Adivasi of India


Like all tribal people across the  globe, the Adivasi of India were happy to live in lives that were uncomplicated by money.  Till recently, they were living in harmony with their surroundings.

The forest gave them food, clothing, material for housing and medicine.  Like the Japanese, who believe in Shinto, the Adivasi believe in the divine nature of "Nature".  To them, all things are imbibed with the divine spirit and are deserving of respect.  Later, Hinduism absorbed their Gods and Goddesses in to its rich tapestry of scriptures, myths and legands and added their myths and legends to its own.

Adivasi used to situate their villages near their food and water source.  The men would hunt, farm and protect the village, while the women would farm and do the majority of the household chores.  The material they used for housing was easily obtainable from their surroundings  - bamboo, wood, thatch, mud etc.   Being a natural insulator, mud walls are great at keeping temperature inside hut at a constant rate - neither too hot nor too cold.  The palm and thatch roofs kept the rain out and were made from renewable resources.

The life of the Adivasi was spent mainly outdoors.  Children ran around and played outdoors while most of the household chores were conducted outdoors too.   The hut was used to sleep indoors in bad weather and store food, cloths and tools.   Children would help out with the household chores and would hence learn how to do things from an early age.  This was essential in a community that was self reliant self contained.

The tribe used to collectively cultivate small clearings to grow essential food stuff.  They hunted forest animals to supplement their diet as and when required.  They used to sell herbs, animal skins and other forest products to earn cash from city dwellers.  They used to prize items made from metal, tools and glass beads.


Changes in their lives

Arrival of "money" and all it can bring has changed the lives of Adivasi forever.

Now, with new houses, they need money to buy the fired bricks and tiles.  They also find that their life pattern has changed to suite a new way of life.  It is no longer possible to "live outdoors" as before.  Now that each room has a "unique function" and furniture that goes with it, they have to work hard to provide the beds, tables and cabinets that make up their new house.

The village itself has had to relocate to be closer to the main road that runs to the nearest town.  This has brought them away from their traditional source of food and water.  Due to constant traffic, children can no longer play out-doors.  Dust, pollution and noise from the road make life more dirty and stressful.  Often new diseases are introduced into the local population by foreigners.  Their own herbal medicines can't cope with these and so they have to rely on "new medicines" of the westerners.

Shop(s) selling new foods and "luxury" items tempt them to buy things.  Adivasi need to work hard to earn enough to purchase these goods.  This pushes them to work for "others".  Like the new clothes, the new foods need to be paid for and the only way to do it is by
1) farming or
2) working for the "richer" folk. 
This is not what the once proud people want to do, but, to pay for a "modern mod cons", they have to - they have little choice.  Being under-educated, many have no choice but to do menial jobs for low wages.  To earn "enough" money they have to work long hours.

The common ownership of things, such as land, has now been largely transferred to "individuals".  This causes tensions in the society / family and is at the root of some of the issues they face.  Life and society is disturbed as never before.  Sometimes, mining and logging companies are taking advantage of their lack of paperwork and usurping land that used to belong to the community.  Most of the time, the community is poorly compensated for such a loss.

In some area of India, communist ideology is encouraging them to rebel against the Indian state.  In some areas, they are forced to support the rebels at the point of a gun.  They are forced to pay "tax" to finance the rebels.  They are also often forced to smuggle rare wood, endangered animals, weapons and even drugs to finance the rebels.

In other parts of India, Christian missionaries are trying very hard to convert them.  Offering them food, medicine, jobs and other inducements, missionaries are trying to get them to abandon their ancient life styles.  Upon conversion, they are often asked to destory any signs or symbols of their old faith, destroy sacred groves or idols, stop singing old songs and dancing old dances.  In areas were large number of tribes are converted, such as the North East provinces of India, the local language is nearly forgotten.  Now the official language of those states is "English" !!

The carefree Adivasi life of a generation or two ago, is sadly no more !


Bhagwat    [email protected]


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