Being Indigenous in Adivasi India; Or How to Decolonize the Postcolonial Imagination

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Since its founding in 1982, the Subaltern Studies collective has been metonymically associated with Indian historiography, spawned a Latin American “copy” and refashioned the study of popular unrest as a domain separate from colonial and bourgeois-nationalist institutions, texts and discourse.

Indian tribal communities have deployed the category of the "indigenous" with mixed results in their fight for recognition and resources over the last three decades. Relying on transnational networks, an elite well versed in the vocabulary of “rights”, and alliances with NGOs, political parties and civil society coalitions alike, can these imbrications be contained within the analytic of subalternity? Is the model of subaltern cultures resisting a dominant social order useful in tracing continuities and dispersions between and across categories – tribal, adivasi, indigenous – in colonial pasts, the postcolonial present and increasingly transnational futures?

A heuristic periodization, I show these categories’ intertwined histories in my chapter, addressing conundrums of tribal movements that play out across scales, concluding that subaltern presence is enacted not through recuperation, but processes of mediation with the external world at specific historical conjunctures.