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HISTORICAL AND SOCIAL CONTEXT

India’s indigenous communities are commonly known as Adivasi (“original inhabitants”), a term introduced in the early 20th century and subject to debate ever since: official reports and documents refer to them as “Scheduled tribes” (ST), for instance the Indian Constitution and other legal documents that list “Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups” (PVTG). Some of the nomadic and semi-nomadic tribes continue to suffer from the stigma imposed on them by British colonial administrators (“criminality by birth”) that served to justify exploitation, violent oppression, exclusion, and forced migration; and on several occasions also as a means of suppressing revolts in the face of such exploitative practices that still affect many tribal communities today (“adverse inclusion” and “bonded labour”):

The authors of a “Report and Recommendations of the Technical Advisory Group” (Bhasharesearch.org 2006) speak of “the suffering of countless innocent people, caused by social stigma just as discrimination: disadvantages that render them vulnerable to social exclusion or exploitation on an enormous scale, particularly children and women”. 

Even if this has led to some helpful initiatives by government institutions and NGOs of varying scope and success, access to proper education remains a formidable stumbling stone for India’s “tribal” youth:

“While benefiting from affirmative action in some cases, Adivasis or indigenous people in India also feel the claustrophobic confines of their identity which has been imposed on them by others, be it the colonial administrator, the colonial anthropologist, the missionary or the neo-liberal, neo-imperialist forces that rule global economy today.” – Dr. Ivy Hansdak in “Inaugural Speech for the National Conference” (Tribes In Transition-II” 2017)

THE FUTURE

Since the advent of the digital era, tribals are asserting themselves not only through oral narratives but in written and visual mediums as well. Here I would like to give three examples to show how tribals are judiciously using digital platforms to reach out.” – Santal writer Sunder Manoj Hembrom in Preserving Tribal Memory through New Forms of Orality in the Digital Era (conference paper delivered during Tribes in Transition-III: “Preserving Tribal Memory through New Forms of Orality in the Digital Era”, New Delhi 22 September 2021)

The goal is to prepare some model students in our villages, so that others will be inspired to follow them.” – Santal educationist Dr. Boro Baski

This cultural revival is crucial for the survival of the adivasi world view, the only truly sustainable lifestyle when the world is looking desperately for solutions to save the earth. […] All of us can learn from them. And it’s about time we started.” – Journalist Mari Marcel Thekaekara in “Adivasi people: proud not primitive” (New Internationalist, 15 July 2013)

The smart boy or clever girl who is deprived of the opportunity of schooling, or who goes to a school with dismal facilities (not to mention the high incidence of absentee teachers), not only loses the opportunities he or she could have had, but also adds to the massive waste of talent that is a characteristic of the life of our country.” – Nobel Awardee Amartya Sen in The Argumentative Indian(Penguin Books, 2005), p. 344

The tribal world and the tribal way is complete in itself.” – Mahasweta Devi quoted by Gopalkrishna Gandhi in “Swearing by Mahasweta” (The Hindu, 6 August 2016)

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