The indigenisation of Adivasis fulfils different objectives in the field of development practice and international “aid” processes. The development activists this project follows attempt to achieve these objectives through the narrativisation of Adivasi indigeneity.

This research investigates how a particular group of Adivasi communities try to consolidate the sustainability of their and other disadvantaged communities’ economic self-reliance. It examines how the social activists engaged with these Adivasi groups try to realise such economic self-reliance through creating a new, fairer, and more sustainable economic system, on the basis of supposedly indigenous/tribal/Adivasi values. The project analyses how these development activists connect the different actors involved in these self-reliance efforts via narratives of Adivasi indigeneity.

The activists manage to enlist the large group of different development actors and their financial support necessary for such a “just” shift in economic relations through the harnessing of a particular brand of Adivasi indigeneity in their stories. This conceptualisation of indigeneity corresponds largely with essentialised eco-romanticist imaginaries of “the indigenous”, and therefore “the Adivasi”, based on internationally current, reified notions of indigeneity.

Through first identifying the dominant elements of these Adivasi indigeneity narratives, and then analysing the pitfalls inherent in them, this research brings to light the inconsistencies between activist-imagined Adivasi indigeneities and the multiplicity of conflicting identities of Adivasi peoples in India today.

The central question this research therefore asks is whether the efforts of the Adivasi activists to create a more sustainable economic system, informed by Adivasi values, help sustain a progressive and self-reliant Adivasi movement? Or is the activists’ jumping on the indigenist rhetoric bandwagon, in fact not a useful strategy for Adivasis to overcome economic inequalities, (re)enforced and (re)produced by the complex intermeshing of ethnicity and caste in India? Can narrative-intensive indigenism deal with Adivasi intersectionality – the intersection of the multiple forms of discrimination Adivasis face? Or do indigenism’s anachronistic elements – in particular the activists’ adherence to an ecologically romantic conceptualisation of Adivasi values – render the activists’ rhetorical strategies counterproductive, and thereby create obstacles to sustaining the momentum of their movement?

Claudia Aufschnaiter