ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Adivasis and Land

The Story of Postcolonial Development in Kerala

This paper is part of a research project, “Development in Post-colonial India: Practices and Experiences of a ‘Tribal’ Region,” sponsored by the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR), Delhi. A previous version of this paper was presented at the “Anthropological Histories and Tribal Worlds in India” conference (27–29 March 2017) at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla.

The author would like to thank Kunhaman, S Raju Bindu K C, and Suresh Shanmugham for their comments and discussions.

This paper attempts to frame an understanding of the land question of Adivasis to show the limitations of the dominant developmental historiography. It tries to locate the Adivasi in the developmental history of postcolonial Kerala by specifically discussing land reforms celebrated as “radical” but which exclude tribes from ownership of land. This contradiction is explained through the history of colonial rule, which converted land into private property. Categories like “tiller” and “tenant,” though they did drive the postcolonial process forward, drew from the colonial legal order. This, ironically, resulted in the exclusion of the tribes.

Postcolonial development follows from colonial history due to the continuity of natural and human-made territories and the populations that occupy them. Thus, any enquiry that tries to find breaks between them might prove to be difficult. Similarly, development policies and strategies rely on inherited institutions and knowledge, even if only to oppose and reject them. This has historically affected how people and places are categorised, and how development plans are implemented in India, though there have been attempts to challenge the domination of the colonial state and the
dependence on its structure. Indian independence, at the same time, signalled various discontinuities in Indian history. Democracy signalled the legitimacy of the independent Indian state and helped link nationalist passion with the promise of development (Bose and Jalal 1997). The nationalist charge of non-representation of natives in the colonial state was met with the introduction of democratic rights in independent India. Another sign of discontinuity with the colonial state was the inclusion of fundamental rights for all Indian citizens in the Constitution. The directive principles strove to promote the welfare of all citizens, and universal adult suffrage was established. All this made the postcolonial Indian state formally just and representative, and thus discontinuous from the colonial state.

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Updated On : 28th Jul, 2020
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