The Politics of Being ”Indigenous”
Amita Baviskar In an era dominated by the ‘politics of recognition’ (Fraser 1989), where citizenship claims rest on assertions of irreconcilable cultural differences that depart radically from Nehruvian notions of tolerant pluralism (Khilnani 1997, Kesavan 2001), the resurgence of ideas of indigeneity acquires a particularly potent political charge. This essay examines how the idea of indigeneity informs contemporary debates in India, as a resource for claims-making, especially in the context of struggles over rights to the environment. I base this essay on the insights from historical anthropology that locate Indian indigeneity within colonial discursive formations (Pels 2000) that continue to influence postcolonial policies and everyday practices, and that point to the contingent and constructed character of the concept. I argue that to appreciate the political provenance of the idea of indigeneity is not a move to discard it or render it forever tainted by ‘inauthenticity’, nor to reinstate the ‘truth’ of some more authentic identity such as class or nationality, but to recognize that every political identity mobilizes collectivities in consequential ways, and that we must clarify the inclusions and exclusions entailed in any particular mobilization. In that spirit, I explore the politics of representation when indigeneity is invoked by subordinated adivasi groups to claim rights to political and economic resources. While traversing this contentious terrain that has divided scholars and activists, I attempt to temper the more alarmist scholarly critiques by situating indigeneity as just one among multiple strategies simultaneously employed by adivasis in their quest for a better life. When taken together, these multiple, sometimes contradictory, practices create a dynamic, fluid set of political identities that must be engaged with in the search for emancipatory politics.