Adivasis in today’s India

The term ‘Adivasi’ means ‘Indegenious People’ or original inhabitants. There are 67.7 million adivasis living in India. Most adivasis in India are now below the poverty line and have no political power. They are seen as ‘backward’, ‘savage’ and ‘conservative’, as termed by colonial anthropologists. This perspective is one-sided, though it could be true. In fact, every time a representative of the government visits them, they are looted of the very few resources that they possess.

There is extremely poor connectivity and there have been negligent attempts made to make them feel inclusive. Despite housing a majority of minerals in the country, these pristine forests lack electricity which is a necessity in the present state of living. Adivasis are deprived of education, healthcare and other luxuries that are basic necessities for the mainstream people who are not forest dwellers. Additionally, a major concern with respect to this is the government has been dealing with adivasis from the materialistic perspective of law and order and hasn’t addressed the insecurities of the adivasis as human beings.

Out of the mainstream society

There are many stereotypes surrounding this community, especially since the country has been developing since the onset of industrialization. Adivasis take great pride in the fact that they protect the natural resources of jal, jungle, jameen (water, forest, land). Over the years, adivasis have always been victims of society’s deeds. The mainstream society has been quite ignorant about adivasis and there have been many steps taken by people to ‘civilize’ people belonging to this community. Under the pretext of doing the same, the mainstream has deprived them of the resources they have been conserving for very long.

The Tribes Advisory Councils (TACs) that have been set up after a great deal of deliberation, have only transferred power from the British rulers to the upper caste population. Laws that are applicable to the rest of the state have been extended to these areas over time and the TACs have almost no power. In fact, the provision of TACs hasn’t been extended to many regions wherein adivasis have been living for years together. This is indicated by the sorrowful conditions that adivasis now live in. This is, largey, because of lack of political will as well as adivasi leaders giving in to corruption.

Article 21 of the Indian Constitution

Adivasis have been deprived of rights over their own lands since time immemorial. Despite having strived so hard to conserve the flora and fauna around, adivasis have been adversely affected by this. As the Supreme Court observed in Olga Tellis vs. Bombay Municipal Corporation, 1985, Article 21 (Right to Life) has many connotations and one of them is ‘Right to Livelihood’. This is being violated in case of adivasis.

Also, in Maneka Gandhi vs. Union of India, the Supreme Court observed that Right to Life also includes ‘Right to Live With Human Dignity’. This has been reiterated in various other cases such as the Francis Coralie Mullin as well as the Bandhua Mukti Morcha cases. And this has, unfortunately, not been applied to adivasis yet.

Article 21 has also been interpreted as the ‘Right to Healthy Environment’ by MC Mehta judgements which is being provided for by the adivasis. Every single resident of the country is losing upon this right by avoidance of expression of these issues. It is not just about adivasis being displaced but also about the environment around us.

Crises among adivasis

Adivasis live in harmony with nature as well as with each other. There is no selfishness in the relationship they share with anything for that matter. Due to the lack of understanding about their lifestyle, money and materialistic pleasures have been induced into their lives. It is generally understood that adivasis are the most marginalized section in the country and this has caused great harm to them. This is exactly where the misunderstanding begins. Since independence, adivasis have been viewed as people that require help in development. A lot of projects have been approved in these regions and this eventually led to a lot of havoc that included mental disturbance to adivasis, displacement, reduction in forest cover as well as ecological balance.

Adivasis have been following a very different kind of lifestyle until the British Raj. Their notions of well-being are different from what is generally the accepted definition. Education, industries, modern farming and other such aspects of life have never been a part of their lives. They had traditional methods to predict weather, enjoy music, grow their own food, depend on herbs to cure any health issues as well as handle any kind of disasters. Industrialization brought in a kind of culture that is quite contradictory to that of adivasis. In other words, the idea of development has been monopolized and the society has become more inclined towards capitalism.


A community’s identification by its actual name is imperative for its recognition as a whole. The Constituent Assembly consisted of many elite members of the society and many had no clue of the condition of adivasis. There apparently have been no efforts made to understand them better. It is now high time that these knowledge gaps be filled and there be steps taken to address the plight of adivasis rather than just brainstorm about how to suppress their revolts. This is because adivasis have very genuine concerns. They are leading the kind of lives they wouldn’t otherwise. Their heritage, that they have been preserving for centuries, is on the verge of declining. How isolated would they be feeling and what can we, as fellow human beings, do to make them feel inclusive? This is a question we should all address and seek to answer because equality is a right that has to be achieved, given the progress we have made over the years.

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Brief Bulletin.


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