South Asian Political Thought Discussion Group: Revisiting The Concept of Adivasi Autonomy

Speaker: Dr Dalel Benbabaali

The aim of this paper is to revisit the concept of autonomy in relation to Adivasis living in constitutionally protected Indian territories. Drawing on 12 months of fieldwork in the Bhadrachalam Scheduled Area of northern Telangana, the speaker will explore the relation between industrialisation, eucalyptus plantations on tribal forest lands and the decline of Adivasi economic and cultural autonomy. In spite of the existing legislations protecting tribal land and forest rights in territories under the Fifth Schedule of the Indian Constitution, a paper factory run by ITC (Indian Tobacco Company) acquired land in the 1970s on the banks of the river Godavari, near Bhadrachalam. The expansion of eucalyptus plantations used as raw material for paper production led to a process of land alienation and displacement of the Koyas, the main Adivasi group living in that territory, where they used to practice shifting cultivation. The in-migration of dominant caste settlers, eager to take up eucalyptus cultivation and jobs in ITC factory, created a major disruption in Adivasi social organisation. Due to the loss of their traditional livelihoods, Koyas are facing a process of proletarianisation, as they become wage labourers cutting eucalyptus on what used to be their lands, and casual workers in the factory. As a reaction, there is now a growing demand for self-determination among the Koyas of Telangana who are agitating for the formation of a separate State, the Gondwana, or at least the creation of an Adivasi district within Telangana.

Dr Dalel Benbabaali is Leverhulme Early Career Fellow, School of Interdisciplinary Area Studies, Oxford.

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