What’s in a name?
India’s tribal population is as diverse as the country itself. The English word “tribe” appears to be appropriate here.
Some of the local Indian terms, on the other hand, may have connotations that are hard to gauge for outsiders (e.g. the political agenda underlying the introduction of “vanavasi” for adivasi).
For this reason, we have decided to use the words “tribe” and “tribal cultural heritage” in a respectful manner; and wherever possible, specify the name by which members of any particular community refer to themselves. In this context, it is helpful to take the following discussion into account:
A question of identity
According to the UN the most fruitful approach is to identify, rather than define indigenous peoples. This is based on the fundamental criterion of self-identification as underlined in a number of human rights documents.
The term “indigenous” has prevailed as a generic term for many years. In some countries, there may be preference for other terms including tribes, first peoples/nations, aboriginals, ethnic groups, adivasi, janajati. Occupational and geographical terms like hunter-gatherers, nomads, peasants, hill people, etc., also exist and for all practical purposes can be used interchangeably with “indigenous peoples”.
In many cases, the notion of being termed “indigenous” has negative connotations and some people may choose not to reveal or define their origin. Others must respect such choices, while at the same time working against the discrimination of indigenous peoples.
Source: United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
Date Visited: 26 June 2019
Note: if no longer accessible via the above hyperlink, read or download the full text of the Factsheet published by the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues from the present website here >>
“Adivasi [adibasi] – 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, as we all know, and includes all the different indigenous groups of India.” – Dr. Ivy Hansdak (email dated 27 March 2020) | “Who are Scheduled Tribes?” (National Commission for Scheduled Tribes) | Classifications in different states >>
- Adivasi (Adibasi) | Classifications in different states
- Articles on Adivasi culture in Folio Special issue
- Contents on this website by and about Prof. Ganesh Devy
- Figures, census and other statistics
- Forest dweller | Nishad (Nishada, Sanskrit Niṣāda, “tribal, hunter, mountaineer, degraded person outcast”)
- International Day of the World’s Indigenous People
- Irish Journal of Anthropology: Special issue on Adivasi identity
- Names and communities
- Remembering Birsa Munda: The charismatic tribal leader who shook the British Empire – Jharkhand
- Scheduled tribe
- Tribal culture worldwide
- Tribal groups
- Tribal Politics – adivasi culture, language, and religion in Encyclopedia of India
- United Nations Declaration for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
- Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Towards “a life free from want and fear” for every ethnic group – United Nations