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Whose Movement?

Jagannath Ambagudia

Edited by Crispin Bates and Alpa Shah
Social Science Press, New Delhi, 2014, pp. xii 294, Rs. 725.00


An increasing sense of disillusionment and discontent have been markedly visible in the context of marginalized groups such as the Adivasis since the colonial period. This is essentially because of the changing nature of approaches towards the Adivasis both by the colonial and postcolonial state, which were and continue to be governed by their rhetorical slogans of ‘civilising the savage’ or ‘integration of Adivasis’ into the mainstream society. Savage Attack: Tribal Insurgency in India addresses some of these complex issues and intricacies in the context of the Adivasi society in India. Crispin Bates and Alpa Shah raise some significant questions: is there anything particularly Adivasi about the forms of resistance that have been levelled at Adivasi movements; what does it mean to speak about Adivasi as opposed to peasant resistance? Can we differentiate Adivasi resistance from that of other lower castes such as the dalits? Does it matter if a movement is called an Adivasi one or not? If so, why and to whom? (p. 2). The editors provide an overview of the experiences of Adivasis and their movements since the colonial period to the timeline where the discourse on Adivasis has been essentially dominated by the question of ‘indigeneity’. In ‘We Shall Fight Them on the Beach: Counterinsurgency, Colonisation and the Andaman Islanders, 1771–1863’, Satadru Sen deals with the trajectory of the concept of ‘savage’. The early surveyors Archibald Blair and Alexander Kyd imagined that the Andamanese tribes had no names and they simply termed them as ‘savages’ or ‘natives’ (p. 60). The attempt of the Britishers to travel to the Andamans was not primarily to bring changes in the Andamanese society but to discover and experience the edge of an incomplete colony. The beach apparently appeared to be the only contact point between European traders and East India Company officials and the indigenous people. The interface between the colonists and islanders led to the emergence of insurgency and counter-insurgency and this was marked by shifting agendas and process of production (p. 38). Sen explores the nature of interaction between the surveyors and islanders, where insurgency and counter-insurgency were considered to be the major modes of political and social interaction and how the latter gradually changed their behaviour towards the former with suspicion. While Sen focuses on the blurred boundary between savagery and colonialism, Gunnel Cederlof in her essay ‘“Natural Boundaries”: Negotiating Land Rights and Establishing Rule on the East India Company’s ...

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