eagles)
etc. In medieval India, they were called derogatorily as Kolla, Villa,
Kirata, Nishada, and those who surrendered or were subjugated were termed
as Dasa (slave) and those who refused to accept the bondage of slavery
were termed as Dasyu (a hostile robber).
Ekalavya, one of their archers
was so skillful that the hero of the Aryans, Arjuna, could not stand
before him. But they assaulted him, cutting his thumb and destroying
his ability to fight - and then fashioned a story in which he accepted
Drona as his Guru and surrendered his thumb as an offering to the master!
The renowned writer Maheshwata Devi points out that Adivasis predated
Hinduism and Aryanism, that Siva was not an Aryan god and that in the
8th century, the tribal forest goddess or harvest goddess was absorbed
and adapted as Siva's wife. Goddess Kali, the goddess of hunters, has
definitely had a tribal origin.
History of the Adivasis
Little is known about the relationship between the Adivasis and non-Adivasi
communities during the Hindu and Muslim rules. There are stray references
to wars and alliances between the Rajput kings and tribal chieftains
in middle India and in the North-East between the Ahom Kings of Brahmaputra
valley and the hill Nagas. They are considered to be ati sudra meaning
lower than the untouchable castes. Even today, the upper caste people
refer to these peoples as jangli, a derogatory term meaning "those
who are like wild animals" - uncivilised or sub-humans.
The Adivasis have few food
taboos, rather fluid cultural practices and minimal occupational specialization,
while on the other hand, the mainstream population of the plains have
extensive food taboos, more rigid cultural practices and considerable
caste-based occupational specialisation. In the Hindu caste system,
the Adivasis have no place. The so-called mainstream society of India
has evolved as an agglomeration of thousands of small-scale social groups
whose identities within the larger society are preserved by not allowing
them to marry outside their social groups. The subjugated groups became
castes forced to perform less desirable menial jobs like sweeping, cleaning
of excreta, removal of dead bodies, leather works etc - the untouchables.
Some of the earliest small-scale societies dependent on hunting and
gathering, and traditional agriculture seem to have remained outside
this process of agglomeration. These are the Adivasis of present day.
Their autonomous existence outside the mainstream led to the preservation
of their socio-religious and cultural practices, most of them retaining
also their distinctive languages. Widow burning, enslavement, occupational
differentiation, hierarchical social ordering etc are generally not
there. Though there were trade between the Adivasis and the mainstream
society, any form of social intercourse was discouraged. Caste India
did not consciously attempt to draw them into the orbit of caste society.
But in the process of economic, cultural and ecological change, Adivasis
have attached themselves to caste groups in a peripheral manner, and
the process of detribalisation is a continuous one. Many of the Hindu
communities have absorbed the cultural practices of the Adivasis. Although
Hinduism could be seen as one unifying thread running through the country
as a whole, it is not homogenous but in reality a conglomeration of
centuries old traditions and shaped by several religious and social
traditions which are more cultural in their essence (and including elements
of Adivasi socio-religious culture).
Adivasis at the lowest rung
of the ladder
Adivasis are not, as a general rule, regarded as unclean by caste Hindus
in the same way as Dalits are. But they continue to face prejudice (as
lesser humans), they are socially distanced and often face violence
from society. They are at the lowest point in every socioeconomic indicator.
Today the majority of the population regards them as primitive and aims
at decimating them as peoples or at best integrating them with the mainstream
at the lowest rung in the ladder. This is especially so with the rise
of the fascist Hindutva forces.
None of the brave Adivasi
fights against the British have been treated as part of the "national"
struggle for independence. From the Malpahariya uprising in 1772 to
Lakshman Naik's revolt in Orissa in 1942, the Adivasis repeatedly rebelled
against the British in the north-eastern, eastern and central Indian
belt. In many of the rebellions, the Adivasis could not be subdued,
but terminated the struggle only because the British acceded to their
immediate demands, as in the case of the Bhil revolt of 1809 and the
Naik revolt of 1838 in Gujarat. Heroes like Birsa Munda, Kanhu Santhal,
Khazya Naik, Tantya Bhil, Lakshman Naik, Kuvar Vasava, Rupa Naik, Thamal
Dora, Ambul Reddi, Thalakkal Chandu etc are remembered in the songs
and stories of the Adivasis but ignored in the official text books.
The British Crown's dominions
in India consisted of four political arrangements: 1. the Presidency
Areas where the Crown was supreme, 2. the Residency Areas where the
British Crown was present through the Resident and the Ruler of the
realm was subservient to the Crown, 3. the Agency (Tribal) areas where
the Agent governed in the name of the Crown but left the local self-governing
institutions untouched and 4. the Excluded Areas (north-east) where
the representatives of the Crown were a figure head.
After the transfer of power,
the rulers of the Residency Areas signed the "Deed of Accession"
on behalf of the ruled on exchange they were offered privy purse. No
deed was however signed with most of the independent Adivasi states.
They were assumed to have joined the Union. The government rode rough
shod on independent Adivasi nations and they were merged with the Indian
Union. This happened even by means of state violence as in the case
of Adivasi uprising in the Nizam's State of Hyderabad and Nagalim.
While this aspect did not
enter the consciousness of the Adivasis at large in the central part
of India where they were preoccupied with their own survival, the picture
was different in the north-east because of the historic and material
conditions. Historically the north-east was never a part of mainland
India. The colonial incorporation of north-east took place much later
than the rest of the Indian subcontinent. While Assam ruled by the Ahoms
came under the control of British in 1826, neighbouring Bengal was annexed
in 1765. Garo Hills were annexed in 1873, Naga Hills in 1879 and Mizoram
under the Chin-Lushai Expeditions in 1881-90. Consequently, the struggles
for self-determination took various forms as independence to greater
A process of marginalization
Today, the total forest cover in India is reported to be 765.21 thousand
sq. kms. of which 71% are Adivasi areas. Of these 416.52 and 223.30
thousand sq. kms. are categorised as reserved and protected forests
respectively. About 23% of these are further declared as Wild Life Sanctuaries
and National Parks which alone has displaced some half a million Adivasis.
By the process of colonisation of the forests that began formally with
the Forest Act of 1864 and finally the Indian Forest Act of 1927, the
rights of Adivasis were reduced to mere privileges conferred by the
state. This was in acknowledgement of their dependence on the forests
for survival and it was politically forced upon the rulers by the glorious
struggles that the Adivasis waged persistently against the British.
The Forest Policy of 1952, the Wild Life Protection Act of 1972 and
the Forest Conservation Act of 1980 downgraded these privileges of the
peoples to concessions of the state in the post-colonial period.
With globalisation, there
are now further attempts to change these paternalistic concessions to
being excluded as indicated by the draft "Conservation of Forests
and Natural Ecosystems Act" that is to replace the forest act and
the amendments proposed to the Land Acquisition Act and the V Schedule
to the constitution.
In 1991, 23.03% of STs were literate as against 42.83% among the general
population. The Government's Eighth Plan document mentions that nearly
52% of STs live below the poverty line as against 30% of the general
population. In a study on Kerala, a state considered to be unique for
having developed a more egalitarian society with a high quality of life
index comparable to that of only the 'developed' countries, paradoxically
shows that for STs the below poverty line population was 64.5% while
for Scheduled Castes it was 47% and others 41%. About 95% of Adivasis
live in rural areas, less than 10% are itinerant hunter-gatherers but
more than half depend upon forest produce. Very commonly, police, forest
guards and officials bully and intimidate Adivasis and large numbers
are routinely arrested and jailed, often for petty offences.
Only a few Adivasi communities
which are forest dwellers have not been displaced and continue to live
in forests, away from the mainstream development activities, such as
in parts of Bastar in Madhya Pradesh, Koraput, Phulbani and Mayurbanj
in Orissa and of Andaman Islands.
Thousands of Korku children
below the age of six died in the 1990s due to malnutrition and starvation
in the Melghat Tiger Reserve of Maharashtra due to the denial of access
to their life sustaining resource base. Adivasis of Kalahandi-Bolangir
in Orissa and of Palamu in south Bihar have reported severe food shortage.
According to the Central Planning Committee of the Government of India,
nearly 41 districts with significant Adivasi populations are prone to
deaths due to starvation, which are not normally reported as such.
Invasion of Adivasi territories
The "Land Acquisition Act" of 1894 concretised the supremacy
of the sovereign to allow for total colonisation of any territory in
the name of 'public interest' which in most cases are not community
notions of common good. This is so especially for the Adivasis. The
colonial juristic concept of res nullius (that which has not been conferred
by the sovereign belongs to the sovereign) and terra nullius (land that
belongs to none) bulldozed traditional political and social entities
beginning the wanton destruction of traditional forms of self-governance.
The invasion of Adivasi territories,
which for the most part commenced during the colonial period, intensified
in the post-colonial period. Most of the Adivasi territories were claimed
by the state. Over 10 million Adivasis have been displaced to make way
for development projects such as dams, mining, industries, roads, protected
areas etc. Though most of the dams (over 3000) are located in Adivasi
areas, only 19.9% (1980-81) of Adivasi land holdings are irrigated as
compared to 45.9% of all holdings of the general population. India produces
as many as 52 principal, 3 fuel, 11 metallic, 38 non-metallic and a
number of minor minerals. Of these 45 major minerals (coal, iron ore,
magnetite, manganese, bauxite, graphite, limestone, dolomite, uranium
etc) are found in Adivasi areas contributing some 56% of the national
total mineral earnings in terms of value. Of the 4,175 working mines
reported by the Indian Bureau of Mines in 1991-92, approximately 3500
could be assumed to be in Adivasi areas. Income to the government from
forests rose from Rs.5.6 million in 1869-70 to more than Rs.13 billions
in the 1970s. The bulk of the nation's productive wealth lay in the
Adivasi territories. Yet the Adivasi has been driven out, marginalised
and robbed of dignity by the very process of 'national development'.
The systematic opening up
of Adivasi territories, the development projects and the 'tribal development
projects' make them conducive for waves of immigrants. In the rich mineral
belt of Jharkhand, the Adivasi population has dropped from around 60%
in 1911 to 27.67% in 1991. These developments have in turn driven out
vast numbers of Adivasis to eke out a living in the urban areas and
in far-flung places in slums. According to a rough estimate, there are
more than 40,000 tribal domestic working women in Delhi alone! In some
places, development induced migration of Adivasis to other Adivasi areas
has also led to fierce conflicts as between the Santhali and the Bodo
Constitutional privileges and welfare measures benefit only a small
minority of the Adivasis. These privileges and welfare measures are
denied to the majority of the Adivasis and they are appropriated by
more powerful groups in the caste order. The steep increase of STs in
Maharashtra in real terms by 148% in the two decades since 1971 is mainly
due to questionable inclusion, for political gains, of a number of economically
advanced groups among the backwards in the list of STs. The increase
in numbers, while it distorts the demographic picture, has more disastrous
effects. The real tribes are irretrievably pushed down in the 'access
or claim ladder' with these new entrants cornering the lion's share
of both resources and opportunities for education, social and economic
Despite the Bonded Labour
Abolition Act of 1976, Adivasis still form a substantial percentage
of bonded labour in the country.
Despite positive political,
institutional and financial commitment to tribal development, there
is presently a large scale displacement and biological decline of Adivasi
communities, a growing loss of genetic and cultural diversity and destruction
of a rich resource base leading to rising trends of shrinking forests,
crumbling fisheries, increasing unemployment, hunger and conflicts.
The Adivasis have preserved 90% of the country's biocultural diversity
protecting the polyvalent, precolonial, biodiversity friendly Indian
identity from biocultural pathogens. Excessive and indiscriminate demands
of the urban market have reduced Adivasis to raw material collectors
It is a cruel joke that people
who can produce some of India's most exquisite handicrafts, who can
distinguish hundreds of species of plants and animals, who can survive
off the forests, the lands and the streams sustainably with no need
to go to the market to buy food, are labeled as 'unskilled'. Equally
critical are the paths of resistance that many Adivasi areas are displaying:
Koel Karo, Bodh Ghat, Inchampalli, Bhopalpatnam, Rathong Chu ... big
dams that were proposed by the enlightened planners and which were halted
by the mass movements.
Such a situation has risen
because of the discriminatory and predatory approach of the mainstream
society on Adivasis and their territories. The moral legitimacy for
the process of internal colonisation of Adivasi territories and the
deliberate disregard and violations of constitutional protection of
STs has its basis in the culturally ingrained hierarchical caste social
order and consciousness that pervades the entire politico-administrative
and judicial system. This pervasive mindset is also a historical construct
that got reinforced during colonial and post-colonial India.
The term 'Criminal Tribe'
was concocted by the British rulers and entered into the public vocabulary
through the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871 under which a list of some 150
communities including Adivasis, were mischievously declared as (naturally)
'criminal'. Though this shameful act itself was repealed in 1952, the
specter of the so-called 'criminal tribes' continue to haunt these 'denotified
tribes' - the Sansi, Pardhi, Kanjar, Gujjar, Bawaria, Banjara and others.
They are considered as the first natural suspects of all petty and sundry
crimes except that they are now hauled up under the Habitual Offenders
Act that replaced the British Act! Stereotyping of numerous communities
has reinforced past discriminatory attitudes of the dominant mainstream
in an institutionalised form.
There is a whole history
of legislation, both during the pre-independence as well as post-independence
period, which was supposed to protect the rights of the Adivasis. As
early as 1879, the "Bombay Province Land Revenue Code" prohibited
transfer of land from a tribal to a non-tribal without the permission
of the authorities. The 1908 "Chotanagpur Tenancy Act" in
Bihar, the 1949 "Santhal Pargana Tenancy (Supplementary) Act",
the 1969 "Bihar Scheduled Areas Regulations", the 1955 "Rajasthan
Tenancy Act" as amended in 1956, the 1959 "MPLP Code of Madhya
Pradesh", the 1959 "Andhra Pradesh Scheduled Areas Land Transfer
Regulation" and amendment of 1970, the 1960 "Tripura Land
Revenue Regulation Act", the 1970 "Assam Land and Revenue
Act", the 1975 "Kerala Scheduled Tribes (Restriction of Transfer
of Lands and Restoration of Alienated Lands) Act" etc. are state
legislations to protect Adivasi land rights.
In Andhra for example, enquiries
on land transfer violations were made in 57,150 cases involving 245,581
acres of land, but only about 28% of lands were restored despite persistent
militant struggles. While in the case of Kerala, out of a total claim
for 9909.4522 hectares made by 8754 applicants, only 5.5% of the claims
have been restored. And this is happening in spite of favourable judicial
orders - orders which the state governments are circumventing by attempting
to dismantle the very protective legislation itself. The callous and
casual manner with which mainstream India approaches the fulfillment
of the constitutional obligations with reference to the tribes, and
the persistent attempts by the politico-administrative system to subvert
the constitution by deliberate acts of omission and commission, and
the enormous judicial tolerance towards this speak volumes on the discriminatory
approach that permeates the society with regard to the legal rights
of the Adivasis.
Race, religion and language
The absence of neat classifications of Adivasis as a homogenous social-cultural
category and the intensely fluid nature of non-Adivasis are evident
in the insuperable difficulty in arriving at a clear anthropological
definition of a tribal in India, be it in terms of ethnicity, race,
language, social forms or modes of livelihood.
The major waves of ingress
into India divide the tribal communities into Veddids, similar to the
Australian aborigines, and the Paleamongoloid Austro-Asiatic from the
north-east. The third were the Greco-Indians who spread across Gujarat,
Rajasthan and Pakistan from Central Asia. The fourth is the Negrito
group of the Andaman Islands - the Great Andamanese, the Onge, the Jarawa
and the Sentinelese who flourished in these parts for some 20,000 years
but who could well become extinct soon. The Great Andamanese have been
wiped out as a viable community with about only 30 persons alive as
are the Onges who are less than a 100.
In the mid-Indian region,
the Gond who number over 5 million, are the descendants of the dark
skinned Kolarian or Dravidian tribes and speak dialects of Austric language
family as are the Santhal who number 4 million. The Negrito and Austroloid
people belong to the Mundari family of Munda, Santhal, Ho, Ashur, Kharia,
Paniya, Saora etc. The Dravidian groups include the Gond, Oraon, Khond,
Malto, Bhil, Mina, Garasia, Pradhan etc. and speak Austric or Dravidian
family of languages. The Gujjar and Bakarwal descend from the Greco
Indians and are interrelated with the Gujjar of Gujarat and the tribes
settled around Gujranwala in Pakistan.
There are some 200 indigenous
peoples in the north-east. The Boro, Khasi, Jantia, Naga, Garo and Tripiri
belong to the Mongoloid stock like the Naga, Mikir, Apatani, Boro, Khasi,
Garo, Kuki, Karbi etc. and speak languages of the Tibeto-Burman language
groups and the Mon Khmer. The Adi, Aka, Apatani, Dafla, Gallong, Khamti,
Monpa, Nocte, Sherdukpen, Singpho, Tangsa, Wancho etc of Arunachal Pradesh
and the Garo of Meghalaya are of Tibeto-Burman stock while the Khasi
of Meghalaya belong to the Mon Khmer group. In the southern region,
the Malayali, Irula, Paniya, Adiya, Sholaga, Kurumba etc belong to the
proto-Australoid racial stock speaking dialects of the Dravidian family.
The Census of India 1991
records 63 different denominations as "other" of over 5.7
million people of which most are Adivasi religions. Though the Constitution
recognises them as a distinct cultural group, yet when it comes to religion
those who do not identify as Christians, Muslims or Buddhists are compelled
to register themselves as Hindus. Hindus and Christians have interacted
with Adivasis to civilize them, which has been defined as sanscritisation
and westernisation. However, as reflected during the 1981 census it
is significant that about 5% of the Adivasis registered their religion
by the names of their respective tribes or the names adopted by them.
In 1991 the corresponding figure rose to about 10% indicating the rising
consciousness and assertion of identity!
Though Article 350A of the
Constitution requires primary education to be imparted in mother tongue,
in general this has not been imparted except in areas where the Adivasis
have been assertive. NCERT, the state owned premier education research
centre has not shown any interest. With the neglect of Adivasi languages,
the State and the dominant social order aspire to culturally and socially
emasculate the Adivasis subdued by the dominant cultures. The Anthropological
Survey of India reported a loss of more than two-thirds of the spoken
languages, most of them tribal.
Some of the ST peoples of Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, W. Bengal,
Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram have their
counterparts across the border in China (including Tibet), Bhutan, Myanmar
and Bangladesh. The political aspirations of these transborder tribes
who find themselves living in different countries as a result of artificial
demarcation of boundaries by erstwhile colonial rulers continue to be
ignored despite the spread and proliferation of militancy, especially
in the north east, making it into a conflict zone.
The Adivasi territories have
been divided amongst the states formed on the basis of primarily the
languages of the mainstream caste society, ignoring the validity of
applying the same principle of language for the Adivasis in the formation
of states. Jharkhand has been divided amongst Bihar, West Bengal, Madhya
Pradesh and Orissa though the Bihar part of Jharkhand has now become
a separate state after decades of struggle. The Gond region has been
divided amongst Orissa, Andhra, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. Similarly
the Bhil region has been divided amongst Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh,
Gujarat and Rajasthan. In the north-east, for example, the Naga in addition
are divided into Nagaland, Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. Further
administrative sub-divisions within the states into districts, talukas
and panchayats have been organised in such a way that the tribal concentration
is broken up which furthers their marginalisation both physically and
The 1874 "Scheduled
District Act", the 1919 "Government of India Act" and
later the "Government of India Act" of 1935 classified the
hill areas as excluded and partially excluded areas where the provincial
legislature had no jurisdiction. These formed the basis for the Article
244 under which two separate schedules viz. the V Schedule and the VI
Schedule were incorporated for provision of a certain degree of self-governance
in designated tribal majority areas. However, in effect this remained
a non-starter. However, the recent legislation of the Panchayat Raj
(Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act of 1996 has raised hope of a
radical redefinition of self-governance.
By not applying the same
yard stick and norms for Adivasis as for the upper caste dominated mainstream,
by not genuinely recognizing the Adivasis' traditional self-governing
systems and by not being serious about devolving autonomy, the Indian
State and society indicates a racist and imperialist attitude.
The call for a socially homogenous
country, particularly in the hindi-hindu paradigm have suppressed tribal
languages, defiled cultures and destroyed civilisations. The creation
of a unified albeit centralised polity and the extension of the formal
system of governance have emasculated the self-governing institutions
of the Adivasis and with it their internal cohesiveness.
The struggle for the future
The conceptual vocabulary used to understand the place of Adivasis in
the modern world has been constructed on the feudal, colonial and imperialistic
notions which combines traditional and historical constructs with the
modern construct based on notions of linear scientific and technological
Historically the Adivasis,
as explained earlier, are at best perceived as sub-humans to be kept
in isolation, or as 'primitives' living in remote and backward regions
who should be "civilized". None of them have a rational basis.
Consequently, the official and popular perception of Adivasis is merely
that of isolation in forest, tribal dialect, animism, primitive occupation,
carnivorous diet, naked or semi-naked, nomadic habits, love drink and
dance. Contrast this with the self-perception of Adivasis as casteless,
classless and egalitarian in nature, community-based economic systems,
symbiotic with nature, democratic according to the demands of the times,
accommodative history and people-oriented art and literature.
The significance of their
sustainable subsistence economy in the midst of a profit oriented economy
is not recognised in the political discourse, and the negative stereotyping
of the sustainable subsistence economy of Adivasi societies is based
on the wrong premise that the production of surplus is more progressive
than the process of social reproduction in co-existence with nature.
The source of the conflicts arises from these unresolved contradictions.
With globalisation, the hitherto expropriation of rights as an outcome
of development has developed into expropriation of rights as a precondition
for development. In response, the struggles for the rights of the Adivasis
have moved towards the struggles for power and a redefinition of the
contours of state, governance and progress.
C.R.Bijoy is an activist
and a writer. During the last eighteen years he has been involved with
indigenous issues and organizations in India and is a member of the
core committee of the All India Coordinating Forum of Adivasis/Indigenous