An account of discrimination, conflict and fight for rights of Adivasis

The popular image of the Adivasis of India as isolated, primitive, barbaric and uncivilized is what led the author Bhangya Bhukya to write this book, ‘The Roots of Periphery: A History of the Gonds of Deccan India’. The book is an attempt to answer the crucial questions like, why do certain social groups continue to lead rugged and wild lives? Why did civilization, not reach the hills and forests? And why did the Adivasis evade the state and chose to live on the peripheries of the empires which are now referred to as Scheduled Areas? The book aims to explore the meaning of such state-evading politics while studying the process of the making of peripheries in India.

The Aryans and their subsequent state and empire formations laid the foundation for the creation of peripheries in India. This process acquired momentum during the Sultanate and Mughal regimes and became more aggressive under the British colonialism. The writer argues that the Adivasis have their roots at the centre. He describes how the British colonial government in India created an administrative divide between the plains and the hills thus stereotyping hill and forest communities as isolated and uncivilised.

The book is divided into the five chapters and begins by tracing the history of the Gond dynasty and its land and politics. The discussion is basically centred on the political history of the Chanda state, which falls in the present day Chandrapur district of Maharashtra and Adilabad district of Telangana. Bringing an oral narrative of Gond sovereignty into the study, an attempt is made to reconstruct the history of Chanda in the first chapter. The second chapter deals with the ways in which the colonial state subordinated the sovereign rajas through treaties, agreements, and by force. They examine the early encounters of the Gond rajas with British Colonial rulers and how the politics impacted the Gond community in subsequent times.

The third chapter ‘Enclosing Land: The making of the colonial state in the hills’ explores the history of land enclosure under British rule in India, a process which was crucial to state making in the forests and hills. The colonial state established its power over the inaccessible forest and hill areas and their people through the rule of property and forest regulations. It gives insights into how the colonial state adopted the practice of grabbing forests from Adivasi chiefs on lease or sale. The wood in these forests was exploited soon after, and the land parcelled out to peasants of the plains for cultivation.

In the next chapter, the author asserts how the enclosing of Adivasi spaces led to the creation of the peripheries in India. The revenue and agriculture policies followed by the colonial government brought heavy pressure to bearers of land, both in the plains and in the hills. It narrates how the Adivasi autonomy was reconfigured in newer ways during the last decades of Colonial rule. Through Kumaram Bhimu’s revolt against the Hyderabad state, it further examines how the failure of protectionism and development initiatives often resulted in an insurgency demanding self-rule.

The fifth chapter gives insights on what happened to the Gonds in independent India. Even after India’s independence, the Adivasis continued to embrace insurgency. This is partly because the independent Indian state inherited colonial mentalities and policies with respect to Adivasis and did not recognise the latter‘s political or fundamental rights. As a result suppression of the Adivasis continued.

All in all, this is an important book on an important topic of history and politics as well. It should help in redefining the constitutional rights of our ‘indigenous people’ which most governments have been ignoring for a long time now.

The writer ends by reflecting on the importance of the historical perspective of the Adivasis. He quotes Jaipal Singh Munda’s response to Jawahar Lal Nehru’s statements during the constituent assembly debates: There is a little you are offering us. The constitution is yours. The borders are yours. The sovereignty is yours. The flag is yours. What is ours? What is it that is both tribal and Indian in the constitution? What is the shared legacy the common weave? You have defined rights, the isms, the industry, the science, let something be ours.’

Book: The Roots of Periphery: A History of the Gonds of Deccan India
Author: Bhangya Bhukya
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Price: 750