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Issue #14: How Hinduism Is Used To Erase Tribal Identities

India Ink
Issue #14: How Hinduism Is Used To Erase Tribal Identities
By India Ink Team • Issue #14 • View online
How Hinduism is Used to Erase Tribal Identities in India
Hello everyone!
We have another article for you this week. This one is a summary of a paper by Virginius Xaxa laying out how academics and state officials have debated the language, religion and identity of indigenous communities in India over the last two hundred years. And how little that has involved actual indigenous people.
We wanted to share the paper because it’s a great introduction to how colonialism is ongoing with Indian state as the colonizers of indigenous communities – usurping their land, erasing their culture, and denying them autonomy.
We should have a new video out next week so keep an eye out for that!
The India Ink Team

How Hinduism is Used to Erase Tribal Identities in India
Image by Yann licensed under CC BY SA 4.0
Image by Yann licensed under CC BY SA 4.0
  1. Over the course of Indian history, indigenous groups have been given many names by non-indigenous people. In various old Hindu or Sanskrit texts, they are referred to as rakshasas and nishadas – words meant to insult and dehumanize them.
  2. In the colonial era, the British grouped them all together under the generic category of “tribes” – a term that erases the huge diversity of communities that fall under it. So the British continued the historical trend of ignoring how tribal groups saw themselves and instead defined and categorised them based on how they differed from the rest of society.
  3. In modern India, sociologists also understood tribes as people outside so-called “civilization” and thus, outside of Indian society. But they were not isolated. They were constantly interacting with the broader society and were sometimes “absorbed” into it.
  4. In the 1960s, G.S. Ghurye proposed that tribes are actually “backward Hindus”. He argued that the less a tribe was like caste Hindus, the more “backward” it was. The Sangh Parivar adopted this idea and weaponized it against Christian tribes. They argued that if they weren’t Hindu, then they weren’t tribes at all. Despite all the stark differences between Hinduism and tribal beliefs, despite the fact that the Indian constitution does not define tribes on the basis of religion, Ghurye’s view has become the dominant pattern of thinking about tribes in India.
  5. Since then there have been numerous attacks by these groups on tribal Christians in India. These attacks reveals the Sangh Parivar belief that tribals “cease to be tribes when they become Christian”.
  6. While there has been interaction and exchange between Hinduism and the various tribal religions, this doesn’t mean that tribes can be called Hindus. As a natural religion, tribal religion shares many attributes in common with religious practices of tribes in Americas or Africa as well, but nobody would argue that those religions are connected to Hinduism.
  7. The Indian Constitution seeks to integrate tribals into broader society without erasing their cultures. But there’s a huge gap between the intent and the actual implementation on the ground. For example, even though all citizens of India are guaranteed the right to education in their mother tongue, children from tribes are almost always forced to study in the language of their dominant regional community.
  8. Apart from the negligence at the federal level, the census also reflects a change in thinking about tribes. In independent India, tribes began to be classified as Hindu if they didn’t belong to another non-tribal religion. This is a new twist on the old method of absorption and shows how tribal erasure is still going strong.
(As usual, this is just a summary of the summary of the article. You can read the full summary by clicking below!)
How Hinduism is Used to Erase Tribal Identities in India - India Ink
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India Ink Team

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