Social Scientist. v 13, no. 144 (May 1985) p. 68.

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Tribal Peasantry


ANTHROPOLOGY grew in the colonial milieu to meet primarily the political and administrative problems which arose in the process of consolidation of colonialism. In the conceptual framework developed by the British officials and anthropologists, fragmentary and diffused units of the colonial societies were exaggerated through details of diversity in customs and religious beliefs. Functioning within such parameters of colonial identification, tribal research was based on assumptions which were mostly unsubstantial.

One of the assumptions which had greatly influenced the scholars in their writings was that in which ( Tribal communities were treated as isolates, tribes as Noble savages, and the primitive condition was described as a state of Arcadian simplicity".1 Others have often presumed the tribes to be a sub-system of the Hindu system and that they were being absorbed into the Hindu society. This usage denied the dynamic qualities of their social existence and consciousness.2

Today, there is dissatisfaction with such descriptions of primitive societies. But what will be more relevant is a critical examination of the nature and function of anthropological research during the colonial period. Clearly, the romanticization of 'primitive' ways of life should be avoided. Such doctrines are distracting. And such distractions attempt to conceal the reality of tribal existence in a developing society like India. It is far more necessary to understand how they can cope with modern reality—a reality that is slowly but harshly descending upon them. We must be able to gauge the needlessness of so much suffering and the inevitable extent of the violence that such suffering entails.

Jaganath Pathy's book has been published at an appropriate moment in tribal research when there is an acute dearth of alternative approaches. He has posed, admirably and succinctly, some important theoretical and methodological issues and honestly attempts a study of the dynamics of tribal society by challenging some accepted propositions.

The notion of a tribe in India rarely meets any scientific criteria. Anthropologists have accepted the official list which is impressionistic with little rationale. The policy of protection of tribals, who arc said to

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