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%).

Tribes of India: The Struggle for Survival
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summary, table of contents and link for free download

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: http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/49749d14c.html 
Date accessed: 11 November 2019


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More about this book and its author,
Prof. Ganesh Devy >>

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. | Learn more >>

A Nomad Called Thief: Reflections on Adivasi Silence and Voice by GN Devy

Publications on the above issues may be found here (title descriptions and libraries):

Search for an item in libraries near you:
WorldCat.org >>

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

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