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

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 (Telegraph, 8 November 2020)

More about Adivasi / Adibasi | Worship and rituals >>
“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 | Download this and related books on >>

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 in Encyclopedia of India by Stanley Wolpert, Editor in chief. Macmillan-Scribners-Gale. New York, 2006.[Vol. 4, pp. 184-188] isbn 0684313499

Jawaharlal Nehru >>
Photo © Indian Express

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 >>

Nandini Sundar (born 1967) is a professor of sociology at the Delhi School of Economics [1] 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.[2] 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

[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 drivers 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 >>

See also


Research the above issues with the help of Shodhganga: A reservoir of theses from universities all over India, made available under Open Access >>

  • Find more resources by typing “tribal question India”, “Adivasi proselytization”, “tribes and castes policy”, “sarna dharm”, or any combination of keywords on related projects across India here: Search select periodicals >>
  • Find the Encyclopedia of India and other publications by Nandini Sundar on related subjects in the search field seen below


Search for an item in libraries near you: >>

Related posts

About website administrator

Secretary of the foundation
This entry was posted in Accountability, Adivasi / Adibasi, Adverse inclusion, Anthropology, Assimilation, Bastar, Colonial policies, De- and re-tribalisation, Ecology and environment, Endangered language, Figures, census and other statistics, Government of India, Misconceptions, Modernity, Names and communities, Nilgiri, Organizations, Press snippets, Quotes, Revival of traditions, Rural poverty, Sacred grove, Tribal identity, Women, Worship and rituals and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.