While recent research on adivasis under colonial rule tends to focus on issues of identity politics, categories and definitions, it is important to emphasise that the histories of adivasis were shaped by the constantly evolving British policy towards them, their own unique features, socio-cultural traditions, and the nature of their integration within the colonial state, which in turn determined their self-definitions and their relations with others.
This book brings back a focus on the colonial history of adivasis and discusses the issue of their identity against this background. It is a study of the Hos of Chota Nagpur from 1820, when they first came into contact with the British, to 1932, when their protests took the form of religious reform movements in an attempt to develop a distinct tribal identity.
In their encounter with the British, the Hos were confronted with several challenges, such as their role in the changing political system; their right of access to local territory and forest resources; the growing influx of outsiders into their villages; and the restructuring of indigenous institutions of authority. While dealing with these circumstances, albeit with varying degrees of success, the Hos developed an ethnic and political awareness vis-à-vis the British, other adivasis, and the non-adivasi population, leading to the Haribaba movement for self-purification and other socio-religious reform movements.
Meticulously researched and replete with statistical data, a detailed glossary and bibliography, this insightful volume will be useful for scholars and students of history, sociology and anthropology.
Sanjukta Das Gupta is Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Calcutta.