Adivasis in India

Indigeneity is a contested identity in India though one claimed by almost 10% of the Indian population . The term ‘Adivasis’ (which this paper will employ), derived from Sanskrit and meaning ‘original dwellers’, is generally used, to denote what are argued to be India’s indigenous peoples (see Kela 2006).

The history of India’s Adivasis dates back to the pre-Aryan era. For ages they reigned over the Subcontinent’s hilly terrains. But over the centuries those with access to the written word (apart from other things) gained prominence over those whose traditions were rooted in the oral culture. During the colonial period, Adivasis were given the new designation of tribal, and in post independent India, they are known as the scheduled tribes. The essence of the tribe was interpreted as “a stage of evolution”, as opposed to a type of society. When education centres were opened, the syllabi focused on the socio-cultural roots of select communities, which deprived non-Adivasi children of knowledge of Adivasi culture and denied Adivasi children the pride of their heritage.