Tribes, Rights and Justice in India

Abraham, Sara
Date Written:  2015-05-01
Publisher:  Against the Current
Year Published:  2015
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX20951

Sara Ahrahms interviews Indian writer and commentator Shashank Kela, author of 'A Rogue and Peasant Slave: Adivasi Resistance, 1800-2000.'



Shashank Kela: There is a debate on this on two levels -- in academia, and in struggles and movements, and the discourse, as one might expect, is contradictory. Some academics question the very notion of tribe as a category and whether any group in India can usefully be described as tribal. Here, I want to talk about an old argument used by the Hindu Right, which goes back more than 50 years and originates with one of the founding scholars of sociology in India, G.S. Ghurye.

In response to Verrier Elwin, an anthropologist who wrote some foundational ethnographic studies of tribal groups in Central India, and an outspoken defender of tribal cultures and their rights, Ghurye argued in the 1940s that there are no tribal people in India, only culturally backward Hindus.

That is the same argument used by the Hindu nationalist militant organization RSS today. It has been active since the middle 1980s in many adivasi regions -- in Jharkhand, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh -- and holds that there is nothing special about adivasi societies: they just happen to occupy forests, and that is their only distinguishing feature. They merely need cultural reeducation to become proper Hindus, and that is what the RSS is trying to do -- to make them Hindus.
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