Raphaël Rousseleau, « Claiming Indigenousness in India », La Vie des idées, 7 February 2013. ISSN : 2105-3030. URL : http://www.booksandideas.net/Claiming-Indigenousness-in-India.html
India has created a National Commission for the Scheduled Tribes, the name given to its indigenous populations. Have the Adivasi, the other name for the Scheduled Tribes, really benefited from the Commission’s policies? There, as in many other issues in India, the problem lies in local politics.
India recognizes 462 “Scheduled Tribes” within its territory, also called Adivasi or “first inhabitants.” The country also signed the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007, but with the provision/precision that all the inhabitants of India are to be considered indigenous by contrast with the European colonisers. The history behind this paradoxical recognition is complex, as its practical effects remain very limited. This position actually reflects the ambiguity of the Indian postcolonial state, which has attempted to legally uplift its ‘tribal’ citizens while actually maintaining the marginalization of their communities as minorities. The Constitution of India (1950) distinguished two categories of “Backward Classes:” the Scheduled Tribes (ST) and the Scheduled Castes (SC or Dalits). A third division of the population was added more recently: the Other Backward Classes (OBC), corresponding to economically fragile groups. The members of all these classes can benefit from various affirmative action programs offered them by the central government. Yet how effective those are remains controversial, as is the overall efficacy of claiming indigenousness in India.
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