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Social inequality and tribal

The STs are social groups recognized by the Indian Constitution as specially marked by poverty, powerlessness and social stigma. The jana or tribes were believed to be people of the forest whose distinctive habitat in the hill and forest areas shaped their economic, social and political attributes.

Tribal groups have had long and close association with Hindu society and culture making the boundaries between tribe and caste quite porous.

The Independence of India in 1947 should have made life easier for adivasis but this is not the case. Firstly the govt monopoly over forests continued leading to acceleration in exploitation of forests. Secondly the policy of capital intensive industrialization adopted by the Indian govt required mineral resources and power generation capacities which were concentrated in Adivasi lands. Adivasi lands were rapidly acquired for new mining and dam projects. In the process millions of Adivasis were displaced without any appropriate compensation or rehabilitation. Justified in the name of national development and economic growth these policies were also a form of internal colonialism, subjugating adivasis and alienating the resources upon which they depended. Projects such as Sardar Sarovar Dam on the river Narmada in western India and the Polavaram dam on the river Godavari in AP will displace hundred and thousands of adivasis driving them to greater destitution. These processes continue to prevail and have become even more powerful since the 1990s when economic liberalization policies were officially adopted by the Indian govt.

The term Adivasi connotes political awareness and the assertion of rights. Literally meaning original inhabitants the term was coined in the 1930s as part of the struggle against the intrusion by the colonial govt and outside settlers and moneylenders. Being adivasi is about shared experiences of the loss of forests, the alienation of land, repeated displacements since Independence in the name of development projects and much more.

Inspite of the heavy odds against them and in the face of their marginalization many tribal groups have been wagging struggles against outsiders and the state. In post –Independence India, the most significant achievements of Adivasi movements include the attainment of statehood for Jharkhand and Chattisgarh which were originally part of Bihar and MP.