How the Subalterns Speak – Indigeneity and a Global History of the Adivasi in Eastern India (1930s – 1990s)

This project aims to explore the development of indigenous rights discourses at its interface with state and international platforms in the twentieth century by pushing the boundary of indigeneity studies beyond its traditional arena in the Americas and Oceania. While indigenous peoples’ rights are enshrined in the law in nations like Canada or Australia, governments in regions lacking a clear native/settler dichotomy deny the existence of indigenous peoples in their territory in spite of possessing substantial populations that identify as indigenous. Since the 1930s, many of the 104.2 million people (today) categorized as ‘Scheduled Tribes’ in India have expressed their claims to the nation and its resources in a vernacular grammar of indigeneity articulated in their self-identification as adivasi(s) [‘original inhabitants’]. This project, considering this predicament of indigeneity politics in South Asia as paradigmatic, looks at the development of this discourse as a process of negotiation between subaltern activists and national and global interests and capital, mediated by globally active and conscious middle class politicians. Through a two-fold methodological approach involving (private and state) archival research in India, the UK, and Switzerland, supplemented by oral history interviews in the state of Jharkhand among adivasi politicians and activists, this project attempts an investigation into the process of subaltern political engagement and methods of strategic essentialisms adopted across different platforms by activists and their middle-class representatives. It promises to shed light on (a) how indigenous rights discourses are historically formed, (b) the neglected global dimension of indigenous rights in the Global South through looking at the North-South as well as South-South engagements for key actors like Jaipal Singh and Ram Dayal Munda, and (c) where, when and how indigenous resource claims are negotiated, and how such arguments are refracted through middle class political strategies. Fundamentally, this project hypothesizes a deep awareness even among subaltern actors of the interests of the dialectical ‘other’ in the articulation of indigeneity as a strategic essentialism.

PhD Project

Project Supervision