The word “ādivāsī” originates from two words in Sanscrito and it literally means: original (“adi”) inhabitants (“vasi”). Its literal translation in Italian should be “original inhabitants”. Adivasi indicates the people who were populating India before the arrival of the Indo-Aryans and the Dravidians and who are considered tribal and indigenous. It is very important to underline the difference between those two concepts, as one does not include the other necessarily: the Adivasi identity includes many different languages, names and lands and it does not refer only to the Indian origin of this population. Moreover, even if there are some constitutional laws to protect them, actually they are considered only as savages. In their own country, neither their territories, nor their culture are safeguarded in any way: they are invisible and dumb to everybody. Over the centuries, Adivasi have defied attempts of submission and assimilation from different invaders by seeking refuge in the inner isolated parts of India (you can see the area highlighted in green in the map hereafter). They have succeeded in preserving their autonomy by living in a symbiotic relationship with the Nature. Their living habits include: subsistence agriculture, hunting, wild fruits picking and small handcraft. Moreover, they have accumulated precious knowledge on forests, plants, herbs and their use as food and medicine.
Currently, there are approximately 100 millions Adivasi in India and most of them live in the Central and Eastern States of the Federation. They are divided in communities with different languages, history and culture. The Indian Constitution officially recognizes 212 of these communities, which are classified as “scheduled tribes”. In reality there are more than 400 groups.
In theory, being part of the ST category has some privileges, such as access to some quotes in public job posts, in politics and at school, and to some governmental programs aimed at preserving tribal language and culture and special laws to manage tribal lands. But, actually, can we consider them as real advantages? How many people undergo this name and have access to them? Does India really safeguard tribal people and their lands?
If we think to a minority, we might make mistakes and think that ādivāsī are few people. But this is not the reality: they are the 8.6% of the Indian population.
As already explained, these people had to face many troubles to reach their independence and these situations brought them to move to the deepest and most isolated territories. Some researchers say also that the forest hasn’t always been their habitat, but this change of life was caused before by the hindū exploitation of the arable lands and after by the English colonization.
Their adaptability allowed them not only to survive, but also to develop this strong symbiotic relationship with the Nature and the land where they live. The tribes depend on their lands, both because it guarantees subsistence and because it already became their Home. We don’t only speak about economic dependence, but also cultural link: even today, these communities identify themselves with activities related to Nature and during all this time they developed a cult for it. These cults are defined animists and include a strong relationship with the environment. Therefore, losing their land becomes not only a severe economical issue, but also a cultural problem. In India, many people think that these groups should change their lives in order to become part of the society, while the homologation without saving their knowledge, traditions, history and culture will be a big injustice.
Speaking about the Indian protection of these areas, it is important to move one step back: the failure of economic development in the Northern and North-Eastern regions of India, characterized by a high density of Adivasi inhabitants, is a grave social issue still not solved by the Government.
This situation is even aggravated by juridical and political conflicts for the ownership of land. The Indian regions included in the so-called “Red Corridor” are well known among international companies for their huge mineral resources. However, those lands belong to the adivasi people who have always lived there and now are facing unfair expropriations.
Finally, speaking about the quotes dedicated to them is ambiguous, because from one side they guarantee infrastructures and service to those classified as ST, but from the other they increase the existing gap between the true Indian inhabitants, creating new conflicts and making integration even more difficult.
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