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Adivasis, Maoists and Insurgency in the Central Indian Tribal Belt

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 June 2013

Jonathan Kennedy
Department of Sociology, University of Cambridge [].
Lawrence King
Department of Sociology, University of Cambridge [].
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Maoist insurgent or Naxalite activity has expanded markedly in India over the past three decades, especially in the central tribal belt. This paper first uses a unique, district-level dataset to demonstrate that insurgency does not, as is widely argued, occur where tribals or Adivasis have been dispossessed of their land and forced to work as landless labourers. Rather, insurgent activity is most likely to take place in areas where Adivasis retain control of their land. The second part is an in-depth analysis of the Dantewara district. It shows that the Adivasis’ grievances are intimately related to the colonial encounter and neo-colonial state’s desire to control forests and forest resources. While the insurgent leaders are non-Adivasis, they strive to frame the insurgency in terms that are meaningful to Adivasis, and to provide a combination of collective and selective incentives. Nevertheless, some Adivasis oppose the insurgency because it undermines their status, while others do so because of short-term processes operating during the course of the insurgency. A syncretic theoretical approach, which concentrates on the complex and dynamic relationship between insurgents and their support base, and includes insights from Marxian, Weberian and Durkheimian theory, is best suited to explaining Adivasis’ involvement in the insurgency.


La rébellion maoïste ou naxalite s’est fortement répandue depuis trente ans notamment dans la zone tribale du centre de l’Inde. L’article utilise d’abord une base de données unique au niveau du district pour montrer que, contrairement à une idée reçue, la contestation ne se développe pas là où les tribus ou Adivasis ont été dépossédés de leurs terres et contraints de travailler comme ouvriers agricoles. C’est tout le contraire. La deuxième partie présente une étude en profondeur du district Dantewara. Les revendications des Adivasis sont intimement liées à la colonisation et à la volonté qu’a l’État postcolonial de contrôler forêts et ressources forestières. Les leaders ne sont pas adivasis mais ils s’efforcent de présenter la contestation dans des termes qui fassent sens pour les Adivasis avec une combinaison d’éléments incitatifs collectifs et sélectifs. Cependant certains groupes adivasis s’opposent à une contestation qui affaiblit leur statut ; d’autres pour des raisons conjoncturelles. Une interprétation dynamique complexe est proposée qui emprunte à Marx, Weber et Durkheim.


In den letzten 30 Jahren hat sich die maoistische oder naxalitische Rebellion in Indien stark ausgebreitet und dies besonders in mittelindischen Stammesgebieten. Aufbauend auf einer einzigen, distriktbezogenen Datenbank zeigt diese Untersuchung, dass der Widerstand sich nicht, wie meist vermutet, dort verbreitet hat, wo die Stämme oder Adivasis enteignet und zu Feldarbeiten gezwungen worden sind. Ganz im Gegenteil. Der zweite Teil der Untersuchung ist dem Distrikt Dantewara gewidmet. Die Forderungen der Adivasis stehen in enger Beziehung zur Kolonialisierung und dem Willen des postkolonialen Staates die Wälder und deren Erträge zu kontrollieren. Selbst wenn die Anführer keine Adivasis sind, verstehen sie es dem Widerstand eine Form zu geben, die für die Adivasis Sinn macht. Es handelt sich um eine Mischung aus kollektiven und selektiven Anreizen. Manche Adivasis lehnen den Widerstand ab, weil er ihre Position schwächt, während andere ihm aus konjunkturellen Gründen zustimmen. Eine dynamische und komplexe Interpretation, unter Einbeziehung von Marx, Weber und Durkheim, erlaubt es, die Beteiligung der Adivasis am Widerstand zu erklären.

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Copyright © A.E.S. 2013 

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