Bastar enjoys a unique culture, peopled as it is by a number of Adivasi communities -- Murias, Marias, Garhwas, Halbas, Baigas, Pankas, Gandas, Bhatras, Pardhis and Pikes-- each with its distinctiveness and way of life. Its people share certain commonalities and a worldview central to all local cultures here; the veneration of nature – water, forests, land and open spaces on which life is dependent – a regard for community values and traditions, ecological practices, recognition of the interdependence between different communities and peoples, and a refreshing spirit.
It is imperative to attend to the adivasi as a non-modern social group, its rhythms and flows of indigenous and self-sustaining villages, social structures, governance, livelihood, ecological economy –as also the grave challenges of disintegration and marginalization through incorporation into the rapidly globalizing world.
Compulsions to move away from a self-sustaining ecological mode of living to the compulsions of negotiating survival on the margins of market economy is an issue that needs a re-look. Livelihood, sustainability, forest rights, ethnicity etc need to be addressed from the adivasi perspective, of how much value he/she places in them; as also his/her cultures of protest against their hijacking. While planning for social change, welfare, sustainability, social justice, rights etc, the tendency to club the adivasi with other groups as dalits, women, fishermen, farmers, artisans, or as yet another ‘interest-group’ has invariably worked to the disadvantage of adivasis.
Many a time civil society itself defines issues too narrowly, presumes that the adivasi world is of a certain kind, adopts simplistic hypothesis, or seeks certainty rather than understanding. This adds to the prevalent understandings and misinformation campaigns about the community on one hand, and its marginalization on the other. Insofar as it is resisting modernity, Bastar still continues to be, even though in decreasing measure, an extension of the community, its culture, values, beliefs, aspirations and worldview. It signifies about the last and strongest resistance by the adivasi because it involves some basic truths and undefined impulses inherent in their living as against those represented by the ‘scientific, managerial and technocratic’ temper. To the modern temper the adivasi community is a disorderly combination of elements with identities lost and distinctions nebulous: a failure to behave predictably in line with the powerful outside world.
The distinction between the Adivasi discourse, which rests on uncertainty, unpredictability, the distinction between Adivasi discourse and the modern discourse, is clear as daylight. To associate Adivasi with such forests is doing injustice. He has lived in his own and not State-owned forest. Modern forest is a social artifact, a civilisational and political artifact, with known sights, smells and sounds, exactitudes and certitudes, like an industry, with a very systemic product, a commodity. Everything in the state owned forest is a commodity. It is meant to produce like industry, it is meant to be consumed, to be exploited and above all it needs state intervention and a whole apparatus of modernity to be conserved.
It is imperative to change the lexicon, idiom and meanings which one conveys while speaking of the life of the adivasi. It is a language whose meanings the indigenous life of Adivasis is forced to comply with, meanings that are foreign to this way of life and not sustaining it but imposed on it from outside.