The Adivasis of India – A History of Discrimination, Conflict, and Resistance

The Adivasis of India –
A History of Discrimination, Conflict, and Resistance

Core Committee of the All India Coordinating Forum of Adivasis/Indigenous Peoples

The 67.7 million people belonging to “Scheduled Tribes” in India are generally considered to be ‘Adivasis’, literally meaning ‘indigenous people’ or ‘original inhabitants’, though the term ‘Scheduled Tribes’ (STs) is not coterminous with the term ‘Adivasis’. Scheduled Tribes is an administrative term used for purposes of ‘administering’ certain specific constitutional privileges, protection and benefits for specific sections of peoples considered historically disadvantaged and ‘backward’.

However, this administrative term does not exactly match all the peoples called ‘Adivasis’. Out of the 5653 distinct communities in India, 635 are considered to be ‘tribes’ or ‘Adivasis’. In comparison, one finds that the estimated number of STs varies from 250 to 593.

For practical purposes, the United Nations and multilateral agencies generally consider the STs as ‘indigenous peoples’. With the ST population making up 8.08% (as of 1991) of the total population of India, it is the nation with the highest concentration of ‘indigenous peoples’ in the world!

The Constitution of India, which came into existence on 26 January 1950, prohibits discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth (Article 15) and it provides the right to equality (Article 14), to freedom of religion (Articles 25-28) and to culture and education (Articles 29-30). STs are supposedly addressed by as many as 209 Articles and 2 special schedules of the Constitution – Articles and special schedules which are protective and paternalistic.

Article 341 and 342 provides for classification of Scheduled Castes (the untouchable lower castes) and STs, while Articles 330, 332 and 334 provides for reservation of seats in Parliament and Assemblies. For purposes of specific focus on the development of STs, the government has adopted a package of programmes, which is administered in specific geographical areas with considerable ST population, and it covers 69% of the tribal population.
Despite this, and after the largest “modern democracy” of the world has existed for more than half a century, the struggles for survival of Adivasis – for livelihood and existence as peoples – have today intensified and spread as never before in history.

Over centuries, the Adivasis have evolved an intricate convivial-custodial mode of living. Adivasis belong to their territories, which are the essence of their existence; the abode of the spirits and their dead and the source of their science, technology, way of life, their religion and culture.

Back in history, the Adivasis were in effect self-governing ‘first nations’. In general and in most parts of the pre-colonial period, they were notionally part of the ‘unknown frontier’ of the respective states where the rule of the reign in fact did not extend, and the Adivasis governed themselves outside of the influence of the particular ruler.

The introduction of the alien concept of private property began with the Permanent Settlement of the British in 1793 and the establishment of the “Zamindari” system that conferred control over vast territories, including Adivasi territories, to designated feudal lords for the purpose of revenue collection by the British. This drastically commenced the forced restructuring of the relationship of Adivasis to their territories as well as the power relationship between Adivasis and ‘others’. The predominant external caste-based religion sanctioned and practiced a rigid and highly discriminatory hierarchical ordering with a strong cultural mooring.

This became the natural basis for the altered perception of Adivasis by the ‘others’ in determining the social, and hence, the economic and political space in the emerging larger society that is the Indian diaspora. Relegating the Adivasis to the lowest rung in the social ladder was but natural and formed the basis of social and political decision making by the largely upper caste controlled mainstream. The ancient Indian scriptures, scripted by the upper castes, also further provided legitimacy to this.

The subjugated peoples have been relegated to low status and isolated, instead of either being eliminated or absorbed. Entry of Europeans and subsequent colonisation of Asia transformed the relationship between the mainstream communities and tribal communities of this region. Introduction of capitalism, private property and the creation of a countrywide market broke the traditional economy based on use value and hereditary professions.
All tribal communities are not alike. They are products of different historical and social conditions. They belong to four different language families, and several different racial stocks and religious moulds. They have kept themselves apart from feudal states and brahminical hierarchies for thousands of years.
In the Indian epics such as Ramayana, Mahabharata and Puranas (folklores) there are many references to interactions and wars between the forest or hill tribes and the Hindus.

Eminent historians who have done detailed research on the epic Ramayana (200 B.C to 500 B.C) have concluded that ‘Lanka’, the kingdom of the demonic king Ravana and ‘Kishkinda’, the homeland of the Vanaras (depicted as monkeys) were places situated south of Chitrakuta hill and north of Narmada river in middle India. Accordingly, Ravana and his demons were an aboriginal tribe, most probably the Gond, and the Vanaras, like Hanuman in the epic, belonged to the Savara and Korku tribes whose descendants still inhabit the central Indian forest belt. Even today, the Gond holds Ravana, the villain of Ramayana, in high esteem as a chief. Rama, the hero of Ramayana, is also known for slaughtering the Rakshasas (demons) in the forests!

The epic of Mahabharata refers to the death of Krishna at the hands of a Bhil Jaratha. In the ancient scriptures, considered to be sacred by the upper castes, various terms are used depicting Adivasis as almost non-humans. The epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata, the Puranas, Samhitas and other so-called ‘sacred books’ refer to Adivasis as Rakshasa (demons), Vanara (monkeys), Jambuvan (boar men), Naga (serpents), Bhusundi Kaka (crow), Garuda (King of Eagles) etc. In medieval India, they were called derogatorily as Kolla, Villa, Kirata, Nishada, and those who surrendered or were subjugated were termed as Dasa (slave) and those who refused to accept the bondage of slavery were termed as Dasyu (a hostile robber).

Ekalavya, one of their archers was so skillful that the hero of the Aryans, Arjuna, could not stand before him. But they assaulted him, cutting his thumb and destroying his ability to fight – and then fashioned a story in which he accepted Drona as his Guru and surrendered his thumb as an offering to the master! The renowned writer Maheshwata Devi points out that Adivasis predated Hinduism and Aryanism, that Siva was not an Aryan god and that in the 8th century, the tribal forest goddess or harvest goddess was absorbed and adapted as Siva’s wife. Goddess Kali, the goddess of hunters, has definitely had a tribal origin.

History of the Adivasis
Little is known about the relationship between the Adivasis and non-Adivasi communities during the Hindu and Muslim rules. There are stray references to wars and alliances between the Rajput kings and tribal chieftains in middle India and in the North-East between the Ahom Kings of Brahmaputra valley and the hill Nagas. They are considered to be ati-sudra meaning lower than the untouchable castes. Even today, the upper caste people refer to these peoples as jangli, a derogatory term meaning “those who are like wild animals” – uncivilised or sub-humans.

The Adivasis have few food taboos, rather fluid cultural practices and minimal occupational specialization, while on the other hand, the mainstream population of the plains have extensive food taboos, more rigid cultural practices and considerable caste-based occupational specialisation. In the Hindu caste system, the Adivasis have no place. The so-called mainstream society of India has evolved as an agglomeration of thousands of small-scale social groups whose identities within the larger society are preserved by not allowing them to marry outside their social groups.

The subjugated groups became castes forced to perform less desirable menial jobs like sweeping, cleaning of excreta, removal of dead bodies, leather works etc – the untouchables. Some of the earliest small-scale societies dependent on hunting and gathering, and traditional agriculture seem to have remained outside this process of agglomeration. These are the Adivasis of present day. Their autonomous existence outside the mainstream led to the preservation of their socio-religious and cultural practices, most of them retaining also their distinctive languages. Widow burning, enslavement, occupational differentiation, hierarchical social ordering etc are generally not there. Though there were trade between the Adivasis and the mainstream society, any form of social intercourse was discouraged. Caste India did not consciously attempt to draw them into the orbit of caste society.

But in the process of economic, cultural and ecological change, Adivasis have attached themselves to caste groups in a peripheral manner, and the process of de-tribalisation is a continuous one. Many of the Hindu communities have absorbed the cultural practices of the Adivasis. Although Hinduism could be seen as one unifying thread running through the country as a whole, it is not homogenous but in reality a conglomeration of centuries old traditions and shaped by several religious and social traditions which are more cultural in their essence (and including elements of Adivasi socio-religious culture).

Adivasis at the lowest rung of the ladder
Adivasis are not, as a general rule, regarded as unclean by caste Hindus in the same way as Dalits are. But they continue to face prejudice (as lesser humans), they are socially distanced and often face violence from society. They are at the lowest point in every socioeconomic indicator. Today the majority of the population regards them as primitive and aims at decimating them as peoples or at best integrating them with the mainstream at the lowest rung in the ladder. This is especially so with the rise of the fascist Hindutva forces.

None of the brave Adivasi fights against the British have been treated as part of the “national” struggle for independence. From the Malpahariya uprising in 1772 to Lakshman Naik’s revolt in Orissa in 1942, the Adivasis repeatedly rebelled against the British in the north-eastern, eastern and central Indian belt. In many of the rebellions, the Adivasis could not be subdued, but terminated the struggle only because the British acceded to their immediate demands, as in the case of the Bhil revolt of 1809 and the Naik revolt of 1838 in Gujarat. Heroes like Birsa Munda, Kanhu Santhal, Khazya Naik, Tantya Bhil, Lakshman Naik, Kuvar Vasava, Rupa Naik, Thamal Dora, Ambul Reddi, Thalakkal Chandu etc are remembered in the songs and stories of the Adivasis but ignored in the official text books.

The British Crown’s dominions in India consisted of four political arrangements:

  1. the Presidency Areas where the Crown was supreme,
  2. the Residency Areas where the British Crown was present through the Resident and the Ruler of the realm was subservient to the Crown,
  3. the Agency (Tribal) areas where the Agent governed in the name of the Crown but left the local self-governing institutions untouched and
  4. the Excluded Areas (north-east) where the representatives of the Crown were a figure head.

After the transfer of power, the rulers of the Residency Areas signed the “Deed of Accession” on behalf of the ruled on exchange they were offered privy purse. No deed was however signed with most of the independent Adivasi states. They were assumed to have joined the Union. The government rode rough shod on independent Adivasi nations and they were merged with the Indian Union. This happened even by means of state violence as in the case of Adivasi uprising in the Nizam’s State of Hyderabad and Nagalim.

While this aspect did not enter the consciousness of the Adivasis at large in the central part of India where they were preoccupied with their own survival, the picture was different in the north-east because of the historic and material conditions. Historically the north-east was never a part of mainland India. The colonial incorporation of north-east took place much later than the rest of the Indian subcontinent. While Assam ruled by the Ahoms came under the control of British in 1826, neighbouring Bengal was annexed in 1765. Garo Hills were annexed in 1873, Naga Hills in 1879 and Mizoram under the Chin-Lushai Expeditions in 1881-90. Consequently, the struggles for self-determination took various forms as independence to greater autonomy.

A process of marginalization today, the total forest cover in India is reported to be 765.21 thousand sq. kms. of which 71% are Adivasi areas. Of these 416.52 and 223.30 thousand sq. kms. are categorised as reserved and protected forests respectively. About 23% of these are further declared as Wild Life Sanctuaries and National Parks which alone has displaced some half a million Adivasis. By the process of colonisation of the forests that began formally with the Forest Act of 1864 and finally the Indian Forest Act of 1927, the rights of Adivasis were reduced to mere privileges conferred by the state.

This was in acknowledgement of their dependence on the forests for survival and it was politically forced upon the rulers by the glorious struggles that the Adivasis waged persistently against the British. The Forest Policy of 1952, the Wild Life Protection Act of 1972 and the Forest Conservation Act of 1980 downgraded these privileges of the peoples to concessions of the state in the post-colonial period.

With globalisation, there are now further attempts to change these paternalistic concessions to being excluded as indicated by the draft “Conservation of Forests and Natural Ecosystems Act” that is to replace the forest act and the amendments proposed to the Land Acquisition Act and Schedule V of the constitution. In 1991, 23.03% of STs were literate as against 42.83% among the general population. The Government’s Eighth Plan document mentions that nearly 52% of STs live below the poverty line as against 30% of the general population.

In a study on Kerala, a state considered to be unique for having developed a more egalitarian society with a high quality of life index comparable to that of only the ‘developed’ countries, paradoxically shows that for STs the below poverty line population was 64.5% while for Scheduled Castes it was 47% and others 41%. About 95% of Adivasis live in rural areas, less than 10% are itinerant hunter-gatherers but more than half depend upon forest produce. Very commonly, police, forest guards and officials bully and intimidate Adivasis and large numbers are routinely arrested and jailed, often for petty offences.
Only a few Adivasi communities which are forest dwellers have not been displaced and continue to live in forests, away from the mainstream development activities, such as in parts of Bastar in Madhya Pradesh, Koraput, Phulbani and Mayurbanj in Orissa and of Andaman Islands.
Thousands of Korku children below the age of six died in the 1990s due to malnutrition and starvation in the Melghat Tiger Reserve of Maharashtra due to the denial of access to their life sustaining resource base. Adivasis of Kalahandi-Bolangir in Orissa and of Palamu in south Bihar have reported severe food shortage. According to the Central Planning Committee of the Government of India, nearly 41 districts with significant Adivasi populations are prone to deaths due to starvation, which are not normally reported as such.
Invasion of Adivasi territories The “Land Acquisition Act” of 1894 concretised the supremacy of the sovereign to allow for total colonisation of any territory in the name of ‘public interest’ which in most cases are not community notions of common good. This is so especially for the Adivasis. The colonial juristic concept of res nullius (that which has not been conferred by the sovereign belongs to the sovereign) and terra nullius (land that belongs to none) bulldozed traditional political and social entities beginning the wanton destruction of traditional forms of self-governance.

The invasion of Adivasi territories, which for the most part commenced during the colonial period, intensified in the post-colonial period. Most of the Adivasi territories were claimed by the state. Over 10 million Adivasis have been displaced to make way for development projects such as dams, mining, industries, roads, protected areas etc. Though most of the dams (over 3000) are located in Adivasi areas, only 19.9% (1980-81) of Adivasi land holdings are irrigated as compared to 45.9% of all holdings of the general population. India produces as many as 52 principal, 3 fuel, 11 metallic, 38 non-metallic and a number of minor minerals.

Of these 45 major minerals (coal, iron ore, magnetite, manganese, bauxite, graphite, limestone, dolomite, uranium etc) are found in Adivasi areas contributing some 56% of the national total mineral earnings in terms of value. Of the 4,175 working mines reported by the Indian Bureau of Mines in 1991-92, approximately 3500 could be assumed to be in Adivasi areas. Income to the government from forests rose from Rs.5.6 million in 1869-70 to more than Rs.13 billions in the 1970s. The bulk of the nation’s productive wealth lay in the Adivasi territories. Yet the Adivasi has been driven out, marginalised and robbed of dignity by the very process of ‘national development’.

The systematic opening up of Adivasi territories, the development projects and the ‘tribal development projects’ make them conducive for waves of immigrants. In the rich mineral belt of Jharkhand, the Adivasi population has dropped from around 60% in 1911 to 27.67% in 1991. These developments have in turn driven out vast numbers of Adivasis to eke out a living in the urban areas and in far-flung places in slums. According to a rough estimate, there are more than 40,000 tribal domestic working women in Delhi alone! In some places, development induced migration of Adivasis to other Adivasi areas has also led to fierce conflicts as between the Santhali and the Bodo in Assam.

Internal colonialism Constitutional privileges and welfare measures benefit only a small minority of the Adivasis. These privileges and welfare measures are denied to the majority of the Adivasis and they are appropriated by more powerful groups in the caste order. The steep increase of STs in Maharashtra in real terms by 148% in the two decades since 1971 is mainly due to questionable inclusion, for political gains, of a number of economically advanced groups among the backwards in the list of STs.

The increase in numbers, while it distorts the demographic picture, has more disastrous effects. The real tribes are irretrievably pushed down in the ‘access or claim ladder’ with these new entrants cornering the lion’s share of both resources and opportunities for education, social and economic advancement.
Despite the Bonded Labour Abolition Act of 1976, Adivasis still form a substantial percentage of bonded labour in the country.

Despite positive political, institutional and financial commitment to tribal development, there is presently a large scale displacement and biological decline of Adivasi communities, a growing loss of genetic and cultural diversity and destruction of a rich resource base leading to rising trends of shrinking forests, crumbling fisheries, increasing unemployment, hunger and conflicts. The Adivasis have preserved 90% of the country’s bio-cultural diversity protecting the polyvalent, precolonial, biodiversity friendly Indian identity from bio-cultural pathogens. Excessive and indiscriminate demands of the urban market have reduced Adivasis to raw material collectors and providers.

It is a cruel joke that people who can produce some of India’s most exquisite handicrafts, who can distinguish hundreds of species of plants and animals, who can survive off the forests, the lands and the streams sustainably with no need to go to the market to buy food, are labeled as ‘unskilled’. Equally critical are the paths of resistance that many Adivasi areas are displaying: Koel Karo, Bodh Ghat, Inchampalli, Bhopalpatnam, Rathong Chu … big dams that were proposed by the enlightened planners and which were halted by the mass movements.

Such a situation has risen because of the discriminatory and predatory approach of the mainstream society on Adivasis and their territories. The moral legitimacy for the process of internal colonisation of Adivasi territories and the deliberate disregard and violations of constitutional protection of STs has its basis in the culturally ingrained hierarchical caste social order and consciousness that pervades the entire politico-administrative and judicial system. This pervasive mindset is also a historical construct that got reinforced during colonial and post-colonial India.

The term ‘Criminal Tribe’ was concocted by the British rulers and entered into the public vocabulary through the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871 under which a list of some 150 communities including Adivasis, were mischievously declared as (naturally) ‘criminal’. Though this shameful act itself was repealed in 1952, the specter of the so-called ‘criminal tribes’ continue to haunt these ‘denotified tribes’ – the Sansi, Pardhi, Kanjar, Gujjar, Bawaria, Banjara and others. They are considered as the first natural suspects of all petty and sundry crimes except that they are now hauled up under the Habitual Offenders Act that replaced the British Act! Stereotyping of numerous communities has reinforced past discriminatory attitudes of the dominant mainstream in an institutionalised form.

There is a whole history of legislation, both during the pre-independence as well as post-independence period, which was supposed to protect the rights of the Adivasis. As early as 1879, the “Bombay Province Land Revenue Code” prohibited transfer of land from a tribal to a non-tribal without the permission of the authorities. The 1908 “Chotanagpur Tenancy Act” in Bihar, the 1949 “Santhal Pargana Tenancy (Supplementary) Act”, the 1969 “Bihar Scheduled Areas Regulations”, the 1955 “Rajasthan Tenancy Act” as amended in 1956, the 1959 “MPLP Code of Madhya Pradesh”, the 1959 “Andhra Pradesh Scheduled Areas Land Transfer Regulation” and amendment of 1970, the 1960 “Tripura Land Revenue Regulation Act”, the 1970 “Assam Land and Revenue Act”, the 1975 “Kerala Scheduled Tribes (Restriction of Transfer of Lands and Restoration of Alienated Lands) Act” etc. are state legislations to protect Adivasi land rights.
In Andhra for example, enquiries on land transfer violations were made in 57,150 cases involving 245,581 acres of land, but only about 28% of lands were restored despite persistent militant struggles. While in the case of Kerala, out of a total claim for 9909.4522 hectares made by 8754 applicants, only 5.5% of the claims have been restored. And this is happening in spite of favourable judicial orders – orders which the state governments are circumventing by attempting to dismantle the very protective legislation itself.

The callous and casual manner with which mainstream India approaches the fulfillment of the constitutional obligations with reference to the tribes, and the persistent attempts by the politico-administrative system to subvert the constitution by deliberate acts of omission and commission, and the enormous judicial tolerance towards this speak volumes on the discriminatory approach that permeates the society with regard to the legal rights of the Adivasis.

Race, religion and language
The absence of neat classifications of Adivasis as a homogenous social-cultural category and the intensely fluid nature of non-Adivasis are evident in the insuperable difficulty in arriving at a clear anthropological definition of a tribal in India, be it in terms of ethnicity, race, language, social forms or modes of livelihood.

The major waves of ingress into India divide the tribal communities into Veddids, similar to the Australian aborigines, and the Paleamongoloid Austro-Asiatic from the north-east. The third were the Greco-Indians who spread across Gujarat, Rajasthan and Pakistan from Central Asia. The fourth is the Negrito group of the Andaman Islands – the Great Andamanese, the Onge, the Jarawa and the Sentinelese who flourished in these parts for some 20,000 years but who could well become extinct soon. The Great Andamanese have been wiped out as a viable community with about only 30 persons alive as are the Onges who are less than a 100.

In the mid-Indian region, the Gond who number over 5 million, are the descendants of the dark skinned Kolarian or Dravidian tribes and speak dialects of Austric language family as are the Santhal who number 4 million. The Negrito and Austroloid people belong to the Mundari family of Munda, Santhal, Ho, Ashur, Kharia, Paniya, Saora etc. The Dravidian groups include the Gond, Oraon, Khand, Malto, Bhil, Mina, Garasia, Pradhan etc. and speak Austric or Dravidian family of languages. The Gujjar and Bakarwal descend from the Greco Indians and are interrelated with the Gujjar of Gujarat and the tribes settled around Gujranwala in Pakistan.

There are some 200 indigenous peoples in the north-east. The Boro, Khasi, Jantia, Naga, Garo and Tripiri belong to the Mongoloid stock like the Naga, Mikir, Apatani, Boro, Khasi, Garo, Kuki, Karbi etc. and speak languages of the Tibeto-Burman language groups and the Mon Khmer. The Adi, Aka, Apatani, Dafla, Gallong, Khamti, Monpa, Nocte, Sherdukpen, Singpho, Tangsa, Wancho etc of Arunachal Pradesh and the Garo of Meghalaya are of Tibeto-Burman stock while the Khasi of Meghalaya belong to the Mon Khmer group. In the southern region, the Malayali, Irula, Paniya, Adiya, Sholaga, Kurumba etc belong to the proto-Australoid racial stock speaking dialects of the Dravidian family.

The Census of India 1991 records 63 different denominations as “other” of over 5.7 million people of which most are Adivasi religions. Though the Constitution recognises them as a distinct cultural group, yet when it comes to religion those who do not identify as Christians, Muslims or Buddhists are compelled to register themselves as Hindus. Hindus and Christians have interacted with Adivasis to civilize them, which has been defined as sanscritisation and westernisation. However, as reflected during the 1981 census it is significant that about 5% of the Adivasis registered their religion by the names of their respective tribes or the names adopted by them. In 1991 the corresponding figure rose to about 10% indicating the rising consciousness and assertion of identity!

Though Article 350A of the Constitution requires primary education to be imparted in mother tongue, in general this has not been imparted except in areas where the Adivasis have been assertive. NCERT, the state owned premier education research centre has not shown any interest. With the neglect of Adivasi languages, the State and the dominant social order aspire to culturally and socially emasculate the Adivasis subdued by the dominant cultures. The Anthropological Survey of India reported a loss of more than two-thirds of the spoken languages, most of them tribal.

Fragmentation Some of the ST peoples of Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, W. Bengal, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram have their counterparts across the border in China (including Tibet), Bhutan, Myanmar and Bangladesh. The political aspirations of these trans-border tribes who find themselves living in different countries as a result of artificial demarcation of boundaries by erstwhile colonial rulers continue to be ignored despite the spread and proliferation of militancy, especially in the north east, making it into a conflict zone.

The Adivasi territories have been divided amongst the states formed on the basis of primarily the languages of the mainstream caste society, ignoring the validity of applying the same principle of language for the Adivasis in the formation of states. Jharkhand has been divided amongst Bihar, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa though the Bihar part of Jharkhand has now become a separate state after decades of struggle. The Gond region has been divided amongst Orissa, Andhra, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. Similarly the Bhil region has been divided amongst Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Rajasthan.

In the north-east, for example, the Naga in addition are divided into Nagaland, Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. Further administrative sub-divisions within the states into districts, talukas and panchayats have been organised in such a way that the tribal concentration is broken up which furthers their marginalisation both physically and politically.

The 1874 “Scheduled District Act”, the 1919 “Government of India Act” and later the “Government of India Act” of 1935 classified the hill areas as excluded and partially excluded areas where the provincial legislature had no jurisdiction. These formed the basis for the Article 244 under which two separate schedules viz. the V Schedule and the VI Schedule were incorporated for provision of a certain degree of self-governance in designated tribal majority areas. However, in effect this remained a non-starter. However, the recent legislation of the Panchayat Raj (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act of 1996 has raised hope of a radical redefinition of self-governance.

By not applying the same yard stick and norms for Adivasis as for the upper caste dominated mainstream, by not genuinely recognizing the Adivasis’ traditional self-governing systems and by not being serious about devolving autonomy, the Indian State and society indicates a racist and imperialist attitude.
The call for a socially homogenous country, particularly in the Hindi Hindu paradigm have suppressed tribal languages, defiled cultures and destroyed civilisations.

The creation of a unified albeit centralised polity and the extension of the formal system of governance have emasculated the self-governing institutions of the Adivasis and with it their internal cohesiveness.

The struggle for the future, the conceptual vocabulary used to understand the place of Adivasis in the modern world has been constructed on the feudal, colonial and imperialistic notions which combines traditional and historical constructs with the modern construct based on notions of linear scientific and technological progress.

Historically the Adivasis, as explained earlier, are at best perceived as sub-humans to be kept in isolation, or as ‘primitives’ living in remote and backward regions who should be “civilized”. None of them have a rational basis. Consequently, the official and popular perception of Adivasis is merely that of isolation in forest, tribal dialect, animism, primitive occupation, carnivorous diet, naked or semi-naked, nomadic habits, love, drink and dance. Contrast this with the self-perception of Adivasis as casteless, classless and egalitarian in nature, community-based economic systems, symbiotic with nature, democratic according to the demands of the times, accommodative history and people-oriented art and literature.

The significance of their sustainable subsistence economy in the midst of a profit oriented economy is not recognised in the political discourse, and the negative stereotyping of the sustainable subsistence economy of Adivasi societies is based on the wrong premise that the production of surplus is more progressive than the process of social reproduction in co-existence with nature.

The source of the conflicts arises from these unresolved contradictions. With globalisation, the hitherto expropriation of rights as an outcome of development has developed into expropriation of rights as a precondition for development. In response, the struggles for the rights of the Adivasis have moved towards the struggles for power and a redefinition of the contours of state, governance and progress.

The Khand, one of the Scheduled tribe of the Jharkhand State, are found in the districts of Singhbhum and Hazaribagh, they are minor tribe. They have probably migrated from the Orissa. In the State of Orissa, Khand is a major community. Racially they belong to Proto-anstraloid and linguistically to Anstro-Asiatic family.


The khand are not found in a single village. They are found in mixed villages with other tribes and castes. They have own home stead land houses. The house is rectangular in shape. The house is erected with mud, wood, bamboo, rope and tiles. There  are atleast two rooms and a verandah and courtyard in each house. The rooms have no widows but wood door filled with iron nails. They close the door when they go out to work. The verandah is also used for cooking and sitting, and   for keeping Denki, Janta, Khal Musali, Loraha Silaut etc.

            Dol, Nagara, kartal, thali and flute, Whistle etc. are their musical instruments.

            The men wear half dhoti and ganji when they are in house or at work place. But they wear full Dhoti, Ganji and Shirt when they go out of the village to meet relatives, friends or they go to Haat. Women wear Sari, Saya and blouse. The boys wear Ganji, Paint and Shirt. The girls wear frock and paint and Salwar suit. The children below 5 years of age generally remain half naked. They wear plastic shoe and slipper.

            The Khand women are fond of ornaments. They wear ornaments in hair, neck, nose, ear, wrist, finger and feet. There ornaments are made of brass, bronze, steel, nickel, thread, shell, seeds, bass, gold and imitation of gold and brass. They purchase ornaments from the local haat.


The kinship system of the Khand presents a model of relationship based on parentage and marriage. They believe that the blood of the parents flows to the offsprings through reproduction. The blood relation is present right from the birth of an individual. On the basis of blood, there is relation between the early ancestors and the present descendants.

            After marriage, the husband and the wife becomes consanguineal kins. Their blood flows in the offsprings through reproduction. But marriage also creates sets of affinal relatives. The husband  is related to all family members.


The family is the smallest form of society. It is nuclear in structure. It consists of father, mother and unmarried children. The married children establish their own house away from the parents. They earn and cook on separate hearths. The joint family is rare. Father is the head of the family and he has final say in family but he use to involve his elders, wife and grown up children for final decision.

            In orer to run the family smoothly all family members work and cooperate each other.   The husband perform work generally outside the house. The wife generally performs work of cooking. The children assist their parents and old persons look after kids, chicks, goat, ducks, etc, when children and  young persons are out of the village.

            The family is based on the faith and cooperation of the family members. Cordial relation among the family members is essential for the management and maintenance of the family. The relation between husband and wife is generally good. Both love each other and cooperate each other. They get up early in the morning and go to bed by 9 PM. During this period, they perform work in the house, own work in the field or earn wages to raise the family income and to provide food, clothes and shelter to the family members. The cooperation of both is essential for the healthy development of the family, both contribute in the family income. The relation between husband and wife gets bitter on development of extra marital relation. Neither wife nor husband tolerates the extra marital relation. It leads to serious conflicts between the couple and ultimately results in divorce. On divorce, they are allowed for remarriage, but the children remains with father.

            The relation between the parents and the children is also very cordial. The parents love their children very much. They provide them full freedom to play and enjoy childhood. Their demands are to met within economic limits. Maximum punishment is scolding. The children love their parents very much, obey and assist in household works. Premarital sex relation within the tribe but outside the clan is not taken bad by the parents and the society because such relations result finally in marriage. But pre marital sex relation outside the tribe and inside the clan is taken as social offence. Such children are punished in the form of fine and feast to the community members. The fine is paid by the parents.

            The relation of the Khandh family with the families belonging to same tribe but different clans is good. They share joy and sorrow together. They maintain relation by exchange of invitation on ceremonies and worship.

            The relation of the Khandh with other tribes and caste of the village is also generally good. They exchange news and views. They extend help during trouble and being the members of the same village they have kind feeling. The relationship gets bitter on rape, adultery and extra marital sex relation.

            The Khandh also have good relation with the people of neighbouring villages. They exchange news and views after meeting. They also show hospitality when they visit at the door of one another for any kind of work. The relationship gets sour on rape, adultery and extra marital sex relation. Such incidence leads to violent behaviour.


The Khond believe that marriage has been initiated by the Burha Deo and Burhi Dei for the continuation of lineage, descent, family name and race. For the purpose of marriage, the Burha Deo and Burha Dei send a boy and a girl in two families of the same tribe but of different lineage and clan. The marriage age in the Khond is between 15 to 25 years. The Khond practice monogamy but in exceptional situations like barrenness, widow, widower, witchcraft, divorce etc.,  they practice bigamy and polygamy. The Khond practise  the rule of endogamy at the time of marriage. According to endogenic rule a Khond boy is allowed to marry only a Khond girl and vice versa. For the purpose of the marriage, the Khond are divided into numerous exogamous totemic clans named after plants, trees, animals, birds, natural things etc. Some important clans of the Khond are Hembram, Hansa, Bedia, Beck, etc. Before marriage, the girl belongs to father’s clan and after marriage the girl is included in the father-in-law’s clan. The husband and wife become consanguineal kin and give birth to children.

When the proposal of marriage is accepted by the father of the bride, discussion of bride-price goes on. The bride’s father demands in bride-price in cash and kind. The bride-price in cash varies between Rs. 51 to151 along with ornaments and dresses for bride, bride’s parents, grand parents, brothers and sisters. Rice pulse, vegetables, goat etc. are also demanded to provide feast and to the community members. When the demand of the bride price is accepted by the groom’s father, the marriage is declared as negotiated and settled. The Baiga priest is called to fix a suitable date of marriage. The bride-price is paid a week before the marriage. The marriage date fix between January to May. The Baiga priest gets a pot of Handia for this purpose. When the bride is not paid, the marriage is declared cancelled and a fresh marriage deal takes place.

            A week before the marriage date, the father of the groom along with his agnatic kins pay a visit to the house of the bride’s father along with bride-price in cash. They are accorded a warm welcome by the agnatic kins of the bride’s father. They are requested to wash hand, face and feet. They are served Handia, Dal-mot and Lakatho sweets. They take Handia upo full wishes. They share a feast of rice and meat organised in their honour.. In the morning, they are offered Vidai along with breakfast and Handia.

            After the payment of the bride price, the fathers of the bride and the groom send invitation in the house of their respective paternal, maternal and affinal kins  and friends to participate in the marriage. An agnatic kin goes to render invitation orally along with sunfried rice and Haldi. Visiting village to village, he serves invitation to all kins and friends. The kins start coming with money, food items, gift etc. To participate in the function of marriage. First of all the ritual of digging soil is done to make hearths.. The female kins go in a neighbouring fields singing songs with a spade and basket. The Phua digs out the soil. The mother collects soil in the basket and brings it home on ger head. The female kins prepare hearths from the soil. After this, start the ritual of applying oil, Haldi paste and pulse paste called Ubatan. This continues fill a day before the marriage. The bride and the groom have to follow a number of taboos in this period. The taboo is imposed on food, walking, visit and bath.

            A-day before the marriage, the male kins erect Marawa in the houses of both the bride’s and the groom’s father. The Marawa is erected with the help of bamboos, leaves, rope and Khar grasses. All deities are invited to take abode in the Marawa by the Baiga priest to make the marriage successful and joyful. While the male kins erect the Marawa , the female kins sing the songs. All members present there sing the songs. All members present there sing the songs.

            In the morning of the marriage day, the bride and the groom are allowed for purificatory bath. The male kins bring water from the pond. The female kins wash the body of the groom and the bride properly. They are given new dresses to wear. Their hands and fingers are decorated with Mehandi and nail polish. Kajal is prt in eyes. The hair is decorated with hair pins and flowers.

            The groom sirs in Palanquin is carried by the Mahli or Turi or Bhuiya. The female kins of the groom make the occasion auspicious by spraying sunfried rice, water, flowers etc. The palanquin carriers take Handia upto full wishes. The male kins of the groom wear new dresses. They share food and Handia and accompany the groom in the form of Barat Party. They have Dol, Nagara, Kartal, Thali and flute to play .

            As soon as the members of the Barat Party and the groom reach in the village of the bride, the male kins of the bride accord a warm welcome. They shake hands and offer flowers to each members. They are brought at the gate of the bride’s father’s house amidst the scene of dancing, singing and playing musical instruments. They are offered worship by the Baiga, the father of the bride and the female kins spray sunfried rice. After this, they are brought at a suitable place for night halt. They are requested to wash hands, face and feet. Then they are served the plates of breakfast and Handia in hospitality. The female kins of the bride come to bring the groom in the Marawa. The groom accompanies them. In Marawa, he is ask to take seat at a mat. The companion of the bride cut jokes and sing Gali songs . Now the bride is brought in the Marawa. She offers a beads of flowers on the neck of the groom. The groom repeats it for the bride. The Baiga priest enchants Mantras. The female members sing song. The young people clap their hands to express joy. The groom is asked to put vermillion in the forehead of the bride. The bride and the groom make round of the fire tank seven times. This marks the end of the marriage. Now members of the community share the final round of Handia and go to share the feast of the marriage. The bride and the groom are brought in a house to seek the blessing of the family deity. Then they seek blessing of all elders present there. Now, all members go to take rest.

            In the morning the Vidai of the groom is made. The kins of the bride meets with the groom one by one and offers some cash in blessings. Amidst the scene of tears in eyes, the bride sits in Palanquin. The groom follows her. The box containing the dresses and cosmetics if the bride is also put in Palanquin. Some food materials are also put with a Lota of water. All kins see the Palanquin carrying the groom and the bride going out of the village.

            After the Vidai of the bride and groom, the Vidai of the members of Barat Party is also done. The male kins of the bride go with breakfast and offer Vidai by embracing all members one according to age and relation. They seek Pardon if not extended hospitality in proper manner.

            As soon as the Palanquin carrying the bride and the groom reach at the gate of the groom, the female kins of the groom offer worship and welcome to the couple. The bride and the groom are brought in the Marawa putting step after step in baskets. In the Marawa, the ritual of Chumawan is done. The couple seek blessings of the all deities invited in the Marawa . They also go in a room to seek the blessing of the elders. They also seek the blessing of all elders present there. Then all members share the feast.

            The bride stays in the house of the father-in-law for a week. After a week, father or brother of bride comes to see and take back Mayake. The father-in-law of the bride makes Vidai of the daughter-in-law. The bride stays in mayake for a year. After a year, the father of the groom sends a message to the father of the bride to bring her back in Sasurala. The father of the bride accepts the date of the Vidai. The groom comes to bring the bride. The vidai is made with new dresses, money and sweets. Thereafter, the bride starts living in sasurala. After few months, she is given a separate house to live and hearth to cook food. She cooks food from the earning of the husband. Both husband and wife reproduce children and struggle hard to maintain their existence and the maintenance of the family.


The birth in the Khond society is regarded as very joyous occasions for the couple, family and the society. It washes the stain of barrenenness of the couple. It brings marital success and happiness in the life of the couple. It carries the family name from one generation to the next. It also maintains the continuity of the community. In this way, birth is regarded as very happy occasion in the family.

            The birth generally takes palace in the supervision of a Dai or chamain who has some knowledge of attending delivery. The navel is cut with the help of a bamboo knife made for this purpose. Now-a-days, new blades are also used. All delivery wastes are buried in the ground at a lonely place. The attendant cleans the body of the child with clean cloth. The  attendant is allowed to go freely in the delivery room. But other family members are not. The attendant massages the body of the mother with oil thrice a day. She also applies oil over the body of the child thrice a day. The mother is served hot water, Khichari, Halua and Haldi . The breast feeding is started within an hour. In order to protect the child from the attack of evil spirits, a number of Totaka are performed. A small branch of the thorny plant is placed at the door of the room. The fire is kept burning round the clock. The lamp is kept lighted for the whole night. An iron knife is kept by the side of the mother.

            The delivery brings pollution for the mother and the child for five days. On 6th day, the entire house, cloths of mother and child are washed. The mother and the child are allowed for a purificatory bath. All female members are invited to participate in the function. The mother performs bath and wears clean dress. The child is also covered in clean cloth. The members sing songs and the attendant plays Thali. The mother along with the child seeks blessings of the family deity. She also seeks the blessings of the elder members. After this, feast is shared by all community members and pollution period ends.

            The naming ceremony of a new child takes place after a month. The food serving is held after the eruption of the first tooth. The Munndan ritual occurs after two years and the ear boring ritual occurs after three years. The marriage is held between 15 to 25 years.


The Khond are well aware of the universality of the death. They know well that every birth is followed by a death. But between birth and death an individual has to pass through the stages of infancy, childhood, adolescence, younghood, adulthood and oldhood. After death, there is rebirth or a peaceful stay in the ancestral abode. The death during old age is expected, so it is not taken bad. But death in infancy, childhood, younghood and adulthood is not taken good and natural. The souls of such dead persons do not get place in the ancestral abode. They also do not get rebirth till the remaining years of life. They are called Bhuta–Preta. They are dissatisfied souls. They  remain wondering from place to place. They make attack on children, women and milch cattle. They are sriven out by the Ojha.

            The Khond cremate as well as bury the dead. The Christian  Khond bury their deads. The dead bodies of children, pregnant woman and persons suffering from pox,  cholera etc. are not cremated. They are buried. The graveyard is known as Sasan. Ancestral spirits reside there. The bones and the ash after cremation are brought in the graveyard and a stone slab is placed over it in the memory of the deads.

            The death brings pollution in the family, lineage an clan for nine days. The members of the family, lineage and clan do not eat meat, oil and Haldi in the pollution period. The males do not shave. The females do not perform bath, on 10th day, entire house, clothes, furnitures , utensils etc. are washed properly. The females go to perform bath at the pond. The males go to Ghat to get their hairs, beard, mustache shaved. All get their nails cuts. All members go in the house of the diceased and touch oil and Haldi. They apply oil over their body. They cook food and share the purificatory feast. After this, the pollution period ends.


The economy of the Khod is dependent on agriculture and labour. Each Khond family owns some agricultural land, besides homestead land and Bari-land. The agricultural land is two types- Don and Tanr. The Don land has move water storing capacity so Jarhan or Agahani paddy are cultivated in it. The Tanr land has less water storing capacity. So, Vadai paddy, maize, marua, Kurathi, Surguja, Til, Arahar, gram, etc. are cultivated in Tanr land. In the Tanr land crops are cultivated by dry cultivation method, while in the Don land, cultivation of crops is done by wet cultivation method. There is no assured means of irrigation. They are dependent in rain fall .Now a days, some Khond families have wells and diesel machine. They have been attracted towards the cultivation of vegetable crops. They use HYV  seeds, fertilizer and pesticides in the cultivation of the vegetables. The agriculture is generally not profitable, but they are able to grow paddy for their consumption. They are hot in a position to sell the yield of the paddy because they do not have more yield. The agriculture provides them engagement only for 6 to 8 months in a year. For another 6 to 4 months, they are dependent on setting their labour as Reja, Coolie in the forest, field, construction site, brick kilns, mines, industries etc. But as labour, they do not get work regularly. They do not get minimum wages as fixed by the Government time to time.

            The Khond staying in the forest also have some income from the collection of MFP. But in the collection of MFP, they face problems due to Forest Regulations and Acts.

            The Khond are also indebted to the Mahajan. They take loan from the Mahajan for consumption purposes. They repay the loan from the wages.

            The Khond visit the local Haat for doing marketing of essential commodities. Men, women and children go to Haat. They enjoy there by purchasing Lakatho sweet, Jilebi, Duska and Bhunja. In the Haat, they avail credit facilties.


The Khond religion presents a mixed picture of tribal animism, Hinduism and Christianity. The Sing Bonga is the supreme deity and Dharati Mai is her consort. The village deity is Thakur Deo and Thakur Dei. The Burha Deo and Burha Dei are the ancestors. Borang Buru is the God of mountain. They also believe in river bonga, moon bonga, star bonga, Tila bonga, Bhagbonga etc. These bongas control the events in the life of the Khond and events in and around their habitat. They also believe in Bhagwati, Durga, Lakshmi, Mahadeo. They celebrate festivals like Sarhul, Sohraj, Jitia, Karma, Dusehra, Diwali, Nawakhani, Phagu and Ramnawami. The Christian Khond believe in Christ. They visit Church on every Sunday. They celebrate Christian festivals and are controlled by the Church authority. The Khond believe in good and bad omens in journey, birth, marriage, agriculture, domestication of animals etc. They perform a number of white magic for peace and happiness in the family.

Political Organisation

The Khond are found in mixed villages. They do not have dominant numerical strength in any village. So, they are the integral part of the village Panchayat with the head belonging to the major tribal community, particularly the Munda. They are the members of village Panachayat. They participate in village Panchyat. For solving the problems of own community, they have inter village Panchayat in which the Khond of the neighbouring villages  are members. They elect one of the members as the head of the inter-village Panchayat and try  to solve te problem of the community particularly adultery, rape, break of incest taboo, divorce, inter-tribe marriage, intra-clan marriage, etc. The Khond  also go to Thana and Court against the decision of the Panchayat. They are politically conscious. They participate in the election of MLA and MP. But as they do not have numerical strength, they are not in a position to send MLA and MP from own community. They have some tribe leaders who influence their voting behaviour.


The Khond women are industrious by nature and play significant role in raising the family income by earning wages. They struggle hard to maintain the family. They are illiterate and unorganized. They are exploited and oppressed. They are also subjected to domestic violence. There is need to organize them under the Mahila mandal and self help group so that they can become independent economically and conscious towards their rights.


The Khond children enjoy their life in playing. They are not punished. They are given full freedom. They are also enroll in school. As a result, incidence of non attendance and drop outs comes into existence. A good number of them become illiterate and have to survive by working as labour, Reja and coolie.


The Khond youth are the work force of the community. They work hard to maintain the family. But they are facing the problem of unemployment and regular work. As a result, they are bound to live in utter poverty. Some compromise with their fate and work as others. But some get deviated from the normal path. They become drunkard and abnormal. They feel deprived and frustrated.


The aged of the Khond are well aware of the economic condition of family. So they do not put pressure on the family members to spend more on their disease and treatment. They know well that oldhood is full of disease and trouble. The only thing that can save them is death which will transform their body from old to new by rebirth. The aged are respected. They are served food first, worshipped on the occasion of ceremonies, festivals. Their blessings are sought by the young generations. The children spend their time mostly with grand parents than their own parents.

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