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Adivasis, Their Land And The Question Of Their Identity

Jasmine Mary Ekka

ByJasmine Mary Ekka

Aug 9, 2020

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No one can look after the forests and environment better than the tribals. Their identity depends on it. They are generally the best conservationists and have managed their cultivable lands for many generations. These indigenous people have played a vital role in the conservation of environmental management and the development process. They hold traditional knowledge which has been useful in Eco-restoration.

Today, August 9th, 2020, the world is celebrating the international day of the world’s indigenous people. The goal of celebrating this day is to raise awareness about the indigenous folk. The day has
been recognized and reserved for indigenous people across the globe. Indigenous people, by definition, are the native or original inhabitants of an area. There are around 300 million indigenous people in the world and there is enormous diversity among communities of indigenous people, each with its own culture, language, history, and unique way of life.

Despite these differences, indigenous people across the globe share some common notions derived in a part from an understanding that their lives are a part of and inseparable from the natural world. Indigenous people are known with different names across the continent.

India is a country with a large ethnic society and has immense resources due to which it is rich in biodiversity.  In India, indigenous people are known as Adivasis or constitutionally known as schedule tribes who have unique traditions, cultures, and identities. The ethnic minorities (STs) in rural India are characterized by geographic isolation as well as a strong sense of socio-cultural exclusion. They do not rely on natural resources merely for livelihood but their sole identity, culture, history, autonomy, and existence depend on it. The quote “agar jangal ko dil maane toh adivasi uski dhakan h” -if the forest is the heart then Adivasis are its heartbeat- by Adivasi leader Chota Bhai Vasava completely sums up their relationship with the forests.

The land and forests are an integral part of Adivasi’s life. This has been recognized by the constitution but despite this their land and forests had been snatched in the name of development. Their rights have been exploited by the state and companies. They have been displaced from their land for numerous developmental projects which have been pushing them to marginlaization. The industrialization paid a little dividend in terms of employment or improving the economic condition of the Adivasis. They were deprived of their homeland. When tribal communities resist such exploitative and destructive projects which endanger their life, the mainstream culture demonizes them as anti-development and are penalized. One such example is the Pathalgarhi Movement in Jharkhand in which tribals were charged with sedition. The term Pathalgarhi has been drawn from the tribal custom. The movement was the tribal’s democratic assertion to claim the constitutionally granted provisions for autonomy and other rights. The mainstream culture had criminalized their resistance and existence treating them as intruders. This demonization was primarily to do with how the knowledge production by the dominant groups has shaped the life of Adivasis. Adivasis had been alienated from their roots. Tribal histories were written by the dominant groups who had imposed their realities on them and acess power on them through their misinterpretation in the knowledge production. Mainstream education does not contain their histories. Only their folk song and dances were romanticized. Their culture, their ethos was always neglected depicted as vulgar and destroyed in many ways. Despite the plethora of indigenous knowledge, Adivasi knowledge and culture have never been considered intelligent by the so-called ‘civilized mainstream society’.

Adivasis have their own belief system, creation, myth, afterlife, notions of ethics and morality
which are in harmony with nature. Due to discourse created by the non-tribals, their worldview has never been understood and a singular notion of the idea of development has been continually imposed upon them. The idea of development was built keeping aside the perspective of what Adivasis think of their well being. Adivasis are not mute beings for display in a museum. They are people with their own identity. Their history may be oral but rich with folkores wich talk about their own stories. Adivasis are not anti-developmental. They have a dynamic living culture and seek their place in the modern world. They have been the victims of development and now demand to be participants in and to benefit from a development that is sustainable.

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