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Misrepresenting Histories and Hinduizing Tribes


Archana Prasad

ADI DEO ARYA DEVATA: A PANORAMIC VIEW OF TRIBAL-HINDU CULTURAL INTERFACE
By Sandhya Jain
Rupa & Co., New Delhi, 2004, pp. x 335, Rs. 495.00

VOLUME XXIX NUMBER 5 May 2005

The contemporary political context has seen a heated debate over the “reconversions” of tribal people to Hinduism. Advocates of reconversions allege that tribal people were always Hindus and that the term tribe was in fact a colonial construction that was largely of British making in the colonial period. The book under review in fact attempts to push this argument through an empirical analysis of the cultural contact of the tribal and caste Hindu groups. At the very outset the author argues that “… the study of field investigations by anthropologists, sociologists and religious scholars revealed an unbroken continuum between the spiritual and cultural practices of caste Hindus and groups categorised as ‘tribal’, and hence pushed outside the pale of Hindu society by colonial officials” (p. ix). In one sense the book falls into the theoretical paradigm that was once promoted by G.S. Ghurye who argued that the “so called aborigines” had always been a part of the caste Hindu society and that most of them were integrated into the Hindu society as Kshatriyas. Following this analysis (albeit in a less rigorous fashion), the author relies on the work of Surajit Sinha and K.S. Singh to argue for the case of Rajputi-zation of Indian tribes (p. 13), completely ignoring the central part of Sinha’s thesis which is on the nature of marginalization and differentiation amongst tribal people.   Apart from the introduction, the book is divided into ten chapters which explore different facets of the tribal-Hindu continuum that the author tries to construct. The first three chapters attempt to provide a conceptual framework to discuss the links between the tribals and the caste Hindu society. In doing so they argue that the term ‘tribal’ is in fact a colonial construction which was used to divide the Hindu society. The next six chapters provide examples of the civilizational contact between the tribal people and Hindu society. Khandoba, Jagannath, Ganesh, Naga, and even Rama are invoked to make the point more emphatically. The last chapter too follows this tone and tries to put the final touches on the tribal-Hindu continuum through different versions of the Ramayana, in tribal society.   In all these chapters however it appears that this framework is over-determined by ideology and is short on credible evidence. This is mainly because the book only uses secondary sources to make its case. But the selective incorporation of these secondary sources within the ...


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