From Adivasi and Scheduled Tribes to Indigenous Peoples: “Tribes In Transition-II: Reaffirming Indigenous Identity Through Narrative” (National Conference) – New Delhi

Parallel Session 3: The ‘Tribe’ defined in Social Sciences

Chaired by: Prof. Bipin Jojo, TISS, Mumbai

Paper Presenters: Shreya Jessica Dhan (JNU, New Delhi), Anu Krishnan (TISS, Mumbai), Pradyumna Bag (JMI, New Delhi), Evy Mehzabeen (JNU, New Delhi).

Shreya Jessica Dhan, in her paper “Defining the ‘Tribe’ in State Discourse: From Adivasi and Scheduled Tribe to Indigenous Peoples”, pointed out the problematic construction of ‘tribe’ in sociological discourse that has worked to the disadvantage of its members. The nation-state’s changing definition of the ‘tribal’ is informed by certain stereotypes or prejudices, by preserving the tribal identity, in an implicit manner, as being ‘barbaric’ and ‘uncivilised’. The tribal worldview has never been taken cognizance of, while working out the definition of ‘tribe’ and, instead, there is imposition of certain state-sanctioned identity whereby the tribal’s identity-crisis is magnified.

Anu Krishnan, in her paper “Plantation Development and Tribes: Experiences of Expropriation of Land, History and Identity-A Case of Mannans”, argued that owing to old colonial practices of ‘plantation’, the indigenous Mannan people lost their land and were rendered dependents on the activities pertaining to cultivation of cardamom. The ‘development’ of their land as cardamom plantation continued even after Independence; the colonial model of plantation development was in totality adopted by the nation-state, and it marked a cultural onslaught on the tribal people. The development model alienated tribals from their land, their culture and diluted their worldview. In the second part of her presentation, she focussed on the resistance offered by the Mannan tribe through their oral literature. The retaliation to the ‘development’ model was highlighted as exhibited in the folk traditions.

Pradyumna Bag, in his paper “Denial of Differences: Examining the Marginalisation of Tribal Cultures and Languages”, highlighted the process of homogenisation and assimilation that has neglected the differences in the identity of various tribes. He also pointed out that the dominant structures have appropriated certain identities which are best suited, and other identities are excluded from the gambit of their discourse; the structures thus imposed to understand tribal identities marginalise a large section of the populace that do not fit in the identity matrix. He also argued the approach to understand ‘tribe/tribal’ within the social structure of Hinduism is doomed to fail because the religion is itself a conglomeration of various schools of thought, often contradictory to each other.

Evy Mehzabeen, in her paper, “The Tribe against Itself: Narratives of Ethnicity and Othering of the Bodos and Adivasis in Bodoland”, examined the dominant narratives of/on Bodos and pointed that Bodos are taken to be the indigenous people of the land and thus allowed free access to forest and natural resources, and other ‘Adivasis’ are constructed as ‘outsiders’ who do not belong to the land and are not allowed the same access. The narrative ties one tribe to the land and disenfranchises the other from its natural resources. The politics of hegemony thus manifested is centred on the belongingness to a piece of territory where tribal identity is constructed and defined to negotiate the access to forest and land of every tribal community. She also examined the problematic of belonging to a territory which also gives a cue about the politic of disowning and marginalising people.

(Student Rapporteur: Ms. Kanu Priya)

[Bold typeface added above for emphasis]

Source: Report for the ICSSR-sponsored Two-Day National Conference Tribes In Transition-II: Reaffirming Indigenous Identity Through Narrative organised by The Department of English & Outreach Programme Jamia Millia Islamia (New Delhi, 27-28 February 2017)

Courtesy Dr. Ivy Hansdak, Assistant Professor, Department of English, Jamia Millia Islamia University New Delhi (email 4 October 2017)

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