Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Proud, not Primitive

[Approximate Reading Time: 4 minutes]
[Mood: Optimistic]

Growing up in a middle class family in a large Indian city didn't expose me to many key issues that many millions of Indians face. The tribal peoples of India were much maligned as belonging to the "backward castes". I used to see them occasionally on the outskirts of the city trading or begging. Some of them were considered untouchable. Their lack of formal education was held against them. They were said to be good for nothing, a hindrance to the country's "development". And as some in India celebrate the country's latest technological feat of sending a Mars orbiter into space, millions of indigenous and tribal peoples' fate hangs in the balance.

Here's their real story...

Content from


  1. it's the ultimate weapon in the colonial and neo-colonial arsenal: take away indigenous people's land, either by force, by environmental degradation or by assimilation, thus destroying their foundation of a happy, prosperous, and sustainable life. As their culture, society and environment is falling apart, point out the hardship and squalor of their backwards life and generously offer for them to become part of the "advanced and sophisticated" world, at the very bottom of the social and economic ladder, of course. Never miss an opportunity to belittle their inferior traditions or perhaps even open a museum celebrating their savage past. But since progress obviously only goes in the direction of a more industrialized, "developed," capitalistic world, the question of whether it was fair to destroy the indigenous lifeline in the first place and they could ever be given their land back never arises. The benevolent bully says: "Assimilate or die."

  2. That's pretty much the colonial and imperial playbook. As the cartesian worldview prescribes control over nature (and its destruction), it also implicitly prescribes the destruction of the people who're closest to nature. The indigenous peoples of the world are all the more precious because they are humanity's only remaining connection to nature. They are not objects of curiosity to be watched in a "human safari" ( as is happening in India! Some positive news: Vanity Fair's latest issue covers the plight of Amazon's Awa Indians (

  3. In high school I read an interesting book called Savages by Joe Kane. It was about his experience living with the Huaroni tribe in the Amazon. I appreciated that it presented the Huaroni neither as "noble savages," perfect and flawless, nor as primitive people in need of "civilizing," but just as people. - Sonya

  4. Just looking at the pictures, I'm wildly grateful for this article, which I plan to read. Where does one find the time...?

    1. Maybe the time will find you when it's the right time :) It's strange to think of it this way, but perhaps time is its own spirit that goes around and finds people. And people think they found time :)