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

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Adivasi Identity and Livelihoods in Contemporary India

Rethinking Tribe in Indian Context: Realities, Issues and Challenges edited by Bidhan Kanti Das and Rajat Kanti Das, Jaipur: Rawat Publications; pp xiv + 230, 895. 

Adivasis in India: Resources, Livelihoods and Institutions edited by Kailash Sarap and Venkatanarayana Motkuri, New Delhi: Bloomsbury; pp xviii + 279, 999.

Every once in a while, news of simmering anger and discontent travels to metropolitan India from regions that are otherwise only known for their abundant natural resources, the absence of vikas and the poverty of their residents. Most recently, there was the Pathalgadi movement in Jharkhand, where Adivasi villagers declared self-rule by erecting stone monuments and insisting on self-governance as per the Fifth Schedule provisions of the Constitution. There are also ongoing agitations by Adivasi students and youth in Telangana, demanding the exclusion of one community (the Lambadas) from the official list of Scheduled Tribes (STs) in the state. These are periodic reminders that despite constitutional protections and affirmative action, all is not well with the 100 million people in the country who are variously known as tribes, indigenous communities or Adivasis. Indeed, there is considerable evidence to suggest that Adivasis remain at the lowest rungs of the social hierarchy and fare even worse than Dalits (Scheduled Castes) and other marginalised groups in terms of human development.

There is a continuing need for policymakers, academics and civil society organisations to engage with the “Adivasi question,” that is, the cross-cutting themes of land and forest, economy and culture, identity and collective action that shape the lives of more than 700 communities. The two volumes under review are recent additions to a rich body of academic work on the Adivasi question, most notably from the disciplines of anthropology, sociology and history. Scholarship on Adivasi communities has been historically intertwined with state-making projects; the first tribal ethnologies were produced by administrators and military officials when the colonial state was seeking to expand its rule over frontier areas of central and north-eastern India. The work of nationalist anthropologists like Verrier Elwin, G S Ghurye and Nirmal Kumar Bose in the 1940s and 1950s, shaped the contours of the “integration-or-isolation” debate and influenced the state’s “tribal policy”. The fracturing of the “Nehruvian consensus” in the 1980s and new social movements around dams, displacement, and resource rights, forced scholars to critically re-examine the long history of tribal rebellions and insurgencies. With interventions like the Subaltern Studies Group, the Adivasi emerged as the quintessential “primordial rebel,” resisting the depredations of state and capitalist modernity. It is in this vein that much of the scholarship on Adivasis has focused on their status as “victims” of state developmental policies or as “agents” participating in social change through movements and collective action. There is emerging evidence that different groups within Adivasi communities—youth, women, farmers, migrant labourers, forest produce collectors—are engaging with the state and with a rapidly transforming rural and urban economy with heterogeneous outcomes (Chandra 2016). Contributions to the literature must be judged in terms of their engagement with theory as well as their ability to draw connections with changing empirical realities.

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Updated On : 31st Jul, 2018

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