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What Makes A Person An Adivasi? Reflections On Coming To Terms With The Identity

Updated: Aug 5, 2021

In today's transient reality, it is no shocker to find yourself stuck in a paradox where you cannot fathom whether identities matter or not. Somewhere in this chaos, there is a tribal youth trying to figure out which brackets to adopt. In shambles, they lament over how the mainstream portrays them, often bargaining upon the antagonising tales written about them.

The said narrative denotes a hollow narration, an incomplete story often narrated by authors callous to the emotions and sensitivity entrenched in Adivasi history. The gravity of the question “What makes a person an Adivasi" lies in the challenge that the statement invokes, not from the outside but from within. A perspective of self-introspection.

“Am I doing enough for my community?”

“Am I doing it right?”

“Am I Advasi enough?”

An Ideal Adivasi: A contorted portrayal

An ideal image,

An exemplary format,

to finagle obedience

and fit the “rudimentary” in the Indian map.

To understand the crux of what being an Adivasi means, we need to demarcate who defines us. Should our definition be absolute or should it be interpreted in contrast to a superficial image?

We are not objects of observation, meticulous evaluation or some kink to be extrapolated for the ease of mainstream understanding. Those who have taken turns to “observe” us and rewrite our history, should neither shy away from the gore chapters of our ancestors’ lived experiences nor should they hold back from taking accountability for tweaking the details of oral narration to suit their whims and fancies.

The idea of “Rediscovering” sustainability is absurd.

Our culture is not something to be fetishized or to accessorise a lavish lifestyle. It is important to realize that the “current” fads about sustainability and organic living trace their roots to the ancestral lifestyle of the indigenous.

When our ancestral practise did not resonate with the contemporary idea of progress, it was deemed “primitive” and was seen as an impediment to mainstream development.

Now, this cultural wisdom has gained momentum not because it is being amplified alongside or as a part of the indigenous lifestyle but as an independent concept credited to certain “eco-conscious” folks settled on the pedestal of privilege.

Traditional wisdom is often left unacknowledged and in the shadows despite it being an active practice in the Adivasi community.

Before preaching, it should be understood that adopting/choosing a certain lifestyle comes from a place of privilege. For most of us, it is our identity that shapes our realities, not our choices.

Our lifestyle is not something to be museumized or to be disrespected just because they don’t fit the mould of the mainstream stereotypes.

This stereotypical connotation of the Adivasi community is what contributes to the juncture in the identity of the Adivasi youth.

It is in this instance that we witness the chaotic cries of the distraught urban tribal youth.

In a space cluttered with numerous personalities, it is indeed overwhelming for the Adivasi youth to carve out their own space in harmony with their community and individuality.

Our tradition is not an inconvenience,

The mainstream meddling with our जल, जंगल, जमीन is.

Our native homes being uprooted is uncalled for.

Be it those of the living where our ancestors were born or those of the dead where they now reside.

We have been stripped, left exposed just to suffice the hunger of the selfish few.

Accordingly, we are deemed “Uncivilized”,

for the lack of those very resources that they took away from us.

We are labelled “Hostile” and “Uncultured”

when we try to stand at par with them,

or raise our voice against their atrocities and speak for ourselves

Had those who studied our predecessors messed with something pristine?

Or is this just a general perception of what an Adivasi is?

Is the Adivasi community a Pandora's box,

which should have been left untouched?

Or was the mainstream the actual curse that got mingled with us?

We, the Adivasis,

are the torchbearers of the vast cultural vestiges that have been passed down the eternal generational link through oral tradition.

Our history, trauma, and struggles add profound meaning to the word,

but it does not stay confined to that.

We, the Adivasis,

behold our niche in our community and hold this identity at par with our individuality.

We are the spokespersons for our people and ourselves.

We, the Adivasis,

recognize our history reposed in power, rebuttals and cultural pride.

We recognize our responsibility towards our nascent resources and our caregivers:

जल, जंगल, जमीन and espouse to protect it.

The sense of living in harmony with our resources comes naturally to us who were born in the jungle soil.

The Jungle is our creator and us, its children

We are in that sense Junglee.

We are the Adivasis.

Tribality Crisis: Am I Adivasi Enough?

Those callous to the issues of Adivasis are always the first ones to speak out.

The spearheads stand ready with a list to “fact check” the tiers and club our people without understanding where we come from.

They wave their outdated character sheet of what an Adivasi should look like or behave like over our heads. They make hostile gambles on our lifestyle and morals, and then have the nerve to play saviour by constantly trying to shove us into one of their predefined moulds.

It’s ironic how they revere these outdated “factual” sheets laid out by those who “studied” our ancestors from afar.

The defining parameters of what makes a person an Adivasi resides with the individual.

An Adivasi does not have to look a certain way, to be acknowledged.

An Adivasi does not have to speak a certain way, to be understood.

An Adivasi does not have to live a certain way, to be treated with respect.

Being an Adivasi does not mean you cannot have an individual identity.

You do not have to prove that you’re an Adivasi.

It's a little easier to stand for yourself when the challenge is external.

But what happens when it is your psyche that questions you,

“Are you Adivasi enough?”

For someone who is not properly acquainted with their Adivasi identity, the question can set off a trigger emotion. An identity crisis rooted in rejection.

It makes us wonder if we are an imposter in our own community, among our own kind, in our own skin.

To figure out what it means to be an Adivasi is a two-part journey.

A journey to seek, to learn and unlearn and a journey to speak for what you’ve learned.

Adivasi identity is an amalgamated reflection of our history-

our ancestors’ lived experiences, their oral traditions and narratives.

Your tribal identity is a link that connects you to the indigenous people all around the world.

Our history is not confined to the painful memories of colonisation and ridicule.

We are the Adivasis, the protagonists of our land.

We have time and again safeguarded our land, our people and our dignity.

Our glories reside in our spirit of rebounding, struggle and perseverance.

Our efforts to rekindle with our ethnic self and grow in harmony with our contemporary self,

Our efforts to learn about and from our people,

the forgotten tongue, the hazy details of our cultural history and the means of reviving and safeguarding them, are the crown jewels of an Adivasi.

"Being an Adivasi does not mean you cannot have an individual identity."


If I were to write a letter to my younger self I would have told her not to think twice before acknowledging herself as a tribal.

But again,

Would the younger me understand what makes her an Adivasi had she bargained her journey?

Would I have been writing this article then?

About the author: Monica N. Lugun belongs to the Munda tribe of Jharkhand. She is a history graduate with a knack for storytelling and public speaking. At the moment she is collecting and retelling folklores on her podcast: My Dainty Memoir.

Note: This article is one of the three entries that won the Adivasi Awaaz Summit Writers' Award 2021.


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