Forgotten People of India : British Colonial Writings on Central Indian Tribes

In the post-1850 phase, the first set of exclusive literature on tribes came from the pen of colonial administrator-cum-ethnographers. The paper surveys the rise of this literature and analyses its contents. The paper shows that the substance of the traditional Hindu idea showing the Indian tribe as beastly and demonic humans crept into the present literature. Western racism colluded with the loca

 

India was found by the modern West as one of few colonial countries with complex religion-based cultural system and advanced philosophical and literary traditions. It became imperative for the British colonialism to know the subject people, especially their cultural sentiments. The colonialists, therefore, began writing about religion, customs and literature of the India from almost the beginning of the colonial rule. Earlier stray efforts paved way for organized forums and institutions for the study of the Indian culture since the late eighteenth century. By the early nineteenth century, this gave rise to a sizeable body of literature called Orientalism.

The thrust of the Orientalist literature was on Hinduism. The colonialists, in fact, saw India, except a small presence of Muslims, as a Hindu country. This camouflaged knowledge on the smaller non-Hindu society of the tribals, the ancient ‘Dasyus’, who escaped Aryan advances and took shelter in forests and mountain terrains for independent life. The tribes were presumed as part and parcel of Hinduism, as described by the ancient Hindu literature. No writing on tribes independent of Orientalist literature came during this phase. There were however early colonial reports that treated tribes as ‘hill-men’.

In the post-1850 phase, the first set of exclusive literature on tribes came from the pen of colonial administrator-cum-ethnographers. The paper surveys the rise of this literature and analyses its contents. The paper shows that the substance of the traditional Hindu idea showing the Indian tribe as beastly and demonic humans crept into the present literature. Western racism colluded with the local Hindu idea of tribe to decimate the tribes culturally.