Adivasis of India -
A History of Discrimination, Conflict,
-- By C.R. Bijoy, Core Committee of the All India Coordinating Forum of
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'.
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.
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.
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, also further provided legitimacy to this.
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
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.
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.
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.
in the process of economic, cultural and ecological change, Adivasis have
attached themselves to caste groups in a peripheral manner, and the process
of de-tribalisation 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
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
The British Crown's dominions in India consisted of four political arrangements:
the Presidency Areas where the Crown was supreme,
Residency Areas where the British Crown was present through the Resident
and the Ruler of the realm was subservient to the Crown,
Agency (Tribal) areas where the Agent governed in the name of the Crown
but left the local self-governing institutions untouched and
Excluded Areas (north-east) where the representatives of the Crown were
a figure head.
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 autonomy.
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.
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 Schedule
V of 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.
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
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
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.
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 in Assam.
Internal colonialism 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.
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
bio-cultural diversity protecting the polyvalent, precolonial, biodiversity
friendly Indian identity from bio-cultural 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
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
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.
Fragmentation 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 trans-border
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 politically.
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
The call for a socially homogenous country, particularly in the Hindi
Hindu paradigm have suppressed tribal languages, defiled cultures and
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 progress.
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.