Tribal Peoples in Kerala


The word 'Adivasi' means 'original inhabitants' in Sanskrit, and therefore the term means the indigenous people of India. However, their status is being distorted and denied particularly by the Hindu fundamentalists within India, and the government has also taken the consistent position at the United Nations (UN) Working Group on Indigenous Populations that the STs are not equivalent to indigenous peoples and that 'the entire population of India ... [is] ... indigenous to the country'. This despite the overwhelming academic, legal, literary, popular and official practice or view both within and outside India to the contrary.

The opening up of Adivasi areas during British colonial rule has intensified in a planned manner since India's independence. The Adivasis' territories and homelands have been divided by state boundaries and international borders. State governments have consciously followed a policy of 'development' to make their respective areas conducive for outsiders to enter and settle, either to extract resources or to produce goods for the predominantly urban market. Because Adivasi territories have huge forests, minerals and other profitable resources, various forms of legislation, such as the Coal Bearing Act, 1957, have been introduced in order to acquire land. Furthermore, the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, an instrument of British colonialism, is still being used to legally take over Adivasi lands in the name of 'national development' and 'national interest'. Adivasi homelands have become the cradle of heavy industries, which have in turn displaced hundreds of thousands of Adivasis. Others have been relegated to unorganized and unskilled sec

tors of wage labour.

The Indian Forest Act, 1927, which became the main legal instrument for depriving the Adivasis of their forest rights, still continues to be the basic Indian law on forests. In the name of environmental protection, the Wild Life Protection Act, 1972, was also promulgated. This Act severely restricts the rights of Adivasis in the wildlife sanctuari

es and extinguishes all rights in the case of national parks. Growing efforts to carry out ecodevelopment projects, and promote eco-tourism, with the financial backing of multinational agencies like the World Bank, have heightened the crisis, with Adivasis having to further restrict or abandon their survival activities in the forests.

Adivasi peoples' struggle for autonomy, for control over their territories and for the restoration of their traditional rights continues. The reaction of central and state government to the Adivasis' struggles has been brutal. Whether the Adivasis organize along trade union lines and form associations which are constitutional and aim to enforce their rights, or whether they demand autonomy, the state has treated these struggles as being a 'law and order' problem. The state has resorted to extreme measures, killing countless numbers of Adivasis. It has placed areas under special measures and sent in battalions of paramilitary forces and police who have let loose reigns of terror to keep the people under state control.

Adivasis are the ancient indigenous people with a distinct identity and a culture that has territorial identification. The major issues relating to Adivasis stems from the fact that the Government refuses to acknowledge that they are indigenous people with a symbiotic relationship with nature.

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