eBook | Adivasi: A definition coined in the 1930s and related information – World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples

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%).

Historical context
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. – Read more >>

Source: Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples – India: Adivasis, 2008, available at:
URL: https://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/49749d14c.html 
Date accessed: 31 July 2020

[Bold typeface added above for emphasis]

[E]ngaging with the writing of anthropologists writing about tribes is a call to tribal conscience to address these [writers] head-on, without fear, as a way of setting records straight and challenging the primitivism they’ve thrown at us as exotic uncultivated people. This is finally exercising our agency to assert our true identities; a way to liberate the image and reputation of our ancestors and ourselves that has been chained to dehumanization by these writings’ imposed impressions of us.

Source: Ruby Hembrom (founder-director of Adivaani.org—a publisher of Adivasi writing), quoted by Richard Kamei (doctoral candidate at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai) in “Uncivilising the Mind: How anthropology shaped the discourse on tribes in India” (Caravan Magazine, 1 March 2020)
URL: https://caravanmagazine.in/books/anthropologists-tribes-india
Date visited: 22 March 2021

“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 >>

See also

Related posts

Tips for using interactive maps

  1. toggle to normal view (from reader view) should the interactive map not be displayed by your tablet, smartphone or pc browser
  2. for details and hyperlinks click on the rectangular button (left on the map’s header)
  3. scroll and click on one of the markers for information of special interest
  4. explore India’s tribal cultural heritage with the help of another interactive map >>

About website administrator

Secretary, Tribal Cultural Heritage in India Foundation (2010-2022)
This entry was posted in Adivasi / Adibasi, Adverse inclusion, Anthropology, eBook eJournal ePaper, FAQ, Figures, census and other statistics, History, Languages and linguistic heritage, Misconceptions, Organizations, Quotes, Resources, Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Scheduled Tribe (ST), Tribal identity. Bookmark the permalink.