Felix Padel

Invasions and Takeovers Masked as Development The Funders Fuelling Conflicts
Realities of Displacement and the Ideology of Development Notes
Adivasi Sustainability and Adivasi Voices in a Polarizing Social Structure References
In the words of an adivasi facing displacement  

Invasions and Takeovers Masked as Development

    Tribal people in Odisha and neighbouring States are currently facing an invasion and dispossession of their lands unprecedented in the history of the subcontinent. Obviously, the East India Company set the dominant models of privatizing land and taking it over on the pretext of “pre-eminent domain”, as well as top-down, hierarchical power structures. But what is happening now can only be called invasion and takeover, by a multitude of companies and vested interests, too often in collusion with state agencies and full backing of a police force that exists, supposedly, to serve the people, but too often serves corporate interests. 

    Sometimes the prevalent ways of writing about adivasis and the dire situations they face, even in Tribal Tribune, seem part of a depersonalized relic of colonial-era discourse – a discourse of implicit domination, that adds insult to injury, and fails to analyse the situation honestly or holistically. Adivasi voices need to be heard a lot more widely, not just in English, the language of elite education and discourse, but also in adivasi and state languages, from women and children as well as men, from the North-East and South as well as Central India. 

    What is driving these takeovers is, quite simply, investment – money: the power of money – the power of the banks – vast sums, invested with the aim of extracting increasingly scarce resources located in tribal areas, so as to make money for the investors, yet always couched in terms of Development, sometimes even as “Tribal Development”.

    A lot of the investment is in the form of loans, compounding an already massive burden of debt that ties the hands of Government and in effect dictates key policies. A large proportion of society lives in debt, to banks and other entities. The debt burden on the shoulders of State as well as Central Governments increases by the year: annual loans from the World Bank and many other institutions form a key portion of Government income, and their disbursement is conditional on ‘reforms’, which boil down to an enforced opening up to foreign investment of the country’s key resources, including land. Unrepayable debt is the leverage used to force this opening up to penetration by foreign investors, whose aim is access to land, and especially to the minerals that lie beneath it, predominantly in tribal areas.[1]

    This is happening not only in India – it is happening in the Phillipines, Indonesia, Burma, Laos, Vietnam….. Also in Columbia, Mexico, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia…. Also in Congo, Sudan, Libya, Afghanistan, Khazakhastan…. And also in many parts of Australia, Canada, the United States, South Africa – especially places where indigenous communities still live in resource-rich areas - and also in Europe. 

    “Development-Induced Displacement” is not Development at all for the majority of those displaced. Evidence suggests that a large majority in each and every “development project” fall into a living hell of degrading, industrializing-zone impoverishment and acute exploitation. 

    “Development?” “That would be a very good idea” as Gandhi said about Civilization. Real Development will happen when all citizens are equal before the Law, not some more equal than others. Manipulation of Law is precisely what lies behind the majority of land takeovers. Development, as the word is often used, is skewed to benefit the few, not the many.

    What is clear and indisputable about displacing projects is that they are driven by Investment. Financial investment of many kinds, but with foreign funding and Foreign Direct Investment assuming pride of place. 

    Investment-Induced Displacement is therefore a more appropriate term now. Many people are questioning old and neocolonial definitions of “Development”, even if this usage is still basic to the World Bank/IMF policies that define today’s world order.

    Investment-Induced Displacement is precisely how many Adivasis perceive the invasion of their landscape, when they say: “We’re being flooded out by money”.[2]

Realities of Displacement and the Ideology of Development

    India has some of the world’s strongest laws to protect the Environment and the basic rights of those defined as Scheduled Tribes. Implementation however is often very poor indeed. Between the process that is supposed to happen - of properly consulted communities giving their Free Prior and Informed Consent and a Resettlement and Rehabilitation (R & R) process guaranteed to raise people’s living standards - and what actually happens, there lies a gulf.[3]

    Between policy and practice, a reality gap exists. Once people shift from their land, promises are betrayed at every step. Ask the majority of displaced people from almost any “development project”: in every case, a minority benefit (mainly those who were already richer), while the vast majority suffer a drastic drop in their standard of living. 

    About 50% of the 30-40 million people officially displaced since Independence are adivasis. A typical example of a large dam in a tribal area, funded by the World Bank, is the Upper Indravati reservoir. Subrat Sahu’s documentary film DAM-aged (2009) is based on interviews with adivasis displaced and resettled in colonies, who make clear that they have received none of the numerous benefits they were promised: in land, water, education, medical access - nothing. Total neglect. Their village does not even have electricity, which was one of the first promises they were made, since they were making way for a hydropower project that produces a lot of electricity. 

    In the case of one “development project” after another, a Public Hearing is scheduled as a precondition for environmental clearance, the community speaks strongly against a project, often despite outrageous police intimidation, the designated authorities write to their higher authorities that the stakeholder communities have given their consent – and clearance is given. This pattern is recorded from dozens of projects. In some cases, men, women and children have been jailed to prevent them attending a Public Hearing – this happened for example to 250 adivasi villagers (including 110 women) in Keonjhar, north Odisha, protesting against a Mittal iron ore mine on their land, on 6th November 2008.[4]

    What is meant to happen is spelt out in dozens of CSR / Sustainabale Development reports, from Vedanta, Tata, and other companies: a wonderful world of increased opportunities, investment in health, education, sports and cultural events – a world very much at variance with the “Goonda Raj” existing throughout mining areas, where pollution, immense hierarchy and diabolical exploitation dictate what is considered normal. 

    Apart from frequent violent repression by goondas and a police force supposed to serve the people , mining and industrializing areas are characterized by several features that reach too seldom into the media or academic discourse and into public consciousness: illegal alcohol-shops for example, and prostitution (Perry 2010). 

    When a tribal community faces displacement, people often experience a living hell, which most outsiders, including the official responsible for R & R, don’t understand or seem to wish to understand. At the centre of this hell is an uprooting and soul-death, that middle-class families who have lived for generations without attachment to a particular piece of land, that they and their families have worked by hand over many years, often find it hard to comprehend.

    This is not in any way to romanticize the life of “unspoilt communities”. Forms of oppression exist everywhere, and there was plenty of hardship before displacement too. But there is something different in quality and structure about Investment-Induced Displacement. For a start it subordinates all values – cultural values, values placed on land, nature and human life – to a single set of values that have come to define almost everything: financial value - money, investment, Capital.

    In many tribal communities, money has become a necessity of life over the last generation, but until recently was subordinate to cultural values, that largely honoured nature and highlighted principles of sharing. In many tribal communities, these values still predominate.

    The concept of “development” is defined in relation to “underdevelopment”, and an extremely rigid conception of social evolution along set stages. “Educated” people tend to take for granted the division of countries and regions promoted by the WB/IMF, into “developed”, “developing” and “underdeveloped”. As Gustavo Esteva puts this, in The Development Dictionary (1992), the day that President Truman took office, 20th January 1949, he inaugurated the concept of “underdevelopment” as a blueprint for the spread America’s development paradigm and influence. 

    On that day, 2 billion people became underdeveloped….. [The concept] took on an unsuspected colonizing virulence….. Since then, development has connoted at least one thing: to escape from the undignified condition called underdevelopment…..

    For those who make up two thirds of the world’s population today, to think of development – any kind of development – requires first the perception of themselves as underdeveloped, with the whole burden of connotations that this carries.[5] 

    Darwin’s theory of evolution showed how thousands of species have developed, on multiple inter-related yet separate paths. By contrast, when this theory was applied to society, by Herbert Spencer, Marx, Engels and others, theorists from the Left as well as the Right laid down a uniform model of set stages of development, from “primitive communism” to feudalism and capitalism. 

    Development and Underdevelopment are the key concepts used to impose this uniform model of rapid-growth projects, culminating in today’s “new world order”, characterised by extreme forms of exploitation and inequality. Can we move Beyond Developmentality (Deb 2009)? 

    As for “Tribal Development”, B.D.Sharma (1984) has questioned what this would really mean, and how it could be implemented, as well as the Web of Poverty (1989) that enmeshes the rural poor in a system of endemic exploitation.[6] P. Sainath (1996) has shown how funds and programmes for “tribal development” are flawed by exceptionally high levels of corruption. Essentially this is because the models are all top down. Top-down models of imposed change cannot be called true development. “Develop” is an intransitive verb, and as such, refers to an organic process of change, motivated indigenously rather than imposed. 

    Mainstream society’s disconnect from displaced people operates at many levels. The neglect faced by the displaced represents a fundamental injustice, congruent with the historic racism and injustice towards tribal people which a recent Supreme Court Judgement has drawn attention to as needing to be undone.[7]

    On being displaced people meet the same fate everywhere – buli-buli-buli-buli-bulichhanti [they are on the streets/wander/get lost]….. If they are displaced they will be packed tightly in houses built by Posco, far from the river, getting at most coolie jobs for a few years of construction. (Villagers in Nolia Sahi, quoted in Samadrusti 2009)

Adivasi Sustainability and Adivasi Voices in a Polarizing Social Structure

    One of the most painful aspects of displacement is the de-linking of people’s economy from an all-round embeddedness in ecology. In many ways, adivasi society – and this applies to many non-tribal communities also - is based on an ecological awareness in tune with long-term sustainability, worked out in extensive systems of ecological knowledge. In the words of Bhagaban Majhi, a leader of the Kashipur movement against the Utkal alumina project since the early 1990s, and a Kond adivasi: 

    We have sought an explanation from the Government about people who have been displaced in the name of development: how many have been properly rehabilitated? You have not provided them with jobs; you have not rehabilitated them at all. How can you again displace more people? Where will you relocate them and what jobs will you give them? ….. We are tribal farmers. We are earthworms. Like fish that die when taken out of water, a cultivator dies when his land is taken away from him. So we won't leave our land. We want permanent development…… (Bhagaban Majhi, for the Kashipur movement in Odisha, in Das & Das 2005)

    In this view, changes that are not guaranteed to benefit future generations cannot be called real development. 

    The Dongria Konds, in the Niyamgiri mountain range, are one community whose preservation of their environment and attuning of economy to ecology is not in question. When their leader Lado Sikoka called Vedanta and other invading companies asurmane (demons) at the Belamba Public Hearing in Lanjigarh, on 25.4.2009, this is a voice we rarely hear coming to the surface:

    We won’t give up Niyamgiri for any price… Niyamgiri is not a pile of money… We won’t tolerate Niyamgiri being dug up. They have bought Niyamgiri from the government, but it doesn’t belong to the government, it belongs to adivasis… How many lies they tell! We won’t fear them, even though it seems that the demons of mythology (asurmane) have returned.[8]

    To companies, investors, and middle class people, a pile of money is precisely what mineral deposits are, “lying unutilized” – a conception blind to the vital role that minerals play at the top of mountains, maintaining the health of mountains as storehouses of water and sources of streams and rivers, even during the summer months: “The health of the Hills is the Wealth of the Plains.” [9] This thinking is intrinsic to adivasi culture, that regards mountains as devata and sources of life: “What is your religion?” “Pahar” (mountains). Khondalite, the base rock of Odisha’s bauxite-capped mountains, is named after the Konds who live around them, attuning their rhythm of life to mountain streams.[10]

    “Uneconomic” has long been a dominant interpretation by mainstream economists and colonial-era anthropologists of small-scale farmers, whose main focus is subsistence farming. This was as much the case in 19th century Scotland as in India today. Denigrating crofters’ “uneconomic” way of life was the rationale behind the Highland Clearances, that removed tens of thousands of clansmen off their land. But are adivasis “uneconomic”? What do they mean when they call themselves “earthworms”?

In the words of an adivasi facing displacement by Sardar Sarovar dam on the Narmada river:

    You take us to be poor, but we’re not. We live in harmony and co-operation with each other…. We get good crops from Mother Earth…. Clouds give us water…. We produce many kinds of grains with our own efforts, and we don’t need money. We use seeds produced by us… In the spirit of Laha (communal labour) we produce a house in just one day…. 

    You people live in separate houses. You don’t bother about the joy or suffering of each other. But we live on the support of our kith and kin…. How does such fellow-feeling prevail in our villages? For we help each other. We enjoy equal standing. We’ve been born in our village. Our Nara (umbilical cord) is buried here). (Baba Mahariya 2001)

    Stoneage Economics (Sahlins 1973) explodes still-prevalent stereotypes that perceive tribal societies as enmeshed in scarcity and lacking leisure time. Communities dismissed as “primitive” tend to have a lot more leisure time, and use it a lot more productively, than mainstream society. This certainly holds true for India’s adivasis. Working long hours in the fields during certain seasons, they have major festivals at mid-winter and the hot season. Traditional culture lays great emphasis on social life of villages visiting each other, dances and songs, intertwined with communal labour exchange, working each other’s fields. Compared to the mainstream dichotomy, distinction between work and leisure is formulated very differently in an adivasi economy. 

    Adivasis’ domestic mode of production links them with the forest, mountains and rivers. This is a society founded on systems of exchange, including reciprocity in the kinship system, brideprice and marriage customs, but also in terms of a give-and-take relationship with the spirit-world realm of nature, ancestors and devata. Blood sacrifice is regularly offered to the spirits, and plays an important part in adivasi economics as well as communal relations and diet, since the sacrificed animal is always eaten. 

    Nowadays, the number of communities that still have control over their environment and economy has declined dramatically, due to the system of endemic exploitation that has eaten away at adivasi land-rights since British times. 

    The term “Adivasis”, as an alternative designation for the Scheduled Tribes (STs), meaning “original dwellers” or “Aboriginals”, was first used in a major way during the Jharkhand movement during the 1930s by Jaipal Singh, when he formed the Adivasi Mahasabha. The Supreme Court Judgement of 5.1.2011, in the case of a Bhil woman beaten and paraded naked in Maharshtra, records the need to correct historic injustice towards adivasis and affirms their status as indigenous people. 

    India has not officially recognized adivasis as “indigenous”, partly because it may seem invidious to term 92% of India’s population as “old immigrants” (referred to in the Supreme Court Judgement). This non-recognition also has the effect of making it difficult to apply UN legislation protecting indigenous people in India. Nevertheless, this issue of indigeneity has been taken up vociferously by organisations such as BAMCEF (Backward And Minority Communities Employees Federation), who promote the term Mulnivasis to cover STs, SCs and OBCs (Other Backward Castes).[11] 

    The 5th Schedule of India’s Constitution is meant to uphold tribal rights and cultures, especially through the non-alienability of their land. The PESA Act and Samatha Judgement extended this principle, which has nevertheless been repeatedly bypassed, among other means by the claim that displacement-projects are in the national interest. 

    75 groups are still classified as Primitive Tribal Groups (PTGs). A 2002 report from the Ministry of Tribal Affairs on Development of Primitive Tribal Groups still defines them using the concepts “primitive” and “backward”.[12] This classification was made supposedly in order to protect groups that still maintain highly distinctive customs from exploitation. Yet the social evolutionism inherent in “primitive” and “backward” implies an intention to try and “bring them into the mainstream” – in distinction to a recognition of difference. This has certainly been evident in the case of the Dongria, a PTG who came into international news for their resistance to Vedanta’s planned bauxite mine on Niyamgiri’s summit. Their administration is managed through the Dongria Kondh Development Agency, who have overseen an extensive road building programme funded through the Prime Minister’s Sadak Yojana into the heart of the Niyamgiri range, in line with Vedanta mining plans. Similarly with the Paudi Bhuiyas, a PTG who live around Khandadhara, the mountain whose iron ore Posco and other companies seek permission to mine.

    “Primitive” is basically a hangover from anthropology’s primitive, colonial phase, when it was dominated by social evolutionism – the idea that all societies evolve through set stages. Defining adivasi society and economy as “primitive”, “backward” or “underdevelopmed” implies a programme of “civilizing” or “developing” them. The implicit stereotypes are blind, in the sense that adivasis’ symbiosis with their natural environment developed over many centuries. 

    Tribal societies, in other words, are highly developed. Uproot them from their niche in an ecosystem, and centuries of development are effectively undone.

    Various shifts can be discerned in adivasi economics during the 20th century: hunting and gathering plays less importance as forests decline or these activities are illegalised under forest laws introduced by the British; shifting cultivation, often on steep hill slopes, gives way in some areas to permanent fields; millet has often given way to rice as a much less nutritious staple; many families have lost their lands and become dependent on wage labour; even where they retain their lands, many are now forced to migrate for wage labour; a largely subsistence economy has given way to an increasing tendency to cultivate cash crops. Related to these shifts is that from a little-monetised economy to an economy defined by money. Many of these changes are associated with a decline in variety and nutritional value of food crops cultivated.

    For all these shifts, tribal areas are still generally among the country’s areas of greatest biodiversity. This is because adivasi economics is still firmly rooted in long-term symbiosis with the local ecology, enabling tribal communities to live amidst biodiversity, and profit from it in their mix of cultivation, gathering and hunting, without destroying it or even (until some years ago at least) depleting it.

    How adivasis get dispossessed involves various elements. If the commodification of land and resources is one major element, the grounds for this were laid when British officials made a conscious effort to tie tribal people into the markets and a dependence on outside tastes. Markets were promoted from early British times. For example, G.E. Russell, a senior administrator from Madras who oversaw the first invasion/conquest of the Konds in what is now Kandhamahal district, wrote in the 1830s of promoting markets so as to give the Konds 

    new tastes and new wants [since this] will, in time, afford us the best hold we can have on their fidelity as subjects, by rendering them dependent upon us for what will, in time, become necessities of life.[13]

    So who are Adivasis? Which term is appropriate and politically correct out of the choices: Adivasis, Scheduled Tribes, tribal people, indigenous people? 

    Obviously, “Scheduled Tribes” is a colonial construct. Numerous communities have suffered a bureaucratic hell by being misclassified, from Gujjars in Rajasthan to Jhorias and Durvas in south Odisha. Whether a group is designated ST, SC (Scheduled Caste) or OBC (Other Backward Castes) has often been arbitrary, and a matter of intense dispute. While groups suvh as these suffer because they were denied tribal status, adivasis living in cities sometimes dislike negative associations that are often implicit in “tribal”. 

    Whatever term we use in various contexts, adivasis’ point of view is something too little heard. Since colonial times, tribal people and their interests have been too much defined by non-tribals, operating with a multitude of vested interests. This emerged in mid-2011 in a debate initiated by Gladson Dungdung over a Peace Award by the Gandhi Foundation, misleadingly advertised as “to the Adivasis of India” when it was actually intended for Binayak Sen and Bulu Imam.[14] Adivasis have been at the receiving end of unremitting violence and racism, with non-tribals tending to try and define who they are as well as taking credit for adivasi movements, from colonial times to the extreme violence unleashed on communities in Operation Greenhunt right now.

    ‘Operation Green Hunt’ was launched with the clear intention to create fear, insecurity and livelihood crisis in the villages so that the villages would leave the vicinity. Consequently, the government can hand over the Adivasis land to the corporate shark comfortably. The Jharkhand government has allotted iron-ore to 19 steel companies including Mittal, Jindal, Tata, Atro-Steel and Torian in Saranda Forest. Therefore, of course, they want to clear the land. [15]

    Of course, Adivasis speak with a multitude of voices, according to people’s perceptions and place in the overall social structure that is becoming increasingly polarized: pro-mining-company, anti-company, Maoist or MLA; each strand amplified by media that’s joint-owned with mining interests, polarizing the population into often-antagonistic camps. 

    In the noise of Manufacturing Consent (Chomsky and Herman 1999), the raw voices of people who have been or are being displaced, often get drowned out. This applies to people being displaced right now in their 10,000s by “Slum Redevelopment Projects” in cities, as well as to communities of cultivators in the deep countryside. 

    Primitive, colonial anthropology involves a methodology that fails to study its own relationship with the people it makes into objects of study. As such, it is an “objectifying” form of knowledge – a false kind of knowledge, too often geared towards facilitating control over subject peoples, from the first 19th ethnographies of tribal peoples to the “embedded anthropologists” helping the US military map out the predominantly hostile Human Terrain facing them in Afghanistan.[16] “Reverse anthropology” is the antithesis of this tendency, starting with an attempt to bring out authentic voices, and ground our understanding in indigenous systems of knowledge, and value systems that prioritize sharing and care for the environment over profit.[17]

    A World People’s Conference on climate change at Cochabamba, Bolivia, in April 2011, adopted a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth, that has been introduced at the UN: “We, the people and nations of Earth: considering that we are all part of Mother Earth, an indivisible, living community of interrelated and interdependent beings with a common destiny….” [18]

The Funders Fuelling Conflicts

    Wherever a project is located now, the people driving the investment represent today’s multi-headed reincarnation of the East India Company – from Goldman Sachs, J.P.Morgan, Morgan Stanley, or Deutsche Bank to influential Hedge Funds and Private Equity Funds, such as Berkshire Hathaway, run by Warren Buffet (a major investor in Posco), to huge loans from the World Bank and Asia Development Bank, to the world’s Big Four Accountancy Firms, based in London, to Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton, Posco, Tata, Vedanta, Jindal, Essar, Bhushan, Adani and other mining companies, to the world’s top financial policy-makers and economists, whose responsibility for promoting derivatives-trading is exposed in Charles Ferguson’s documentary Inside Job (2010).

    Investors may think they have no responsibility for communities they don’t know about who are displaced by their investments, but as villagers about to lose their river water due to World Bank funding of the Upper Indravati Dam Project said to a World Bank consultant nearby: 

    You are a woman and we are women…. You are a literate person from a big country. You understand these things are happening to us. So please, as a woman, help us…. The human society living in America must know what is going on in another human society living in India. And they are responsible because we’re all humans, living on earth. They can’t escape, you know. If I starve, you also bear a responsibility.[19]

    In many ways, adivasi society is based on an ecological awareness in tune with long-term sustainability, worked out in extensive systems of ecological knowledge. This is true of tribal and indigenous societies worldwide. Implicit in the social structure of most tribal societies is a complex, subtle balance between Ecology and Economy. Tribal societies are still often dismissed as “primitive”, when in reality the heart of these social systems consists of highly developed and extremely sophisticated bodies of knowledge, implicit in customary behaviour such as taboos on harvesting certain plants (most famously e.g. bamboo, mahua) without prescribed rituals and outside particular seasons. 

    This knowledge is radically decentralised. Every village has its own traditions and recipes. Sources of knowledge include family traditions passed through many generations, as well as dreams and shamanic spirit dialogues, and local initiatives in resource use and politics.

    Adivasi bodies of knowledge stand at the opposite end of the knowledge-spectrum from the mainstream discipline of Economics, from the binarism implicit in Information Technology, and from present-day global banking and finance practice. For example, competition, as a basic principle of modern economic and social organisation, is at odds with the tribal principle of sharing. Food and land, in the custom of most tribes, are divided equally according to the need of each. This leads to certain inequalities, if only because families with most offspring working the land get more land than smaller families. But the spirit of sharing continues to inspire tribal society, starting with an emphasis on equal portions of food and drink, and a sense of fundamentally egalitarian brotherhood and sisterhood. Tribes are kin groups, and the tribal ethic emphasizes connectedness, in stark contrast to the ethic of individualism intrinsic to modern socio-economic behavior and beliefs.

    The Social Construction of Reality (Berger & Luckmann 1966) takes a radically different form in adivasi society from its form in modern, industrial society, where the media plays a major role in conditioning the parameters of thought. Manufacturing Consent involves legitimising often draconian, even insane, policies, making them appear right and reasonable to a mainstream public engrossed in their own survival strategies and media-controlled pastimes, such as sport.

    If tribal societies represent the opposite end of the spectrum from a media-dominated, industrialised mindset, this is basically why they remain under siege throughout the world. In every country where they survive, tribal societies have faced various forms of genocide, perpetrated through an unremitting stream of invasions by outsiders seeking their land and resources. In the Americas, invasion and genocide started from the 1500s. In India, a traditional balance allowed adivasis a high degree of self-governance in a vast network of alliances with local Hindu and Muslim rulers. British rule from the 1700s-1800s emphasized raising economic productivity, in order to increase revenue collected throughout India, at the same time as bringing its people “progress”. This caused a huge rise in the level of exploitation faced by tribal communities, and led to numerous rebellions, viciously suppressed (Padel 2011).

    Campaigns to save ecosystems and the environment worldwide are therefore inextricably linked with tribal movements to save their local environment and communities. In India, as throughout America and in many other countries, a key question for all of us is encapsulated in the New Internationalist’s October 2011 issue: ‘Nature’s Defenders: Can indigenous people save the planet?’ [20] 

    Adivasis’ exploitation and dispossession by mainstream society in India has escalated rapidly with the building of big dams and countless other “development projects” since Independence. Being forced to adapt to mainstream incursions has disturbed traditional balances between ecology and economy, that adivasis maintained over centuries. In many places, traditional knowledge systems have decayed rapidly, while racism and ingrained negative stereotypes ensure that most of the mainstream is not aware that this balance and depth of knowledge even existed, and still does exist, often denigrating any reference to the positive, highly developed aspects of tribal society as “primitive romanticism”.

    In India, the invasion and cultural genocide have gathered pace since the 1990s under the influence of neoliberalism, so that systems and customs still in place 20-50 years ago exist now only under severe stress. It is not that tribal societies are or were perfect, just that they embody or embodied a principle of long-term sustainability that mainstream society lost sight of long ago. At the centre of this is strong emphasis on sharing, and non-monetized systems of exchange.

    Multi-level crises engulfing the modern world may well have their origin in a disjunction between the logic of Ecology and Economy. To find an equitable balance, and escape the spectre of meltdown emerging from the world’s financial capitals, could adivasi communities and movements throughout India set an example that everyone can learn from?



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    ______ 1989. The Web of Poverty. Delhi and Shillong: Prachi Prakashan and North-Eastern Hill University.

ISSN: 2249 3433


The word tribe is variously used in literature to denote a community on the basis of homogeneity. Originally many autochthonous communities who were identified by similar culture, social organisation and governance, living away from the main stream life of a country, were mentioned as tribe by their colonial rulers and Western scholars. Many such communities have moved towards the mainstream lifestyle so that they may no longer be identified as secluded, underdeveloped people with queer customs. This has happened to all areas of the world where tribal communities live. Still, many tribal communities lead their lives in very primitive ways devoid of the techno-economic glamour of contemporary civilization. These communities are labeled as "Primitive Tribal Groups". Indian Government has identified such tribal groups to give special attention to their development, whereas in the Indian Constitution all the tribal groups are recognized as "scheduled tribes".


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