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Adivasis is the collective name used for the many indigenous peoples of India. The term Adivasi derives from the Hindi word ‘adi’ which means of earliest times or from the beginning and ‘vasi’ meaning inhabitant or resident, and it was coined in the 1930s, largely a consequence of a political movement to forge a sense of identity among the various indigenous peoples of India.
Officially Adivasis are termed scheduled tribes, but this is a legal and constitutional term, which differs from state to state and area to area, and therefore excludes some groups who might be considered indigenous.
Adivasis are not a homogeneous group; there are over 200 distinct peoples speaking more than 100 languages, and varying greatly in ethnicity and culture. However, there are similarities in their way of life and generally perceived oppressed position within Indian society. According to the official Census held in 2001, Adivasis constitute 8 per cent of the nation’s total population, over 84 million people.
Unofficial figures vary significantly but represent a much higher proportion of India’s population. Adivasis live throughout India but are primarily based in the mountain and hill areas, away from the fertile plains. According to the 2001 census, the greatest concentration is in Chattisgrah (38%), Jharkahand (26%) Madhya Pradesh (20%), Orisssa (22%), Andhra Pradesh (6%) Gujarat (15%) Rajastahan (12%), Maharashtra (9%) and Bihar (0.9%).
Adivasis, as their name reflects, are the earliest inhabitants of the subcontinent and once inhabited much larger areas than they do at present. Little is known of their history, although it appears that many were pushed into the hill areas after the invasions of the Indo-Aryan tribes 3,000 years ago. Indigenous peoples were not integrated into Hindu caste society, but there were many points of contact. Indigenous religious beliefs contain many aspects of Hinduism (and vice versa); Adivasis traded with settled villagers on the plains and sometimes paid tribute to Hindu rulers. In turn some Adivasi rulers conquered and ruled over non-Adivasis and some Adivasis permanently settled and entered caste society.
It was not until the unifying political rule of the British from the late eighteenth century that the government made substantial inroads into Adivasi society. British rule brought money, government officials and moneylenders into indigenous areas, beginning the process of encroachment on Adivasi land by outsiders. […]
Source: World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples
Date visited: 26 June 2020
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Communities at risk
Assamese, Bodos, Nagas, Tripuras, other Adivasis, Kashmiris, Sikhs, Muslims, Dalits
India ranked 54th in 2020’s Peoples under Threat index, the same rank as last year’s. Read more >>
Source: “India: Communities at risk”, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples
Date visited: 26 June 2020
“Adivasi and “tribal” are not interchangeable as explained by Dr. Ivy Hansdak:
“Tribal” is a very broad term in the English language, as we all know, and includes all the different indigenous groups of India.
“Adivasi” – which is derived from Sanskrit – is applied to the dark-skinned or Austro-Asiatic indigenous groups of India (usually those from Eastern India). It is a commonly-used term in Jharkhand, Bihar, West Bengal and Odisha. It is also used by the local Mongoloid tribes of North Eastern India for the migrant workers who were brought in as indentured labourers to work in tea plantations during the colonial period.
Source: personal message (email dated 27 March 2020)
- State wise population of Scheduled Tribes (ST) and their percentage to the total population in the respective states and to the total STs population
- “Who are Scheduled Tribes?”: Clarifications by the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes – Government of India
Research the above issues with the help of Shodhganga: A reservoir of theses from universities all over India, made available under Open Access >>
In 1871, the British passed the “Criminal Tribes Act.” It notified about 150 tribes around India as criminal, giving the police wide powers to arrest them and monitor their movements. The effect of this law was simple: just being born into one of those 150 tribes made you a criminal. – “ Vicious cycle by Dilip D’Souza | Read the full article in the Folio special issue of the Hindu “Adivasi“ >>
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