ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

Articles By Bhangya Bhukya

Unveiling the World of the Nomadic Tribes and Denotified Tribes: An Introduction

31 August 2021 marks the 69th year of the repeal of the Criminal Tribes Act, 1871. This act was the most draconian law passed by the British colonial state, under which millions of nomadic and semi-nomadic communities were declared criminals and put under continuous surveillance, making their lives impossible. 31 August is celebrated as Vimukta Jatis day in India by the de-notified tribal communities. After denotification in 1952, about 200 communities were included in Scheduled Tribe (ST), Scheduled Caste (SC) and Other Backward Caste lists because they come from diverse social backgrounds. While they mainly come from nomadic communities, these communities are not homogeneous. All nomadic tribes (NTs) are not de-notified tribes (DNTs), but all DNTs are NTs. Given the historically embedded diversities between the NTs and DNTs, it is difficult to treat them as a homogeneous social group or an analytical category (Renke 2008: 8–20). They are fluid categories which often cross boundaries from one social group to another.

The Lost Ground

The Adivasis of India have a long history of collective community rights over forest resources and land. The colonial state revenue and forest regulations replaced these community collective rights with the individual property rights, which ceased Adivasi free access to resources and evicted them from their land by force. To undo the historical wrongs, the postcolonial state had intervened with a programme of “right approach” under which Adivasi rights over forest resources and land was ensured. But, this was again stalled by its institutions and legal system. Thus, we need to think about Adivasi collective rights beyond the state legal framework which can ensure them free use of resources in forests and hills.

Browsing through 51 Years of EPW | The Mapping of the Adivasi Social: Colonial Anthropology and Adivasis

During the colonial era, a range of disparate groups that lived for the most part in the more inaccessible hill and forest tracts, and survived largely from hunting and gathering or rudimentary swidden agriculture, were categorised by the British as “aboriginals” or “early tribes”. They were distinguished by their clan-based systems of kinship and their “animistic” religious beliefs. Sometimes, they were defined in terms of their habitat, as “jungle tribes”. In this way, a category was created, and a body of knowledge produced, about the so-called “tribes of India”.

The Mapping of the Adivasi Social: Colonial Anthropology and Adivasis

The construction of textual knowledge about Indian communities in the colonial milieu resulted in an extensive literature on almost all communities that was not only used as a source of legal and general administration but also to establish colonial domination. In this process the adivasis of India were constructed apposite to civilised society, therefore a distinct society. Unfortunately, post-colonial scholarship did not decolonise this colonial construction of adivasi society