Continuation of colonial-era forest laws and mass evictions: Historical displacement of tribals from forests – Forest Rights Act

Nitin Sethi, The Wire, 15 February 2019

State governments would have to undertake mass evictions if the court accepts a petition filed by wildlife groups. […]  

If the court accepts the plea of petitioners, state governments would have to undertake mass evictions. The union ministry for tribal affairs estimates that by the end of November 2018, out of the 4.2 million claims received, 1.94 million claims have been rejected. As many as 1.89 million claimants have actually got titles over their traditional forestlands.  […]  

New Delhi: The Supreme Court has ordered states to report what action they have been taken against tribals and forest-dwellers whose claims to forestlands have been rejected under the Forest Rights Act. | Read the full article >>

“It is worth noting that it is unimaginable to think of tribes as landless, as land and forest have been traditionally their life support system.” – Read an excerpt from Being Adivasi: Existence, Entitlements, Exclusion on | Find a copy in India >>
Worldcat library information: Virginius Xaxa & G.N. Devy >>

“There are no official records of evictions in India, but data collected by the advocacy group Housing and Land Rights Network showed the government destroyed at least six homes and forcibly evicted 30 people each hour in India in 2017. [The villagers] have vivid recollections of the forests they grew up in and the land that fed them.” –Learn more: “Enslaved for decades, indigenous Indians freed by land titles” >>

Several provisions have been made for the protection and welfare of the tribal people. Prominent among them are affirmative action programmes, on which crores of rupees have been spent by the government since Independence. […]

There is hardly any doubt that such projects bring about development and contribute to economic growth. The irony is that the benefits of such development have hardly accrued to people who have made possible these projects by their sacrifice. […]

It is worth noting that it is unimaginable to think of tribes as landless, as land and forest have been traditionally their life support system. However, by 1993-94, as many as 48 per cent had begun to be enumerated as rural-labour households, which was much higher compared to 30 per cent for the non-tribal population. Further, the size of wage labour has been much higher in central India than in the North-eastern region.

In fact, the integration of tribes has been seen as the panacea of their problems. However, if one looks at the nature of integration, one finds that the relationship between tribes and non-tribes and even the state, has been overwhelmingly interspersed with exploitation, domination and discrimination, which is conveniently overlooked.

Source: Excerpt from an essay by Virginius Xaxa, from ‘Being Adivasi’, edited by Abhay Xaxa and Ganesh N Devy, Scroll, 7 January 2022
Date Visited: 7 January 2022

Also read: Wildlife and Forest Rights Groups Have Shared Interests. Why Don’t They Work Together?

The Health of Indigenous Populations in South Asia

Despite South Asia’s promising social inclusion processes, staggering social and health inequalities leave indigenous populations largely excluded. Marginalization in the South Asian polity, unequal power relations, and poor policy responses deter Adivasi populations’ rights and opportunities for health gains and dignity. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is likely to result in a disproportionate share of infections and deaths among the Adivasis, given poor social conditions and exclusions. Poor health of indigenous people, inequalities between indigenous and non-indigenous groups, and failures in enforcing constitutional and legal provisions to reclaim indigenous land and cultural identity herald deeper structural and political fractures. This article unravels health inequalities between the Adivasis and non-Adivasi populations in their social context based on a critical review of secondary sources. We call for intersectoral policies and integrated health care services to address systemic inequalities, discrimination, power asymmetries, and consequent poor health outcomes. The current COVID-19 pandemic should be viewed as a window to pursue real change.

COVID 19, health inequalities, indigenous/Adivasi health, social determinants, South Asia, subaltern populations […]

Eviction and Land Alienation
In post-colonial South Asia’s social settings of unequal power relations, enforced eviction of Adivasi populations from their sociocultural habitat by the state and private-interest groups without fair dialogue, collective consent, or compensation, often through forgery and fraudulence, has been a continuous saga. When the colonial administration introduced new land revenue settlement, it transformed the customary collective land rights of Adivasis, favored infringement of land by the state and settlers, accelerated deforestation and destruction of the natural environment, and relegated Adivasis to migrant laborers. The post-independent states in South Asia occupied tribal land for military and security reasons, natural resource extraction, and development projects; leased land to corporations; and created zoning regulations to protect industry and private interests. In addition to the destitution caused by ecological devastation, the development projects—industry, hydraulics (dams and irrigation), infrastructure (roads, railways), mining, and plantations—led to massive, enforced displacement and migration in South Asia. […]

Source: “The Health of Indigenous Populations in South Asia: A Critical Review in a Critical Time” (free access in SAGE Journals, August 2020) by Chundankuzhiyil Ulahannan Thresia, Prashanth Nuggehalli Srinivas, Katia Sarla Mohindra, Chettiparambil Kumaran Jagadeesan
Date Visited: 25 October 2021

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Usage in legal and historical records

Ādivāsi [ādibāsi] may be used in accordance with local conventions; and increasingly so for official purposes (e.g. in “Conserving Tradition and Practices of Adivasi Communities in India” published on; Dr. Ivy Hansdak clarifies:

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. ‘Tribal’ is a very broad term in the English language and includes all the different indigenous groups of India. The terms ‘indigenous’ and ‘aboriginal’ are not used often as the government claims most groups are indigenous in India. ‘Denotified Tribes’ is only used for those nomadic tribes who were notified as ‘criminal tribes’ during the British Raj [colonial rule]; later they were ‘denotified’ but still bear the stigma.” (emails dated 2020 & 2023)

“Tribal groups (adivasis) in India have often been excluded, marginalized and oppressed by ‘mainstream’ society. In many ways this exclusion, marginalization and oppression is fostered by the way in which ‘mainstream’ society looks at the adivasis – as exotic, dangerous, or ‘primitive’ others.” – Ganesh [G.N.] Devy in A Nomad Called Thief: Reflections on Adivasi Silence and Voice | Classifications in different states >>

“Tribals are subject to oppression and cruelty even after independence and still picked up by the investigating officers to cover up shoddy investigations.” – D.Y. Chandrachud (Chief Justice of India since 9 November 2022) quoted in “Members of De-Notified Tribes Picked Up to Cover Up Shoddy Investigations” | Learn more >>

“Since the Indian Constitution uses the term ‘Scheduled Tribes’ or ‘tribals’ to refer to indigenous communities in India and the colloquial reference used by several indigenous communities themselves is ‘adivasis’ these two terms shall be used interchangeably.” – Rebecca S . David in “An analysis of the impact of the Forest Rights Act (2006) in three states of India” (MPhil University of Cambridge, UK, 2014), p. 1 | Learn more | Classifications in different states >>

“Adivasis are not a homogeneous group; there are over 200 distinct peoples speaking more than 100 languages, and varying greatly in ethnicity and culture.” – Source: World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples – India | Learn more | Classifications in different states >>

Up-to-date reports by Indian journalists and commentators

To search Indian periodicals, magazines, web portals and other sources safely, click here. To find an Indian PhD thesis on a particular tribal community, region and related issues, click here >>

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A Nomad Called Thief:
Reflections on Adivasi Silence and Voice by Ganesh [G.N.] Devy | Publications >>

A call for harnessing the potential of Denotified Tribes, Nomadic and Semi-Nomadic Tribes for national development: “India’s labour force must be liberated from an abhorrent colonial doctrine (‘criminality by birth’)” – Report and Recommendations of the Technical Advisory Group | “Adivasi”, “Tribals” and “Denotified tribes” (classifications in different states) >>

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

Tip: click on any red marker for details on endangered languages in a particular region of India.
Please note: the facts and figures cited (via hyperlinks) links call for updates and fact checking >>
Cultural invisibility – India’s 600 potentially endangered languages | Linguistic Survey of India (official website) >>