Tribal Politics – adivasi culture, language, and religion in Encyclopedia of India

“The tribal culture at its best provides a living example of the Gandhian concept of trusteeship” – Lachman Khubchandani in Indigenous Peoples: Responding to Human Ecology >>

Tribal Politics

The “tribal” peoples or adivasis of India, according to the 2001 census, constitute roughly 8.1 percent of the country’s population, some 83,6 million people, classified under 461 different communities. They occupy a belt stretching from the Bhil regions of western India through the Gond districts of central India, to Jharkhand and Bengal, where the Mundas, Oraons, and Santals predominate.  There are also pockets of tribal communities in the south like the Chenchus, Todas, and Kurumbas, and very small endangered communities in the Andamans, like Jarawas, Onge, and Sentinelese. Northeast-India contains another major portion of the tribal population, including the different Naga subtribes, Khasis, Garos, Mizos, Kukis, Bodos, and others. The intellectual, political, and administrative rationale for treating all these communities together under a single  “tribal” rubric remains unclear. […]

The “tribal question” in central India has traditionally been posed in two ways by academics and policy makers: the question of differentiating between tribes and castes on the one hand, and tribes and peasants on the other; and the question of how best to improve what is universally seen as a poverty-stricken condition among tribals. […] – p. 184

Given the desperate situation in which many of the central Indian adivasis live, survival issues have usually dominated over identity questions. Competitive proselytization by Christian and Hindu groups has also served to reduce the space for the expression of an autonomous adivasi culture, language, and religion. In recent years, while some adivasi communities have been mobilized by Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) political forces […], others have attempted to revive traditional adivasi religions like the sarna dharm (sacred grove religion). – p. 187

Source: Nandini Sundar [transcript] in Encyclopedia of India by Stanley Wolpert (Editor in chief). Macmillan-Scribners-Gale. New York, 2006.[Vol. 4, pp. 184-188] isbn 0684313499

Usage in legal and historical records

“[A] common perception of conversion, prevalent in India, is that all conversions take place only among deprived lower caste or tribal groups, which are considered more susceptible to allurement or coercion. The reality of upper caste conversions is ignored in this climate of cynicism.”– Dr. Ivy Imogene Hansdak in Pandita Ramabai Saraswati: the convert as ‘heretic’More about the effects of “casteism” >>

Tribal rights in land and forest should be respected
Jawaharlal Nehru on five principles for the policy to be pursued vis-a-vis the tribals >>
Photo © Indian Express

Nandini Sundar (born 1967) is a professor of sociology at the Delhi School of Economics and a social anthropologist with contributions toward understanding of environmental struggles (particularly in Central India), of the impact of central and state government policies on tribal politics, and the intersection of tribal movements with law and order, bureaucracy, and social structures in Central India.

Professor Sundar is a recipient of the Infosys Prize for Social Sciences in 2010 for her contributions as an analyst of social identities, including tribe and caste, and the politics of knowledge in modern India. She was also awarded the Ester Boserup Prize for Development Research in 2016 […]

Source: Nandini Sundar – Wikipedia
Date Visited: Fri Mar 17 2017 12:03:33 GMT+0100 (CET)

The people among the tribal communities who get into ‘the mainstream’ of Indian society by landing a job after some education are in a small minority. They are made to feel inferior by the major communities in governmental or commercial administration. […] 

Only a few are genuinely proud of their own culture, understand its roots and want to bring about some rapprochement between its traditions and the requirements of modernity.” 

Source: “Hands off tribal culture” (Guest Column, India Today, 9 January 2014)
Date accessed: 5 July 2021

What I wanted to do was to make people, for whom Indian democracy and institutions mean something, think about the places where it fails so utterly and completely, and how their own lives are connected to these other citizens. […]

In Bastar, sexual violence has been deployed as a weapon of war. But it has received scant attention in reportage, policy and commentary, so much so that authorities deny it exists. […]

Source: “Nandini Sundar: Militarization of the imagination”: Interview by Chitrangada Choudhury (Livemint, 10 October 2016)
Date Visited: 11 July 2021

Adivasi concerns caste while Sarna is about religious affinity.” – Jharkhand tribal lawmaker Bandhu Tirkey explaining his opposition to a so-called “Sarna/Adivasi” code during a special Assembly session (The Telegraph) | Adivasi / Adibasi | Worship and rituals >>

Find scholarly books, poetry and fiction relating to tribal culture – Indian publishers

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Max Müller
Friedrich Max Müller
Stamp 1972: Wikipedia >>

In many ways, the 19th-century ‘science of religion’ invented what it purported to describe. According to its theorists, religion was an ancient, eternal fact of human existence, and the study of it was as old as the philosophical schools of Greece, enshrined by Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. […]

If Gandhi assassination was the nations original sin, secularism was its atonement. As Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru strove to purge religion from the political sphere, building what would become the world’s largest democracy. […]

In the midst of the fratricide wrought by the barbed edges of faiths, the Prime Minister preached tolerance of all spiritual proclivities, rather than the eradication of religion itself. India’s constitution, Adopted in 1949, enshrined the freedom to practice and preach religion as a fundamental right. For his own part, Nehru would maintain that he abhorred ‘organized religion’, a phrase that dated back only to the mid-nineteenth century. ‘Almost always it seemed to stand for blind belief and reaction, dogma and bigotry, superstition and exploitation’, Nehru recalled in his Autobiography. […]

Although it might have seemed, for Nehru and others, as though secularism should point the way to an inevitable death of religions, it has led only to the empowerment of a religiously extreme core. […]

With [Chief Minister] Modi’s approval, the Gujarat state board published school textbooks glorifying the earlier avatar of Vishnu, Hitler; chapters exalt Nazi ideology and portrayed the Führer as a model of good leadership. Translations of Mein Kampf became required reading for business school students. In 2014, after Modi became Prime Minister, the Hindutva faithful began a campaign to apotheosize Gandhi‘s assassin, Nathuram Godse, by consecrating view holidays, constructing idols, and attempting to build a temple to the executed criminal.

Source: Anna Della Subin in Accidental Gods: On Men Unwittingly Turned Divine (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2021), pp. 174-5, 282 & 296

[Bold typeface added above for emphasis]

The Santals are one of the largest homogenous indigenous peoples group in India […] They have no temples, nor images to worship and no fixed place to worship in; no holy mountains and no sacred rivers for pilgrimages and yet they hold an unassailable religious faith which can be traced through the tradition of the creation narrative, through their festivals, their cleansing ceremonies performed during their birth, wedding, and death, and through their belief in the continuation of life after death | Santal customs >>

See also

Adverse inclusion | Casteism | Rural poverty


Crafts and visual arts

Demographic Status of Scheduled Tribe Population of India (Census figures 2011)

Denotified Tribes, Nomadic and Semi-Nomadic Tribes – Report and Recommendations (Technical Advisory Group)

Fact checking | Figures, census and other statistics

Human Rights Commission (posts) | (Government of India)

Imprisonment & rehabilitation

Search tips | Names of tribal communities, regions and states of India

State wise population of Scheduled Tribes (ST) and their percentage to the total population in the respective states and to the total STs population

“What are the Rights of Scheduled Tribes? – Government of India (National Commission for Scheduled Tribes, NCST)

“What is the Forest Rights Act about?” – Campaign for Survival and Dignity

“Who are Scheduled Tribes?” – Government of India (National Commission for Scheduled Tribes, NCST)