Towards a contextual understanding of the politicization of Adivasi identity


The flourishing of Adivasi social movements in India during the late twentieth century can be seen to follow logically from the fact that Adivasi communities are amongst those most “ground down” (Shah et al. 2017) by neoliberal India’s prioritizing of economic growth above all other measures of development. The “accumulation by dispossession” that characterizes neoliberal capitalist restructuring, moreover, tends to provoke an exclusionary logic that is difficult to resist using the struggle repertoire of for instance the “workers’ strike”.  Yet when we zoom in on these new Adivasi social movements, it becomes clear that using Adivasi identity to politically contest issues of intensified exclusion and precarity is no straightforward political route at all. Indeed, the notion of adivasi-ness, to which so much colonial baggage attaches, produces a lot of complications when used for emancipatory or liberatory politics. To reach a fuller understanding of the rise of Adivasi social movements we therefore also need to understand why Adivasis turned away from other forms of political struggle that they were active in before. The state of Kerala, where the Communist movement used to attract considerable support from Adivasi and Dalit communities, is a good place to explore this question in detail and work towards a more contextual understanding of the politicization of Adivasi idenity.

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