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VICHAAR: The Origins of Tribal History in India – IN CONVERSATION WITH Dr. Sangeeta dasgupta & Dr. Saagar TEwari

“Stories of Adivasis must be told, not only to express difference and dissonance but also to point to the multiplicity of cultures and the different ways of thinking.” – Prof. (Dr.) Sangeeta Dasgupta

Dr. Sangeeta Dasgupta
Associate Professor
Jawaharlal Nehru University
Dr. Saagar Tewari
Associate Professor of History
Jindal School of Liberal Arts and Humanities

Reading tribal history is hard, especially in India, because of the complex relationship the community shares with the mainstream Indian society which is marked by class and caste differences. Yet, it is very important to acknowledge them and understand their place in history to answer questions about development and upliftment.

So many scholars from different fields, from trained anthropologists to members of the erstwhile Indian Civil Services, have contributed to this vast study of Indian tribal communities, in the form of papers, articles, and debates. Many of these debates would go on to shape the way the Indian state and the Indian Constitution perceive these communities and guarantee the rights and duties. With tribal history being this complex and important, the question remains, how should people view tribal history? What can be done to be more sensible to address key developmental questions, keeping in mind the history of Tribal communities?

To address these questions, this edition of Vichaar hosted Professor (Dr.) Saagar Tewari, Associate Professor of History at the Jindal School of Liberal Arts and Humanities, and Professor (Dr.) Sangeeta Dasgupta, Associate Professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Professor Tewari begins by pointing out the connotations of the terms ‘civilization’ and ‘tribe’, with the former being more relatable to river banks, and the latter, to the wilderness. He then talks about how these groups were eventually marginalized as cities, and a flourishing economy developed, and how colonization arrested the development of individual, autonomous tribal groups. We also discuss the role of left-wing politics in amplifying the voices of the tribal communities, and how, the failure of the State to deliver on its promises, has also led to the infiltration of Maoism and other left-wing extremist elements in the tribal areas. We also talk about how the thriving of tribal culture is important for sustainability, and this requires more research from different angles into tribal history, whose avenues are now open for the generations to come.

Prof. Dasgupta commences her podcast by differentiating between the terms Adivasi, tribe, scheduled tribe, and indigenous people. Professor Dasgupta not only talks about the politics of tribal representation but also stresses the contemporary need of reconstructing the way tribes are perceived in India. Adivasi history cannot be truly understood without taking into account their pasts and lived experiences. She concludes by saying that we cannot write unbiased history, but as young students of History, we must be cautious of what we write and how they write history.

In totality, these podcasts discuss critical aspects of reading and understanding Adivasi history. The tribal history in India is highly politicized and for anybody interested in reading tribal history through an unbiased perspective, these podcasts are a must listen!

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