I Would Like to begin on a personal note. My interest in tribal studies began about sixteen years ago when I made a study of the tribal movement led by Birsa Munda (I874-190l) in Chotanagpur. I have since been fascinated by the recurring phenomena of movements in tribal regions. There is also an impersonal, and a more compelling, reason for organising a workshop on tribal movements. The National Policy Resolution on the Anthropological Survey of India (ASl) commits us to building up a composite picture of the tribal society in India. In spite of our research activities spread over many years, we have been able to achieve only a partial view of it. This workshop, organised in September 1976, is the first in a series of such exercises planned for-the remaining two-and-a half years of the Fifth Five Year Plan, which will yield an all India perspective on the different dimensions of tribal society. We propose to follow up this workshop with similar exercises at suitable intervals, which will enable us to form an integrated picture of tribal society, economy, politics, customary laws, oral tradition, poetry and art. With this end in view, we have revised our plan, recast our priorities, and redeployed our personnel. As most of the projects will be interdisciplinary in nature, we propose to involve not only scholars from many disciplines but also those from universities, tribal research institutes and regional centres of research spread all over the country.
The present workshop is probably the first large assembly of anthropologists, scholars from other disciplines and administrators interested in tribal studies which will explore the various facets of tribal movements.
About twenty-five years ago, anthropologists and administrators had jointly contributed papers to the ‘Rebellion’ number of Man ill India (1945). The Seminar on the Tribal Situation in India held in 1969 at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study in Simla, also took note of some movements.
ASl has been conscious of the need for organising studies of this kind since the mid-sixties. The first exercise in perspective planning for social research undertaken in 1967, resulted in studies of the Jharkand and Meitei movements. Many of our scholars undertook study of the movements incidental to their projects. The groundwork had thus been laid.
The study of tribal movements has been a relatively recent development in the field of social anthropology. Ironically, the growing volume of literature on the subject discloses the more active role played by historians, administrators and social workers in the documentation of these movements. Anthropologists have generally been preoccupied with the study of the elements of social organisation and their inter-relationships. The understanding of the wider processes which have a profound bearing on the network of inter-relationships has not been much in evidence. Since the mid sixties, however, a few of our social anthropologists have started becoming active in this field of study and have explored the impact of macro-historical and economic processes on small, enclosed and encysted systems. However, a critical evaluation of the available material reveals many lacunae.
To begin with, the overall picture remains fragmentary for want of adequate empirical evidence. Secondly, the concepts used in processing and interpreting material and the tools used for generating ‘the material are borrowed from research situations elsewhere.’ As a result, the uniqueness of the Indian experience is not reflected particularly well. Thirdly, there is a great deal of overlapping in the time-dimension. For instance, efforts are assiduously made to establish the millenarian character of a particular movement, even though the historical conditions which determined this formation have ceased to exist.
When I joined the ASI last April, I found that we had the competence, expertise and a fair amount of material to organize an exercise of this kind. Therefore, we conducted a quick short-term survey by employing the conventional tools of field investigation to generate short descriptive profiles of ongoing movements, and to update in the process existing material, generate new material, and undertake the content analysis of newspapers, periodicals and other published material relating to the movements. Our investigators went round the regions and interviewed the leaders. and participants in the’ movements, and organised their material around a typology: origin of the movement and factors contributing to it; goal of the movement and its programme life-cycle and development of the movement-a historical narrative and a chronology of events; role and nature of the dominant groups, and interaction of group, community and factional interests; character of the movement in terms of its political, social, reformative and cultural programmes; geography of the movement; concept of insiders and outsiders; leadership of the movement; participation in elections and political process at the local, regional and national level; support of the movement by forces from outside and within; the present status of the movement and causes of its survival or decline; impact of the movement; folklores of the movement; emergence of multi-tribe regional systems and bibliography of the movement.
Not all papers conform to this typology. Some may even find fault with this rough and ready method, and the data-base of some papers may appear to lack in empirical depth and their analyses in conceptual rigour, but even a cursory look at the papers presented will indicate the richness and variety of the data. A line has to be drawn between a survey organisation-the primary task of which is to generate basic data- and the research institutes and universities which have to build upon them and produce theoretical models.
At an earlier stage of our exercise, we suggested the term ‘ongoing movement’. But as our exercise progressed, we discovered that the outgoing movements were not so ongoing. They were passing into history, and their roots went back to the 1930s. Therefore, we preferred the term ‘contemporary’ to describe the movements in tribal regions in a relevant time- dimension.
A tribe in India is an administrative concept, which means the communities scheduled as tribes under the Indian Constitution. However, we have included some communities such as the Ahoms and Kurmis who were once upon a time a tribe. Some of the non-tribal movements are not without relevance to tribal movements in general.
The two major objectives of the seminar were: (a) to generate and put together the material available on tribal movements for the benefit of researchers, scholars and administrators; and (b) to put the material ill a frame that makes understanding easier.
Two volumes have been formed out of the papers presented and contributions made at the Seminar. The present volume containing the papers on tribal movements in the north-east is the first; the second volume deals with tribal movements elsewhere in the country.
There are variations in tribal movements from region to region. In the northeast, the tribals are in an overwhelming majority; the tribal system, both social and economic, is relatively secure. Tribal movements in this area have been essentially political and secular in nature. As against this, the situation is far more complex in middle India. The tribals have been reduced to a minority in many areas, and have been exposed to the processes of rapid change. Industrialization has come about in a big way; the centres of industrial development have shifted from the coastal and metropolitan pockets to the tribal regions. Agrarian issues have also been in the forefront. Therefore, the tribal movements in this region have developed an essentially agrarian character, even while the tribes have emphasised ethnicity and articulated demands of a: political nature. There are no agrarian movements in the northeast except in Tripura.
The tribal societies in middle India, unlike those in the North-East, were closely integrated with the prevailing colonial system, its economy and administration. The interaction of the peasants and tribes had led to the development of ‘settled agriculture as the primary mode of subsistence in the pre-colonial period. This process was accentuated in the colonial phase as waves of peasants moved into tribal areas. They carried with them their cultural systems which inspired the rise of religious movements called the Bhagat movements among tribes. In the colonial phase the tribals not only faced threat to the control of their environment and resources such as land but, also, actually lost control of them. This was at the root of the long chain of tribal uprisings centering on the crucial question of the possession of land. Alongside the agrarian struggles, Sanskritisation processes were also at work: In the post-colonial phase these trends continued, except in one respect, namely, that the Sanskritisation process slowed down even if it was not actually reversed as in the North-East, because of the demand for the implementation of welfare measures which followed the recognition of the tribes as a privileged category under the Indian constitution.
The survey conducted by the Anthropological Survey of India (ASI) identified a number of movements in eastern India; the most important of them being the movement for the establishment of a Jharkhand state. There were also social mobility movements among the Kurmi in Chotanagpur re-seeking the tribal status. Central India reported the continuation of the Bhagat movements and a political movement of sorts among the Gonds. Northern parts of Andhra, which are a part of the Central Indian system, witnessed a militant tribal uprising. There were also movements in western India such as the Bhagat movements among the Bhills, agrarian movements among tribals and the Halpatis and a political movement for autonomy. In the south, where there were small and isolated primitive tribes, only incipient political processes could be observed among them.
Studies of these movements suggest that tribal unrest assumes an organised character only among the large homogeneous, land-owning tribal communities who have a relatively strong economic base such as the Munda, Santal, Bhil, Gond, etc. Very few of the primitive tribes, who have a pre-agricultural technology, participate in such movements. The major tribal communities, however, have a high degree of literacy and a high rate of participation in democratic processes. It is these groups who react strongly to the issues concerning land and forest on which they subsist. Also, a new middle class is emerging from among them in urban areas which agitate about reservation of jobs; it is also sensitive to the exploitation of its people as labourers in agriculture, mining, industries, etc. The demands of this new class are couched in secular idioms.
We may categorise the movements in Middle India identified by the ASI survey as follows:
i. Movements for political autonomy;
ii. Agrarian and forest-based movements;
iii Sanskritisation processes; and
iv. Cultural movements based on script and language.
Movements for Political Autonomy
The Gonds and Bhils voiced their demand for the formation of a separate state at the beginning of the Second World War; however this was neither spelt out nor sustained by an organised movement. Initially, Kurma Bhimu in Adilabad demanded a Gond raj in 1941. Then in a memorandum submitted before the States Reorganization Commission in the 1950s, the Gond leaders demanded the formation of a separate state for the Adibasis to be carved out of the tribal areas of Chattisgarh and contiguous districts of Rewa region and Vidarbh. A movement consisting of the Gonds of the lower strata led by Hira Singh developed in the late 1950s and reached its peak in 1962-63 before dying down. The local authorities did not take this movement seriously as for most of them the Manjhi was an eccentric person and his movement was quixotic (See Singh).
Desai describes a tribal autonomy (Adivasi Swayat Raj) movement in South Gujarat in the 1960s. However, the movement does not seem to have gathered strength since, which could be due to the remarkable progress achieved by Gujarat in the area of tribal education and development. Singh also provides the historical perspective on the best organised and most articulate movement for tribal autonomy in Middle India which belongs to Chotanagpur, the most advanced and exposed of the tribal regions and the various phases through which the movement passed until it emerged as the Jharkhand party in the 1940s. Even though the party has been losing ground, the slogan of tribal or regional autonomy is still alive. The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) with its radical ideology has emerged today as a major political force in the industrial and mining belt of Chotanagpur, and in Bihar politics after the 1980 general elections. Generally speaking, it seeks to broad base the separatist movement by including within its ambit the peasant and working classes. However, the tribal ethnic movement reveals strands of interdenominational and inter-tribe competition and rivalry.
The Jharkhand movement failed to develop into a full- fledged regional movement. Tribal ethnicity in a multi ethnic society, characterised by economic interdependence among different communities, thus followed a different course of development in Chotangpur unlike such movements in the North-East; separatism in this tribal region did not develop into secessionism. Panchbhai deals with the ramifications of the movement among the Santals while P.K. Bhowmick presents a case study of the Jharkhand politics of West Bengal and L.K. Mahapatra of Orissa.
Agrarian and Forest-based Movements
Agrarian movements in tribal areas are restricted to only some regions within which tribal movements occurred. Few agrarian struggles were reported from the northern and southern parts of India. In Middle India, though tribal discontent over various forms of exploitation is widespread, it has been organised into movements only at some places involving a few tribes. Agrarian struggles and forest-based movements are closely linked and will be dealt with here together. The leaders of the freedom struggle in the tribal regions had mobilized the tribals by focusing on the means of livelihood: their rights in the forest and to forest produce being eroded through commercial exploitation. This, next only to land, was the most important resource on which the tribals subsisted. A series of forest satyagrahas were launched in the 1930s by the Indian National Congress to demand restoration of tribal’s customary rights to extract timber and collect forest produce for consumption. In Madhya Pradesh, in the 1950s, a forest Satyagraha was led by the Kharwar of Palamau, the dominant tribal peasant community in Palamau, and another by the Gond across the border (See Singh), The two forest satyagrahas had their roots in the disturbance of the customary rights of the tribals in the forest which they had enjoyed without let or hindrance until the forest department imposed its regulations for efficient management of forest resources. Their struggle failed to achieve its objective, which eludes them to this day.
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