Adivasis in India mostly live a marginalized and neglected existence. It is unfortunate that even after so many decades of the independence, a huge majority of such disadvantaged communities remains far removed from the mainstream amenities. Many lag behind in economic and social development. The communities suffer from widespread poverty, malnutrition and food insecurity. However, they also possess extraordinary wealth of forest wisdom, community culture and knowledge. They are one of the most inseparable elements adding color to the diversity of our country. Here are 10 things you did not know about Adivasis in India and hopefully these should help you appreciate the contributions they make to our country and our culture…
- Earliest inhabitants of India: As the name suggests, Adivasis are the earliest inhabitants of India mostly displaying proto-Australoid anthropological characteristics. According the experts they arrived here during the earliest human migration out of Africa, much before anyone else settled down in the sub-continent. Some rivalling theories even propose that the rest of the population has originated out of them.
- Unique symbiotic relationship with the forests: Adivasis have a deep relation with the forests. Even now they mostly live away from the towns and near the forests. Their local economy also depends on the items collected from the forest and that is why industrialization and deforestation deeply affects their livelihood. Practicing sustainable forest management, they are seen as the protectors of the forests and the biodiversity of our planet.
- Knowledge of uncultivated crops: Adivasis have an unparalleled knowledge of the uncultivated forest crops. These are high in nutrition and are used by the tribes as a part of their traditional meals, In times of low rainfall, or poor climatic conditions, the knowledge of uncultivated forest crops can help the tribes face food insecurity.
- A culture of community living/ Kutumbh: Adivasis live in a culture of community sharing, development and togetherness. The community works together and takes care of each other’s needs
- A strength based leadership system: Adivasis practice an egalitarian system of leadership. The leader of any local community is chosen based on leadership abilities and strength rather than family lineage.
- Role in the Indian independence struggle: Adivasis played a significant part in India’s freedom movement. Even before the official movement, many local uprisings against the British authority and their appointed landlords were organized by Adivasis in India. Adivasi legends like Birsa Munda laid down their lives fighting against the colonial rulers.
- Role in the tea cultivation: While Assam is the largest tea growing region in the world, all the workers who work at these gardens were recruited from the Adivasis communities of central India by the British. They have done this work for generations and still most of them remain generally detached from the mainstream Assamese society.
- Creators of exquisite indigenous art, music and dance forms: Many Adivasi communities have preserved various indigenous art forms over thousands of years. Native art of tribes such as Gonds and Bhils are highly coveted. Many tribes have been able to retain these traditional art forms passed on from generation to generation preserving some of India’s best folk culture.
- Belief in the spiritual essence in their ecosystems: Many Adivasi communities ascribe to the worldview that animals, plants and other objects posses a spiritual essence. They preserve forests not just because forests are the providers of basic necessities but because the forests are scared and have a soul of their own.
- Adivasi sants and sages: Many Adivasi sants led various cultural, devotional, patriotic and educational movements in India engaging a lot of their devotees. Adivasi Sant Tirumangai Alvar composed verses in Tamil and Sant Kubera was a teacher for 35 years. Adivasis also find mentions in Hindu mythology. Maharishi Matanga (Varaha Purana), Maharishi Valmiki (composer of the Ramayana), Bhakt Shabari (in the Ramayana) were recognized as Adivasis.
Adivasis in India live in regions as remote as the North East and the Andaman islands. However, bulk of them are concentrated in the scorching, dusty plains of central India covered by the states of Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Andhra, Odisha and Maharashtra. Adivasis make up slightly more than 8% of India’s population. The absolute number is significant considering India’s billion plus population. Currently due to deforestation and loss of traditional means of food security, many Adivasis in India suffer in abject poverty, malnutrition and lack of access to basic amenities.