April 03, 2020
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Felix Padel

Charles Darwin’s great-great-grandson on his book Out of This Earth: East India Adivasis

Felix Padel

What drew you to the East Indian tribals?

I was drawn to adivasi structures as they are egalitarian, have excellent environmental knowledge—close to an ideal society we are far from.

How is Out of This Earth a step ahead from your previous book, Sacrificing People?

The earlier book was on how colonial structures impacted adivasis. Ironically, the same areas exploited then are being impacted by corporate rule now. The book is about this.

Your book is based on eight years of research. How has the experience been?

It was hard work; there was little funding. 

Samarendra Das, an activist, is a co-author—a fusion of activist, academic insights?

Yes, Samarendra directed the research on the whole while I did the writing.

So, are Darwin’s ideas of survival of the fittest being translated into reality in Orissa?

That all societies develop through one path of evolution is a misinterpretation of Darwin. What inspires me in Origin of Species is his vision of thousands of species interacting.

You see an inherent problem in our notion of development.

Absolutely. Uniformity in ‘development’ is imposed by World Bank, corporate takeovers.

Does the Vedanta issue reflect a change in government attitude or is it an eyewash?

There does seem to be a genuine attempt to implement the rule of law.

Your book also talks about the divisive politics mining giants use amongst the tribals.

These are tactics being used to sideline issues of corporate invasion ruining natural resources.

What is the way out of this entire situation?

The government gives huge subsidies to mining firms. Why not give small subsidies as minimum support price for farmers as well?

You have held lectures, discussions on this issue. How has the response been?

Heartwarming! I see myself as a medium to articulate what Indians have shown me.

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