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
“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 >>
“It is no coincidence that where healthy Fourth World [Indigenous] nations live and prosper based on their freely chosen political, cultural, economic and social way of life the living Earth also thrives. Thus, it is no surprise that Fourth World nations occupy 80% of the world’s remaining biodiverse rainforests, plains, tundra, mountain regions, estuaries, rivers and streams, and deserts.” – Rudolph C. Rÿser (Founder, Center for World Indigenous Studies) in Biodiversity Wars: Coexistence or Biocultural Collapse in the 21st Century (2020), Chapter 1 “Original Peoples”
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) >>
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