The term Adivasi derives from the Hindi word ‘adi‘ which means of earliest times or from the beginning and ‘vasi‘ meaning inhabitant or resident. The Adivasi are the original people of India – they are known to be the first people who inhabited India.
Adivasis have been living in India from as early as 2000 BCE. Researchers at the University of Huddersfield found out that Adivasis arrived in the Indian sub-continent region during the great human migration from Africa and later spreads over the Indian sub-continent: India, Nepal, Bangladesh and in the Andaman Islands. Nearly 90% of Adivasi people in this region live in rural areas.
To back up this claim, scientists used genetic evidence from people living in present day India and the India Subcontinent. The results revealed the Indian population originated from three separate waves of migration from Africa, Iran and Central Asia over a period of 50,000 years. The results also show that India’s earliest population were hunter-gatherers who arrived from Africa, most especially Nigeria, Chad, Kenya and Egypt, more than 50,000 years ago – these ancient signatures are most clearly seen in the mitochondrial DNA, which tracks the female line of descent to the continent of Africa.
In the early 21st century the Adivasi population of India was more than 84 million. Majority lives in the northeastern states of Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, and Nagaland, while a small number lives in the hills and forests of central and southern India as well as the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The largest groups of the Adivasi are the Bhil, the Munda, and the Santhal.
Due to their natural way of living, majority of the Adivasi could be found close to nature – in mountainous areas; forests. They are farmers, fishermen and hunters. Ten per cent of their population depends on hunting for survival whilst the rest of them depends on the farming and fishing. Because of they love to live in the forests, they are called the ‘guardians of the forests’.
Although being the first settlers of India, the Adivasis have been a subject of racial discrimination and inequality. The Adivasis are facing threats to their lives, lands and survival. In 2019, India’s Supreme Court issued an order to evict 8 million Adivasis people from their habitat. It did not stop their, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tried to push through draconian forest laws which would see forest guards to shoot them.
India’s Citizenship Amendment Act states that citizenship will be granted on the basis of religion, and people must state what their religion is. Only the major religions are recognized, not the religions of many of the country’s Adivasis, whose beliefs are firmly rooted in their connection to their lands. So, therefore, the Adivasis won’t be recognised as citizens of Indians, according to the act.
“The CAA/NRC will have terrible effect on the Adivasis. Adivasis will be denied their citizenship, detained in the detention camps and intruders will be rehabilitated in their land and territories. This is unacceptable. Adivasis are first settlers of the country, they must be kept out of the CAA/NRC and their land, territories and resources must be protected.”Gladson Dungdung, Adivasi activist and writer on the Citizenship Amendment Act