Who Are Adivasis?
The term Adivasi literally means "original inhabitants." They are diverse communities who have lived in close association with forests for generations. They hold deep cultural and spiritual connections to their ancestral lands and traditional way of life.
Tribals are also referred to as Adivasis. Adivasis–literally means ‘original inhabitants’, communities who lived and continue to live in close association with forests. About 8% of India’s population is Adivasi, and most of the country’s mining and industrial centres are located in Adivasi areas like Jamshedpur, Rourkela, Bokaro and Bhilai, among others. Not a homogeneous population. There are over 500 various Adivasi groups in India. They are numerous in states like Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and in the north-eastern states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura. 60 different tribal groups in Odisha. They are distinctive because there is often very little hierarchy among them, and this makes them radically different from communities organised around principles of jati-varna (caste) or those that were ruled by kings.
Key points about Adivasis:
· Number and Diversity: Adivasis constitute about 8% of India's population, with over 500 different tribal groups spread across the country.
· Diverse Cultures and Languages: Each Adivasi group has its own unique culture, language, traditions, and belief system.
· Forest Dependence: Adivasis have traditionally practiced hunting and gathering, shifting cultivation, and small-scale agriculture, deeply reliant on forest resources for their livelihood.
· Social Organization: Adivasi communities are often structured around kinship networks and village councils, with strong community bonds and traditions of collective action.
· Challenges Faced: Adivasis face numerous challenges, including:
- Land alienation and displacement: Displacement from their traditional lands due to mining, industrial projects, and conservation initiatives.
- Lack of access to education and healthcare: High illiteracy rates and inadequate access to quality healthcare facilities.
- Exploitation and marginalization: Discrimination and exploitation in the labor market, lack of political representation, and social exclusion.
Importance of Adivasis:
Adivasis play a crucial role in:
· Forest conservation: Their traditional knowledge and practices contribute to forest conservation and sustainable resource management.
· Biodiversity preservation: Adivasi communities are guardians of biodiversity and custodians of unique ecological knowledge.
· Cultural diversity: Adivasi cultures and traditions enrich India's cultural heritage and contribute to its diverse social fabric.
Protecting Adivasi Rights:
Several measures are crucial to protect Adivasi rights and ensure their well-being:
· Recognition of land rights: Strengthening laws and policies to protect Adivasi land ownership and prevent displacement.
· Promoting education and healthcare: Providing access to quality education and healthcare facilities to improve the socio-economic status of Adivasi communities.
· Empowering Adivasis: Encouraging self-governance and empowering Adivasi communities to participate in decision-making processes that affect their lives.
· Combating discrimination: Implementing anti-discrimination laws and fostering social awareness to combat prejudice and discrimination against Adivasis.
Adivasis and Stereotyping
Adivasis are portrayed in very stereotypical ways – in colourful costumes, headgear and through their dancing. Besides this, we seem to know very little about the realities of their lives. This wrongly leads to people believing they are exotic, primitive and backward.
Adivasis and Development
1. Forests covered a major part of our country until the 19th century
2. Adivasis had a deep knowledge of, access to, as well as control over most of these vast tracts at least till the middle of the nineteenth century. They were not ruled by large states and empires. Instead, often empires heavily depended on Adivasis for the crucial access to forest resources.
3. In the pre-colonial world, they were traditionally ranged hunter-gatherers and nomads and lived by shifting agriculture and also cultivating in one place. For the past 200 years, Adivasis have been increasingly forced – through economic changes, forest policies and political force applied by the State and private industry – to migrate to lives as workers in plantations, at construction sites, in industries and as domestic workers. For the first time in history, they do not control or have much direct access to the forest territories.
4. From the 1830s onwards, Adivasis from Jharkhand and adjoining areas moved in very large numbers to various plantations in India and the world – Mauritius, the Caribbean and even Australia. India’s tea industry became possible with their labour in Assam. Today, there are 70 lahks Adivasis in Assam alone. For example, in the 19th century alone, 5 lahks Adivasis had perished in these migrations.
Forestlands-cleared for timber and to get land for agriculture and industry. Adivasis lived in areas that were rich in minerals and other natural resources, which were taken over for mining and other large industrial projects. Powerful forces collude to take over tribal land forcefully, and procedures are not followed.
According to official figures, over 50% of persons displaced due to mines and mining projects are tribals. Another recent survey report by organisations working among Adivasis shows that 79% of the persons displaced from the states of Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Jharkhand are tribals. Huge tracts of their lands have also gone under the waters of hundreds of dams that have been built in independent India.
In the Northeast, their lands remain highly militarised. India has 104 national parks covering 40,501 sq km and 543 wildlife sanctuaries covering 1,18,918 sq km. These are areas where tribals originally lived but were evicted from. When they continue to stay in these forests, they are termed encroachers. Losing their lands and access to the forest means that tribals lose their main sources of livelihood and food. Having gradually lost access to their traditional homelands, many Adivasis have migrated to cities in search of work where they are employed for very low wages in local industries or at building or construction sites.
Poverty and deprivation situations Adivasis are caught in. 45% of tribal groups in rural areas and 35% in urban areas live below the poverty line leading to deprivation in other areas- malnourished tribal children- low Literacy rates-When Adivasis are displaced from their lands, they lose much more than a source of income-lose their traditions and customs – a way of living and being. As you have read, there exists an interconnectedness between the economic and social dimensions of tribal life. Destruction in one sphere naturally impacts the other. Often this process of dispossession and displacement can be painful and violent.
Minorities and Marginalisation
The Constitution provides safeguards to religious and linguistic minorities as part of our Fundamental Rights. Why have these minority groups been provided with these safeguards? The minority refers to communities that are numerically small in relation to the rest of the population. This concept goes well beyond numbers encompassing issues of power, access to resources with social and cultural dimensions.
The culture of the majority influences the way in which society and government express themselves- size is a disadvantage and results in the marginalisation of the relatively smaller communities- hence, safeguards protect minority communities against being culturally dominated by the majority also protect them against any discrimination and disadvantage-Communities that are small in number relative to the rest of society may feel insecure about their lives, assets and well-being, which may get accentuated if the relations between the minority and majority communities are fraught-The Constitution provides these safeguards because it is committed to protecting India’s cultural diversity and promoting equality as well as justice-the judiciary plays a crucial role in upholding the law and enforcing Fundamental Rights-every citizen of India can approach the courts if they believe that their Fundamental Rights have been violated.
Muslims and Marginalisation
14.2% of Indian Population (2011 Census)-Muslims are considered as a marginalised community as they have been deprived of the benefits of socio-economic development over the years. Muslims were lagging behind in terms of various development indicators- so the government set up a high-level committee in 2005- chaired by Justice Rajindar Sachar-The committee examined the social, economic and educational status of the Muslim community in India- The report discusses in detail the marginalisation of this community-suggests that on a range of social, economic and educational indicators the situation of the Muslim community is comparable to that of other marginalised communities like Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
Economic and social marginalisation experienced by Muslims has other dimensions-Like other minorities, distinct Muslim customs and practices are apart from what is seen as the mainstream. Some may wear a burqa, sport a long beard, or wear a fez, leading to ways to identify all Muslims- they tend to be identified differently, and some people think they are not like the ‘rest of us’-thus causing them to be treated unfairly and discriminated against -This social marginalisation of Muslims has led to them migrating from places where they have lived, often leading to the ghettoisation of the community-Sometimes, this prejudice leads to hatred and violence.
Marginalisation, a complex phenomenon, requires a variety of strategies, measures and safeguards to redress this situation. All of us have a stake in protecting the rights defined in the Constitution and the Laws and Policies framed to realise these rights. Without these, we will never be able to protect the diversity that makes our country unique nor realise the State’s commitment to promoting equality for all.