chapter  5
22 Pages

Tribe, Caste And The Indigenous Challenge In


Tiplut Nongbri The Colonial Legacy Colonial officers and Christian missionaries as part of their efforts at efficient administration and proselytization were the pioneers of tribal studies. The term “tribe” itself was a colonial construct born of the administrator’s need for classified information, which initiated the colossal task of mapping the population into “tribes” and “castes”. Such an exercise was purposeful for the government in obtaining not only a better understanding of the administered society, but also in coming up with an enlightened policy in the administration of the people. Besides, though not explicitly stated, such a policy was deemed to be crucial if the government was to contain the ‘barbaric’ and the ‘wild’1 character of tribes. Even before the East India Company consolidated its position in the country, tribes such as the Gond, Bhil and the Koli in central and western India were in a disturbed state. Mughal repression, famines and political conflict with the Marathas had turned the Gonds into fierce rebels (Singh 1985:120). The extension of colonial rule with its centralized administrative machinery into areas, which had previously lain outside the boundary of the Hinduprincely states, threatened to deprive many of the aboriginal tribes of their traditional autonomy. Although the British largely subscribed to the policy of non interference, colonialism opened up the hitherto un-administered areas to the influx of traders, money lenders and land hungry peasants (see also Furer-Haimendorf 1985).