10 must read books about Adivasis and Forest Rights A curated list of some of the best books to understand the bond between forests and their inhabitants

10, Sep 2019 | CJP Team

With growing conversation around forest rights, we need to understand how India’s Adivasis and forest dwellers have played a key role in protecting forest cover and biodiversity. It is also important to examine their culture and history of living in harmony with nature and see for oneself how their existence is symbiotic with the forests and green cover that we are trying so hard to protect. This is a carefully curated list of books by some of the best known scholars on the subject.


Tribal Administration in India

A Tribe in Turmoil, a Socio-Economic Study of the Jammu Gujjars of Uttar Pradesh

by Amir Hasan

Published in 1986 by the Uppal Publishing House, this work by a former officer of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) examines various aspects of administration in the tribal areas of Uttar Pradesh. In fact, Uttar Pradesh did not have any Scheduled Tribes till 1967, ie for 17 long years after the enforcement of the Constitution. This played havoc with the rights of tribals. Amir Hasan has studied the political process at work among the Gujjars: a robust community that lives in the lap of nature whose ethos represent an inter-mingling of Hindu and Islamic streams, but has been losing its folk lore and folk music.

This Fissured Land: An Ecological History of India

Madhav Gadgil and Ramachandra Guha

This book emphasizes the significance of various ways of resource use in India. This book is divided into three parts. The first part examines the several forms of restraint on resource use reported from human societies. In the second part, a new interpretation of how the cultural and ecological mosaic of Indian society came together is discussed. The last part presents a socio-ecological analysis of the new modes of resource use which were introduced by the British, and which have continued to operate, with modifications, after Independence in 1947. It also indicates that the British colonial rule established a crucial watershed in the ecological history of India. Generally, this book reports new data along with new interpretations of old data, and, most importantly, it shows a new and alternative framework for understanding Indian society and history.

Mizo Songs and Folk Tales

Edited by Laltluangliana Khiangte

The Mizos are well known as “the singing tribe.” This compilation includes folk narratives, songs, proverbs, rituals, riddles, tales, and war cries. A unique and interesting feature of Mizo literature is that the primary source of the songs, poems, and tales can often be traced. For instance, the first known composer of these songs was named Hmuaki. Hmuaki was not only the oldest known composer, but she was also a woman, a significant fact given that she lived in ancient times.

Painted Words: An Anthology of Tribal Literature

Edited by G. N. Devy

Collected and compiled by one of India’s most famous literary critics, G. N. Devy, this is a rich collection of writing in a variety of genres by the large population of indigenous people from India known as Adivasis. This anthology includes poignant songs, oral histories, legends, and tribal versions of the Mahabharatha and Ramayana (two famous Indian epics). The book also conveys the routine exploitation of tribal citizens, and takes you through an emotional journey that highlights the plight of these people, whose stories speak to the soul.

Out of the Earth

by Felix Padel and Samarendra Das

Out of this Earth is a penetrating anthropological study that uncovers the hidden history behind mining projects in tribal areas of south Odisha. Capping its largest mountains are some of the world’s best bauxite deposits, promising prosperity to one of India’s poorest states. Entrenched capitalist notions of development collide with the locals’ perception of metal factories as a new colonial invasion. Tribal people who have lived around them since history began, do not see these mountains as a resource to be exploited, but a source of life itself. Meticulously researched, this seminal book brings to light the displacement and cultural genocide of Adivasis, alongside hideous scams and pollution. It lays bare the complicated and bloody history of the aluminium industry, at the heart of the military-industrial complex.

The Burning Forest: India’s war in Bastar

by Nandini Sundar

It brings alive the issues through real-life human stories of tribal villagers, Maoists and security forces. This book is based on extensive field visits, court testimonies, government documents and an active participant role in the events Sundar writes about. It vividly tracks the shocking failures of Indian democracy through the responses of political parties, the media, human rights activists and the judiciary to the ongoing crisis. This book chronicles how the armed conflict between the government and the Maoists has devastated the lives of some of India’s poorest, most vulnerable citizens. The fact that Bastar has some of India s biggest mineral reserves has made the conflict even more intense and also destroyed the ecology and culture of Bastar.

Kocharethi: The Araya Woman by Narayan

Translated by Catherine Thankamma

This is the first novel by Narayan, the first tribal novelist from South India. The story, based on the Malayarayar tribe in Kerala, follows an Adivasi couple through the different phases in their lives and records a vivid account of their daily traditions, which allows the reader to learn about and experience the tribe’s cultural traditions

Khasi Folk Songs and Tales

Documented and translated by Desmond L. Kharmawphlang

“Khasi” refers to all the tribes and subtribes of the Khasi and Jaintia hills, located in the Northeastern state of Meghalaya. The Khasi language was purely oral until the arrival of the members of the Welsh Methodist Mission, who began to write the language in Roman script. These unique folktales and songs were compiled based on various themes.


by Jacinta Kerketta

Jacinta Kerketta has in a short time succeeded in becoming acclaimed in the Hindi literary world due to her consistent creativity. The alertness and efficiency with which she has introduced a particular context in her verses, is a new experience to poetry lovers. Her poems effectively convey the pain, anguish and anger of the indigenous tribal society. Additionally, Jacinta has sought to empathetically understand the tribal woman’s plight through her poems.

Shifting Ground: People, Animals and Mobility in India’s Environmental History

by Mahesh Rangarajan and K. Sivaramakrishna

Environmental history of India has developed as an important field of inquiry in the last twenty-five years. While providing major insights, the existing scholarship has primarily focused on drawing sharp lines of distinction – those between geographical spaces (forest, rivers, farms), people (herders, farmers, townspeople), eras (colonial, post-colonial) and so on. The limitations of these sharp divides are brought to the forefront when there is a critical engagement with the region’s contested environmental past. Shifting Ground brings together an array of essays that pose critical questions regarding India’s environmental past and the way it has been approached by scholars.

*Feature Image Illustration By Amili Setalvad


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