When the Adivasis agitate for their right to land, water or forests (jal-jangal-jameen), it is commonplace today to find well-meaning middle-class activists advocating for them. On the surface, this is a harmless activity that may not deserve comment. But we can see over the past generation that the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) and Maoist movement in the western and eastern tribal belts of India pitted activists at times against their Adivasi wards. In such instances, a pertinent question arises: Whose voices matter and who can legitimately claim to represent authentic Adivasi interests?
For activists, the Adivasis are nature-loving and forest-dwelling yet impoverished members of the post-colonial Indian polity. Rendered mute by the poisoned gift of citizenship, their struggles must be given voice in national politics. Electoral politics is regarded by these activists as irredeemably corrupt and the state’s welfare schemes as trivial affairs. Effectively, the Adivasis are depoliticised or stripped of any political agency to pursue their own agendas and interests.