Law and Politics of Indigeneity

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Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Foundation ElectiveSLG2LP2114

Semester and Year Offered: 3rd Semester (Monsoon Semester)

Course Coordinator and Team: Dr. Ngoru Nixon

Email of course coordinator: ngoru[at]aud[dot]ac[dot]in

Pre-requisites: None

Aim: The politics of indigeneity draws on the narrative of historical and contemporary marginalization to make a claim for the autonomy and rights of the ‘Indigenous Peoples’. In fact, the proliferation of scholarship on indigeneity in the recent times is impelled as much by the struggle and assertion of the indigenous peoples/ communities as by the discoursing of the ‘Indigenous’ as signifying the limit of the universal narrative of modernity. Evidently, the orientation of the course is such that not only would the students who have prior interest on “Tribal” issues/concerns and indigeneity identify with the course but also those who have interest in the larger field of postcolonial studies.

Course Outcomes:

After the completion of the course, the students would be able to:

  1. Develop a critical understanding of the concept of ‘indigenous peoples’ and the related discourse on indigeneity by way of referring to the historical and political background associated with it.
  2. Enumerate and explain the intersection as well as the distinction between the category of ‘indigenous peoples’ and the constitutionally sanctioned category of ‘Scheduled Tribes’.
  3. Critically engage with the anthropological and legal-political discoursing of the ‘tribes’ as ‘wild’ and ‘primitive’ in both colonial and postcolonial period.
  4. Provide a critical account of the Constitution and legal provisions/Acts pertaining to the ‘Scheduled Tribes’ in the colonial and postcolonial India.
  5. Demarcate the distinctive features and idioms constitutive of the politics of the ‘indigenous peoples’.
  6. Give an account of the tension, conflict, and negotiation characterizing the political values/assertion of the ‘indigenous peoples’ vis-a-vis the state institutions and law/legal order.

Brief Description of modules/Main modules:

The course seeks to examine the key issues engendered by as well as informing the discourse on politics of indigeneity, underlined by the intersection between the “Indigenous” and the law/legal order. This attempt calls for an understanding of the historical context of the emergence of the problem of the “tribe/tribal” manifested brazenly in the ways how the anthropological imagery about people known as “tribes” is conceived/staged. Concurrently, the engagement also entails a reflection on how the discoursing of the “tribe/tribal” and the policies/strategies of the colonial power/state as well as post-colonial state about the “tribe/tribal” inform one another.

While the major focus of the course will be on Indian context, attempt will be made to draw and engage with the relevant examples from the other contexts such as Australia, Canada and others in order to broaden and enrich the understanding of the issues at hand.

The course is composed of six modules.

Module 1: What/Who is/are Indigenous (Peoples)? : Examining (the terms of) the Terminology/Debate. (2 Weeks)

The first module seeks to engage the students in examining the concept of “indigenous people” with a focus on the Indian context. It does so by way of introducing the students to the background entailing the global articulation and adoption of the category of “indigenous peoples” and the terms of the ensuing debate it has had induced in India. The engagement with the discussion around the concept of “indigenous people” is also linked to the discussion on category of “tribe” in India since the peoples known as ‘tribes’ have enthusiastically embraced the category of “Indigenous peoples”.

Module 2: Discoursing of the ‘Wild’ and the ‘Primitive’. (2 Weeks)

In the second module, the discussion centers on how the people known as “tribes” have come to be burdened with the imagery of the “wild” and the “primitive”. The mode/strategy of articulation and inscription of such imagery of the “tribe” both in colonial discourse/legal order and nationalist thought in India will be delineated, in the meantime underlining the mode of othering of the “tribe”.

Module 3: Colonial/Post-colonial State and the Indigenous Peoples/Communities (2 Weeks)

Building on the second module, the third module begins by looking at how the subordination and marginalization of the “tribe” by the colonial power/state gets further perpetuated in post-colonial state. The module will also engage with the debate on the question of isolation versus assimilation of the ‘tribe’ particularly in the late colonial period and the early years of the post-Independence period. The question has taken a new dimension and vigour in the context of globalization. The module will further discuss this phenomenon.

Module 4: On the ‘Difference’ of the Indigenous (1 Week)

Module 4 looks at the recent scholarship on indigeneity which engages in the discoursing of the ‘Indigenous’ as signifying the limit of the universal narrative of modernity. In this regard, the module will look at how the ‘difference’ of the indigenous people is posited vis-à-vis the dominant narrative.

Module 5: The Politics of Indigeneity: Question of Rights and Justice (3 weeks)

The module will examine the politics of indigeneity involving the question of rights and justice. In the process, the discussion will also dwell on both forms of politics: making claims against the state and the mode of negotiating with the state.

Module 6: Legal Order/Adjudication and the Indigenous. (2 weeks).

In Module 5, the focus will be directed towards examining the intersection and tension between the indigenous and the hegemonic narrative of law. This will be done by making reference to some of the important cases.

Assessment Details with Weight:

  • Mid-semester: 20%
  • End semester: 30%
  • Book review: 10%
  • Term paper: 20
  • Class participation and assignment: 20%

Reading List:

Important Readings:

The following readings will be interspersed across the modules based on their significance to the theme of discussion. Note: These readings are constitutive of core/essential readings.

Official Document/Act


  • India’s Constituent Assembly Debates on the Fifth and Sixth Schedules.
  • Fifth and Sixth Schedules of the Indian Constitution
  • PESA Act 1996
  • Forest Rights Act 2006
  • Government of India Act, 1935.
  • Government of India Act, 1919.
  • Inner Line Regulation Act, 1873.


  • International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention No. 107, 1957.
  • ILO Convention No. 169, 1989.
  • ILO’s Indigenous & Tribal Peoples’ Rights in Practice: A Guide to ILO Convention No. 169
  • United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, 2008.

Committee Report (India)

  • Report of the four member Committee for Investigation into the Proposal Submitted by the Orissa Mining Company for Bauxite Mining in Niyamgiri, August 16, 2010.
  • Report of the High Level Committee on Socio-Economic, Health and Educational Status of Tribal Communities in India. Government of India: Ministry of Tribal Affairs, 2014.


  • Mabo and others v. Queensland (1992).
  • Samatha v. State of Andhra Pradesh and others (1997).
  • Orissa Mining Corporation LTD v. Ministry of Environment & Forest (2013).
  • Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, et al. v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, et al.

Fictions (indicative list):

  • Hansda Shekhar’s The Adivasi Will Not Dance
  • Gopinath Mohanty’s Paraja
  • Mahasweta Devi’s Imaginary Maps
  • Alexis Wright’s Carpentaria
  • Malsawmi Jacob’s Zorami A Redemption Song
  • Easterine Kire’s When the River Sleeps
  • Easterine Kire’s A Terrible Matriarchy
  • Mamang Dai’s Legend of Pensam
  • Alan Duff’s Once Were Warriors
  • Sam Watson’s The Kadaitcha Sung
  • Patricia Grace’s Potiki

Module 1:

Essential Readings:

  • Anaya, James S. Indigenous Peoples in International Law. Oxford University Press, 2004.
  • Beteilie, Andre. “The concept of tribe of tribe with special reference to India.” European Journal of Sociology, Vol. 27, No. 2 (1986).
  • Beteilie, Andre. “The Idea of Indigenous Peoples.” Current Anthropology, Vol. 39, No. 2 (April 1998).
  • Galanter, Marc. Competing Equalities: Law and the Backward Classes in India. University of California Press, 1984. (Chapter 5- The section on “Scheduled Tribes”).
  • Karlsson, Bengt G. and Tanka B. Subba. Indigeneity in India. Kegal Paul, 2006 (Extracts).
  • Kingsbury, Benedict. “’Indigenous Peoples’ in International Law: A Constructivist Approach to the Asian Controversy.” The American Journal of International Law, Vol. 92, No. 3 (July, 1998).
  • Xaxa, Virginius. “Tribes as Indigenous People of India.” Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 34, no. 24 (June 12, 1999).

Supplementary Readings:

  • Damodaran, Vinita. “Colonial Construction of the ‘Tribe’ in India: The Case of Chotanagpur.” Indian Historical Review, Vol. 33, No. 1 (January 1, 2006).
  • Guha, Sumit. Environment and Ethnicity in India, 1200-1991. Cambridge University Press, 1999 (Chapter 1).
  • Rycroft, Daniel J and Sangeeta Dasgupta. Eds. The Politics of Belonging in India: Becoming Adivasi. London and New York: Routledge, 2011. (Chapter 1).
  • Sarfaty, Galit A. “The World Bank and the Internalization of Indigenous Rights Norms.” The Yale Law Journal, Vol. 114, No. 7 (May. 2005).

Module 2:

Essential Readings:

  • Banerjee, Prathama. Politics of Time: ‘Primitives’ and History-writing in a Colonial Society. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2006 (Chapter 1).
  • Banerjee, Prathama. “Culture/Politics: The Irresoluble Double Bind of the Indian Adivasi.” The Indian Historical Review, Vol. XXXIII, No. 1 (January 2006).
  • Pagden, Anthony. The Fall of Natural Man: The American Indian and the Origins of Comparative Ethnology. Cambridge University Press, 1982. (Extracts).
  • Skaria, Ajay. “Shades of Wildness: Tribe, Caste, and Gender in Western India.” The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 56, No. 3 (August 1997).

Supplementary Readings:

  • Bates, Crispin. “Race, Castes, and Tribe in Central India: The Early Origins of Indian Anthropometry.” In The Concept of Race in South Asia, edited by Peter Robb. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1995.
  • Clifford, James. The Predicament of Culture. Harvard University Press, 1988. (Chapter 9 and 10).
  • Fabian, Johannes. Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes its Object. New York: Columbia University Press, 1983.
  • Skaria, Ajay. Hybrid Histories: Forests, Frontiers and Wildness in Western India. Oxford University Press, 1999.
  • Stocking Jr., George W. Victorian Anthropology. The Free Press, 1991.
  • White, Hayden. Tropics of Discourse: Essays in Cultural Criticism. Baltimore and London: The John Hopkins University Press, 1978 (Chapter 7 and 8).

Module 3:

Essential Readings:

  • Chandra, Uday. “Liberalism and Its Other: The Politics of Primitivism in Colonial and Postcolonial Indian Law.” Law and Society Review, Vol. 47, No. 1 (2013).
  • Devy, G.N. ed. Indigeneity: Culture and Representation. Orient BlackSwan, 2009. (extracts)
  • Elwin, Verrier. “Beating a Dead Horse.” Seminar 14 (October, 1960).
  • Furer-Haimendorf, Christoph Von. Tribes of India: The Struggle for Survival. University of California Press, 1982. (Extracts).
  • Ghurye, G.S. The Aborigines--“so-called”—and Their Future. Poona: Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics, 1943.
  • Guha, Ramachandra and Madhav Gadgil. “State Forestry and Social Conflict in India.” Past & Present, No. 123 (May, 1989).
  • Singh. K.S. ed. Jawaharlal Nehru, Tribes and Tribal Policy. Calcutta: Anthropological Survey of India, 1989.

Supplementary Readings:

  • Elwin, Verrier. The Philosophy for NEFA. Isha Books, 2009.
  • Evans, Julie. Unequal Subjects, unequal rights: Indigenous People in British settler colonies, 1830s-1910. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2003. (Extracts).
  • Sivaramakrishnan, K. Modern Forests: Statemaking and Environment Change in Colonial Eastern India. Oxford University Press, 1999.

Module 4:

Essential Readings:

  • Chakrabarty, Dipesh. “Minority histories, subaltern pasts.” Postcolonial Studies, Vol.1, No. 1 (1998).
  • Johnson, Miranda. “Sacred Claims and the Politics of Indigeneity in Australia.” Journal of Religious and Political Practice, Vol. 4, Issue 1 (2018).
  • Macklem, Patrick. Indigenous Difference and the Constitution of Canada. University of Toronto Press, 2001. (Chapter 7).
  • Tanika. “Jitu’s Santhal Movement in Malda, 1924-1932.” In Subaltern Studies IV: Writings on South Asian History and Society, edited by Ranajit Guha. Oxford University Press, 1985.

Supplementary Readings:

  • Gelder, Ken and Jane M. Jacob. Uncanny Australia: Sacred and Identity in a Postcolonial Nation. Melbourne University Press, 1994.
  • Guha, Ranajit. “The Prose of Counter-Insurgency.” In Subaltern Studies II: Writing on South Asian History and Society, edited by Ranajit Guha. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1983.
  • Guha, Ranajit. Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency in Colonial India. Durham: Duke University Press, 1999.
  • Hardiman, David. “Adivasi Assertion in South Gujarat: The Devi Movement.” In Subaltern Studies III: Writings on South Asian History and Society, edited by Ranajit Guha. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1984.

Module 5:

Essential Readings:

  • Baviskar, Amita. In the Belly of the River: Tribal Conflicts Over Development in the Narmada River. Oxford University Press, 2004. (Chapter 8 and 9).
  • Havemann, Paul. Indigenous People’s Rights in Australia, Canada, & New Zealand. Oxford University Press, 1999. (Chapter 2 and 3).
  • Kumar, Sujit. “Adivasis and the State Politics in Jharkhand.” Studies in Indian Politics, Vol 6, No. 1 (2018).
  • Rycroft, Daniel J and Sangeeta Dasgupta. The Politics of Belonging in India: Becoming Adivasi. London and New York: Routledge, 2011. (8, 9, 10).
  • Shah, Alpa. In the Shadows of the State: Indigenous Politics, Environmentalism, and Insurgency in Jharkhand, India. Oxford University Press, 2015. (Chapter 1)
  • Nandini and T.N. Madan. ed. The Scheduled Tribes and Their India: Politics, Identities, Policies and Work. Oxford University Press, 2016. (Chapter 5).

Supplementary Readings:

  • Devalle, Susana B.C. Discourses on Ethnicity: Culture and Protest in Jharkhand. Sage Publications, 1992.
  • Karlsson, Bengt, G. Unruly Hills: A Political Ecology of India’s Northeast. Berghahn Books, 2011.
  • Sundar, Nandini. Subalterns and Sovereigns: An Anthropological History of Bastar (1854-2006). Oxford University Press, 2008.

Module 6:

Essential Readings:

  • Brown, Brian Edward. Religion, Law, and the Land: Native American and the Judicial Interpretation of Sacred Land. Greenword Press, 1999. (extracts).
  • Liddle, Celeste. “Intersectionality and Indigenous Feminism: An Aboriginal Woman’s Perspective,” The Postcolonialist, June 25, 2014.
  • Parmar, Pooja. Indigeneity and Legal Pluralism in India: Claims, History, Meanings. Cambridge University Press, 2015. (Extracts).
  • Pereira, Melvil, et. al. eds. Gender Implications of Tribal Customary Law: The Case of North East India. Rawat Publications, 2017. (chapter 4).
  • Reisman, W. Michael. “Protecting Indigenous Rights in International Adjudication.” Faculty Scholarship Series, Paper 885 (1995).

Supplementary readings:

  • Birrell, Kathleen. Indigeneity: Before and Beyond the Law. Routledge, 2016.
  • Bora, Papori. “Between the Human, the Citizen and the Tribal: Reading Feminist Politics in India’s Northeast.” International Journal of Politics, Vol. 12, Issue 3-4, 2010.
  • O'Faircheallaigh, Ciaran. Negotiations in the Indigenous World: Aboriginal Peoples and the Extractive Industry in Australia and Canada. Routledge, 2018.
  • Povinelli, Elizabeth A. The Cunning of Recognition: Indigenous Alterities and the Making of Australian Multiculturalism. Duke University Press, 2002. (Chapter 4- Shamed States).
  • Ritter, David. Contesting Native Title: From Controversy to Consensus in the Struggle over Indigenous Land Rights. Allen Unwin, 2009.
  • Strelein, Lisa. Compromised Jurisprudence: Native title cases since Mabo. Aboriginal Studies Press, 2009.