Tribes have been either romanticized as 'delightful primitives' or given up as 'lost' people on the periphery of Indian society. The autonomy of tribes, the uniqueness of their social structure, and their response to change in complex situations have not been adequately highlighted.
This pioneering study brings together historical and anthropological perspectives on change in tribal society and its wider linkages. Like other segments, tribal society has been part of the universe of Indian civilization and of its dominant social formations through history. Similar historical processes have impinged on its autonomy, and its isolation has been relative and never absolute, atleast in middle India.
K.S. Singh was a member of the Indian Administrative Service and spent many years serving among and studying tribal communites in Chotanagpur. He was Director of the Anthropological Survey of India (1976-7) and as such he planned and organized All-India surveys to generate the profiles of tribal society. He is the author of Birsa Munda and His Movement in Chotanagpur, two volumes of Tribal Movements in India (1983-4). He was Director-General of the Anthropological Survey of India and the Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalay.
The tribal world of India is an area of study which has been intensively researched, if not critically investigated. For over two hundred years, administrators, ethnographers, missionaries, census authorities, anthropologists, sociologists and historians have been at work in it, fascinated by tribal ways. A view, consistently projected over this span of time, has been that the tribal people are waiting to be absorbed and swallowed up by the tide of culture rising from the "cradle of Indian civilization" and by its economic and political systems There are many variants of this model which do not quite fit in with the concept of the autonomy of social formations in various regions--the rise of which could be seen in time—the pluralistic character of our society, the many streams of culture, the cluster of communities with their distinct life-styles that make up the people of India, a pattern in which the communities known as tribes also seem to fit. Each has contributed to make, what India is, today. It is equally true that overarching this there has been a cultural ethos, a commonality of symbols and idioms for the vast majority of people, a sharing of ideals and dreams that India has come to represent through ages. These structures and values and dominant modes of production have influenced social formations both at the core and on the periphery. Various communities have retained their identity, the consciousness of which has, if anything, been accentuated, particularly of those who have been guaranteed certain privileges, though for a limited period, under the Constitution of India. Generally, the communities have not been swept off their feet by winds of change, but have gained in an awareness of their identity.
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