“A book that fills a gaping hole in the literature on Adivasis”: A Rogue and Peasant Slave by Shashank Kela

The Nine Per Cent
By Stan Thekaekara

An incisive account of adivasi survival, from colonial risings to contemporary insurgencies

IS IT an anthropological study by an academic, a textbook by a historian, a political polemic by an activist or a novel? Shashank Kela’s A Rogue and Peasant Slave is all of this and more. In his preface, Kela states that the book is written more “like a novel than an academic work,” while the structure may be novelistic, the style and content are certainly not. The erudition, painstaking research and disciplined analysis leap out on every page. Kela combines the passion of an activist with the discipline of an academic to present a unique volume that not only documents the resistance of adivasis to all attempts to colonise them but also gives us a clinical but insightful analysis of the politics of adaptation and social change.

The ironic title borrowed from Hamlet’s famous soliloquy (“Oh, What a rogue and peasant slave am I!”) captures at once the non-tribal view of adivasi society — rogues, bandits and criminals, peasants at the bottommost rung of society, or slaves and bonded labourers free to be exploited as one wills. Cataloguing a history of 200 years of adivasi resistance, especially of the Bhils in five districts of western Madhya Pradesh, referred to as Nimar, Kela repeatedly challenges this view. Unlike the literature on dalits, most studies of adivasi society tend to focus on their culture (the more exotic the better) and very little is available on the economy and politics of this much maligned and marginalised nine per cent of India. […]

A Rogue and Peasant Slave fills a gaping hole in the literature on adivasis by examining the effect of changing economies and political structures on the culture and lives of the adivasis. […]

Kela challenges the emerging but current opinion of revisionist anthropologists, like Sumit Guha and Ajay Skaria, that adivasis are not distinctive and have adapted through choice, by arguing that “adaptation involves protest and endurance as well as assent”. […]

The book’s structure frees the author from the narrow confines of academic writing and especially in the second part, we are treated to Kela’s storytelling skills. While the first part is the product of painstaking research, the second draws heavily from the author’s personal journey among the Bhils of Madhya Pradesh and his understanding of politics of adivasis across the country. If the first part was a journey in time, the second is a journey through geography and communities. Touching on struggles of the Adivasi Gothra Mahasabha in Wayanad, Kerala, to that of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland, Kela chronicles post-Independence struggles and analyses the different approaches and their impact. This, coupled with an in-depth analysis of the approach of the modern Indian state results in a unique and insightful political commentary. […]

Currently a drama is being played out with two contradictory approaches of the Indian state. On the one hand, the enactment of the Forest Rights Act seeks to give tribal gram sabhas control over their forest resources. On the other, there is the push for the extraction of coal and other minerals (nearly all of which are in adivasi forest areas) in the name of development and economic growth — read global capital. […]

The writer co-founded ACCORD in the ’70s, which fights for the rights of indigenous people in south India

Source: Stan Thekaekara, Indian Express, 5 January 2013
Address : http://epaper.indianexpress.com/80099/Indian-Express/05-January-2013#page/21/2
Date Visited: Sat Apr 06 2013 19:25:32 GMT+0200 (CEST)

Learn more about ACCORD – Action for Community Organisation, Rehabilitation and Development >>

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