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Abstract

In the last two decades transnational concerns over indigenous people, indigenous rights and indigenous development has reignited a history of heated debate shrouding indigeneity. This article analyses these debates in the context of the anthropology and historiography of indigeneity in India. From the production of ‘tribes of mind’ to the policies that have encouraged people to identify themselves as ‘Scheduled Tribes’, or ‘adivasis’, the article reviews the context that gave rise to the tensions between claims for protection and assimilation of India's indigenous peoples. Today these debates are shown to persist through the arguments of those that seek to build a support base from an adivasi constituency and are most acute with on the one hand, the work of the Marxists and indigenous activists, and on the other hand, the Hindu right-wing. Inviting serious scholarly examination of the unintended effects of well meaning indigenous protection and development measures, the article seeks to move the debate beyond both the arguments that consider the concept of indigenous people anthropologically and historically problematic and those that consider indigeneity a useful political tool. In so doing, the article warns against a ‘dark side of indigeneity’ which might reveal how local appropriation and experiences of global discourses can maintain a class system that further marginalises the poorest.