Resistance as Negotiation
Making States and Tribes in the Margins of Modern India
Uday Chandra



FIFTEEN YEARS AGO, I traveled to rural Jharkhand for the first time. Tucked away in a corner of eastern India, the forest-covered Chotanagpur Plateau lies at the heart of the state of Jharkhand today. As a graduate student in a political science department, I sought to learn about the Maoist insurgency raging in the region, which formed a part of the so-called Red Corridor across eastern and central India. In 2006, the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, declared that the Maoist insurgency was “the single biggest internal security challenge ever faced” by the country and that it was “directly related to underdevelopment.”1 Who were these Maoists? Why were they taking up arms against the Indian state? How did this insurgent group mobilize rural populations? These questions took me into the forest villages of central Jharkhand, where adivasi or “tribal” groups have been at the forefront of Maoist mobilization.2

Living among the Mundas in their ancestral lands in Khunti district, I listened to the stories and songs of my interlocutors.3 They narrated oral traditions and memories of past struggles for recognition and rights that continue to shape the present. Anil, Joachim, Kalyan, Gomia, and others who opened their homes to me so graciously also taught me how to speak and think in the Mundari language. Their families, especially the children, took a special delight in teaching me common words for flora and fauna as well as proverbs and idioms that made the language come alive for me. At times, my fieldwork took place, quite literally, in the fields, where the staple paddy (dhaan) crop is cultivated in the state. At other times, a smorgasbord of seasonal festivities and ritual ceremonies kept me busy as an ethnographer. Anil’s mother Philomena adopted me at the outset. She gave me not only a place in her household and community but also a sense of belonging to a place that is now a home to me. I can still hear her telling me that I would never learn Mundari by writing down words and phrases: “Just talk to me in Munda. Speaking is the only way you’ll ever learn.” If I could repay my hosts and their hospitality, I realized, I had to tell the story of Jharkhand’s adivasis in their terms. Beyond my initial preoccupation with Maoism, which appears in the final two chapters, I resolved to unlearn much of my graduate training in American political science by delving into dusty archives, buried artifacts, and far-flung places to piece together an anthropological history of adivasi resistance vis-à-vis statemaking processes in modern India.

MAP 1. Map of Jharkhand showing districts and bordering states. Map by Vinayak Varma.

This book, written by a rogue political scientist among historians and anthropologists, does not, however, tell a romantic tale of defeated heroes and lost arcadias. As Kalyan dada, who recently passed away after contracting COVID-19, reminded me repeatedly, “We, adivasis, made our history. Everyone else—the British, Christian missionaries, and sarkāri babus [government officials], worked with us because they could not work against us.” Adivasi agency, whether expressed peacefully or not, suffuses the chapters to come. This agency delineates what I dub “resistance-as-negotiation,” by which generations of adivasi women and men in Jharkhand have made and remade the modern state from below. Eager to establish their political authority in the region, colonial and postcolonial regimes have had little choice but to work with representatives of rural adivasi communities. But Mundas and other adivasi groups such as Oraons, Santals, and Hos have not been left untouched by their clear-eyed negotiations with colonial and postcolonial states over the past two centuries. Theirs is a complex story of becoming adivasi or “tribal” since their first brush with the British East India Company. This is, in other words, a book about tribal modernity that bucks the scholarly tendency to characterize adivasis as “primitive” or “antimodern” subjects. It treats adivasis not as atavistic Others or vestiges from the prehistoric past but as fully coeval with the rest of us as moderns seeking rights and recognition.4


On a balmy July afternoon, I trekked three miles up to the forest village of Uliburu in the heart of the Chotanagpur plateau. As a student of James C. Scott, I wondered whether the modern state could climb these uplands where dense thickets alternated with paddy fields. “How far is the nearest government building from here?” I inquired. My guide Anil coolly replied: “Farther than you can see, but it is actually everywhere.” Puzzled, I did not quite know what he meant. However, over lunch with my host in the village, Nearen, I learned that the Collector, the highest-ranked state official in the district, had visited a week earlier. She had arrived with security guards in her white AMC Ambassador to inquire into the state of development projects in the area, waded unperturbed through slushy paddy fields, and promised to bring more “development” (vikaas) to the village. “It’s been a while since someone that important visited our village,” observed Nearen, following it up with the ominous warning: “But I’m pretty sure we’ll have to make up for it somehow now.” No one knew how, but everyone muttered in agreement. What made Nearen and the others, all Munda adivasis, mock the state in these margins of modern India? The answer, I propose in this book, is a relationship of intimate antagonisms between adivasis and the modern state, a paradoxical proposition that invites us to rethink what it means to resist the state vis-à-vis a logic of negotiation.5

This is, of course, at odds with how resistance is usually understood, in a spatial sense, in the margins of the state. In his classic account of historical statemaking in the margins, James C. Scott has described the “fraught dialectical relations” between states and empires, on the one hand, and “zones of relative autonomy and their inhabitants,” on the other.6 A study of one of these autonomous zones, Zomia or the Southeast Asian massif, reveals it to be “not simply a space of political resistance but also a zone of cultural refusal.”7 For Scott, “tribal” or “indigenous” homelands the world over are essentially “shatter zones” where “the expansion of states, empires, slave-trading, and wars, as well as natural disasters, have driven large numbers of people to seek refuge in out-of-the-way places,” whether in Zomia, Amazonia, or the Caucasus.8 In much the same vein, Willem van Schendel has argued that “Zomia” is today “relegated to the margins of ten valley-dominated states with which it has antagonistic relationship” in East, South, and Southeast Asia. However, he adds, these “tribal” margins and their inhabitants, by their very nature, “resisted the projects of nationbuilding and statemaking” in their respective countries.9 Here, margins are regarded as stateless zones inhabited by unruly subjects who refuse to come under the sway of civilizing states and empires. Similarly, Bengt Karlsson writes of the Khasi Hills in northeastern India: “The region’s distant location and otherness continues to be its dominating force” even as it “seems to open a critical space against State and capital intrusion.”10 The anthropologist Alpa Shah has ventured farther to describe the margins of the state as “arcadian spaces” with “visions of alternative moralities.”11 Resistance appears straightforwardly as the antonym of power. The margins of the state are thus conceived in terms of this sense of resistance as negation, opposition, or refusal.

To unpack this common sense, let us travel back in time. Long before the recent wave of interest in Zomia and other “nonstate spaces,” anthropologists studying North Africa and South America sought to illuminate the politico-ecological basis of the Arab-Berber divide or what they saw as the stubborn statelessness of the Aché-Guayaki Indians.12 In his synoptic account of tribes in India, Stephen Fuchs, for instance, wrote nearly half a century ago:

Many of the aboriginal tribes in India were without doubt in ancient times simply food gatherers and primitive hunters. When their hunting and collecting grounds were gradually appropriated by cultivating immigrants coming from distant lands, and in the possession of a superior culture, the food-gathering tribes had to yield to them. Some of the tribes allowed themselves to be subdued and assimilated by the new-comers, others escaped into areas still comparatively free of settlers, and others again retained their nomadic and collecting way of life in defiance of the new situation.13

The tribal margins of the state in India appear here, much as in Scott’s sense of shatter zones, in opposition to a putative mainstream, namely plains-based societies. But let us delve further back in time to uncover the roots of this rhetoric. A little over a century ago, Francis B. Bradley-Birt, a colonial bureaucrat based in Chotanagpur, wrote, “Driven out from [the plains], when or how no trace remains, [the Mundas] gradually fell back on the plateau of Chota Nagpore. Here, admirably adapted as it was for defence, they finally made their home.”14 Bradley-Birt, however, was not the progenitor of this theory about tribal margins. It was Major Edward Tuite Dalton, the pioneering anthropologist-administrator in Chotanagpur, who characterized the “eastern portion of the extensive plateau of Central India” as a “watershed” that became home to “a heterogeneous collection of non-Aryan tribes . . . driven from their original sites at different periods by Braminical invaders, [who] gradually fell back . . . and formed new nationalities in the secure asylum they found there.”15 These subcontinental “tribes,” claimed Dalton without offering the slightest shard of evidence, had “prior to the Aryan occupation of the Gangetic provinces” been “the dominant race,” veritable “living illustrations of the progress of mankind almost from the stone age to the confines of modern civilization.”16 We do not need to trace a direct genealogy connecting Dalton and Scott to grasp how the simple binary opposition between power and resistance became spatialized in the tribal margins of colonial and postcolonial states. What is striking, nonetheless, is the debt that neoromantic yearnings for tribal arcadias today owe to colonial preconceptions about tribes in India.

Why are scholars committed to radical politics so seduced by colonial discourses of spatial alterity? To answer this question, we must appreciate how the notion of “tribes” has become a metonym for arcadian spaces in opposition to neoliberal logics of rationality. For Sebastian Junger, “tribes” denote a sense of collective well-being and belonging that distinguished Native Americans from settler colonialists motivated by individualistic Lockean agendas.17 Joshua Greene has, similarly, written in approving terms about contemporary politics as shaped by “moral tribes” that cohere around a social psychology of “us” and “them.”18 The upshot is resistance to the neoliberal status quo in society and politics, based on cold economic rationality, in the form of collective mobilization. The Yale law professor Amy Chua, following Francis Fukuyama’s recent exploration of identity politics as the pursuit of recognition by others, has painted a dismal portrait of a world of “tribes” at war with each other even as each tribe seeks to maximize its group’s advantages in a competitive game.19 Even when tribes are disparaged as unruly and disruptive of bourgeois politics, as Marlene Wind does in a recent book on the “tribalization of Europe,” these less sanguine assessments nonetheless recognize the moral psychology of “tribes” resisting the status quo.20 Whether one approves of them or not, “tribes” are now widely regarded as the Other of contemporary capitalism, frequently bemoaned for their baleful influence over democratic politics. By a curious twist of history, the tribal Other now lies within Western liberal societies, not outside it, as in the colonial era.

Nevertheless, if we set aside old and new stereotypes of the tribal Other, we can study the spatial logics of how modern state margins, tribal or not, are constituted. When we reproduce the worldview of colonial anthropologist-administrators, we end up justifying, often unwittingly, earlier patterns of Othering.21 Administrators of tribal spaces such as Major Dalton crafted policies by which “[t]he tribal habitat was marked off and separated from the administrative jurisdictions to which it originally belonged and kept out of the . . . operation of the usual laws and regulations.”22 Yet the colonial conception of tribal spaces was, as we shall see in Chapters 2 and 3, constantly challenged by changing social realities on the inner and outer frontiers of colonial states. Besides reinforcing colonial stereotypes, conceiving margins as stateless utopias misses their centrality to modern statemaking processes. As David Ludden puts it,

When the process rather than structure of empire becomes the subject of historical study, [margins] become central sites for research. . . . Borderlands and frontiers may be critical sites where empire adapts sensitively and diversely to new conditions.23

Colonial state margins and their subjects might, in other words, be more intimately linked than is typically assumed. This insight has been borne out by anthropologists working across the Global South who have shown that the margins of postcolonial states are spaces where sovereignty is negotiated from above and below.24 The complexities of making and maintaining modern state margins, whether characterized as tribal or not, push us beyond colonial and contemporary accounts of tribal margins as arcadian spaces or utopias-in-waiting.

The making or constitution of modern state margins is an intricate process with an incremental, snowballing logic that unfolds over time. Yet we must be mindful that a state’s margins are not its blind spots. Margins are, in fact, anything but peripheral to the workings of colonial and postcolonial states. Gautam Bhadra has remarked perceptively on the co-constitution of modern states and their margins:

The centre would always try to have its mastery over [the] margin and would never be “foreign to it.” [But t]he margin, through its own formation, may have an edge to pierce the centre, to dislocate it. Shifts in particular modes of marginal formations may also lead to displacements in the periphery conceived and recognised by the centre. Margin versus Centre and vice versa. It may not always be so. One also constitutes the other, changing relations may form new alignments, spatially and historically.25

We can make sense of the mutual imbrication of modern states and their margins while recognizing, too, that margins have the potential to “pierce the centre, to dislocate it,” that is, to remake states from below. In a related vein, Anna Tsing has defined modern state margins as simultaneously “zones of unpredictability at the edges of discursive stability, where contradictory discourses overlap . . . where discrepant kinds of meaning-making converge” and “an analytical placement that makes evident both the constraining, oppressive quality of cultural exclusion and the creative potential of rearticulating, enlivening, and rearranging the very social categories that peripheralize a group’s existence.”26 The margins of modern states exist, as Talal Asad has noted, wherever their sovereignty is contested and negotiated by resisting subjects.27 They are not simply ecological or cultural spaces that can be identified a priori. On the contrary, margins are constituted in the course of modern statemaking and its concomitant processes of subject-making.

If modern states and their margins are mutually constituted, then we must revise our received ideas about resistance. Recent scholarship on the “everyday state and society” deconstructs our received notions of states to show that they are constituted “in the same social field as its subjects.”28 To the extent that actually existing states are not the Hobbesian leviathans of our imagination, their sovereignty might be understood to be embedded and constituted in the everyday workings of society.29 In the margins of modern states, the state and its subjects are entangled inextricably. In early modern China, for instance, Helen Siu and Deborah Sutton show how imperial statemaking in the margins took place in tandem with new notions of culture and ethnicity in the Pearl River delta.30 Gunnel Cederlöf and K. Sivaramakrishnan have argued, similarly, that the tribal margins of British India, whether in the Nilgiris or the Jungle Mahals, are useful sites to study processes of colonial statemaking.31 In Singhbhum, south of Chotanagpur, village elders were stipend-earning local state officials and makers of customary law.32 As we shall see in Chapters 3 and 4, rebellions such as those led by Birsa Munda or the Tana Bhagats targeted dominant lineages within adivasi society as they sought to remake the state from below. As Douglas Haynes and Gyan Prakash put it, there is a need to situate “all forms of resistance within the ordinary life of power . . . where social structure appears as a constellation of contradictory and contestatory processes” because “neither domination nor resistance is autonomous; the two are so entangled that it becomes difficult to analyze one without discussing the other.”33 To resist is, therefore, not simply to negate or oppose a distant sovereign, but to negotiate the everyday state from the margins.

Resistance as negotiation, rather than negation, is admittedly far from intuitive. With reference to James Scott’s Weapons of the Weak, Sherry Ortner writes:

Once upon a time, resistance was a relatively unambiguous category, half of the seemingly simple binary, domination versus resistance. Domination was a relatively fixed and institutionalized form of power; resistance was essentially organized opposition to power institutionalized in this way.34

After Michel Foucault, such a binary between (state) power and resistance seems simplistic. In Foucault’s terms, “Where there is power, there is resistance, and yet, or rather consequently, this resistance is never in a position of exteriority in relation to power.”35 For Lila Abu-Lughod, resistance is merely a “diagnostic of power,” that is, “in the rich and sometimes contradictory details of resistance the complex workings of social power can be traced.”36 In a similar vein, Timothy Mitchell has argued that positing a dualism of power and resistance prevents us from appreciating how “domination works through actually constructing a seemingly dualistic world.”37 However, these revisionist notions of resistance attribute, on the one hand, a totalizing view of state power as domination and, on the other hand, an ambivalence or ambiguity to the acts of resisters. The implications are profoundly conservative in terms of social change. There is no room here for the everyday entanglements between state and society such that resistance possesses a potency of its own. This is why I propose, instead, a subtler conception of resistance as negotiation, by which, first, those who resist the status quo in society may not be fully aware of all the implications of their actions even as, in pragmatic terms, they act as agents with “calculative rationality” and sufficient purpose;38 second, resistance itself may be power-laden to an extent, but not wholly, and this is what permits social change to occur at least partly from below.39 Such a conception of resistance as negotiation stays close to the spirit of Scott’s original formulation of everyday resistance or “weapons of the weak,” particularly what he saw as the Brechtian struggles of peasants during transitions to modernity, without romanticizing resistance as the negation or antonym of power.40

To return to Nearen’s subversive quip about the Collector’s visit, rethinking resistance as the negotiation rather than negation of power allows us to appreciate the intimate antagonisms between adivasis and the state in modern India. As I show throughout this book, whether during the heyday of the Maoist insurgency or the well-known rebellions of the nineteenth century, tribal or adivasi subjects remained deeply entangled in logics of colonial and postcolonial statemaking even as they sought to remake it from below. At the same time, as I explain in Chapter 2, the locus afforded by modern state margins cannot be taken as simply a top-down imposition or domination by an interventionist state. In the words of C. A. Bayly,

The ideologies of low-caste, tribal and poor peasant movements . . . appropriated notions of rights and representation widely disseminated across a society, in which the politics of the literate and the moral claims of the poor had long resonated with each other.41

The interactive nature of claim-making and statemaking permits us to place adivasi agency at the center of our analysis here.42 The process of becoming adivasi is not what that some scholars have described as the “colonial construction of tribe,” which grants only the colonial state any agency to act politically.43 As I demonstrate in this book, adivasis were not merely objects of colonial policies but political agents in their own right. They could protest peacefully, as I explain in Chapter 3 and 6, with petitions, pleas, and other forms of “rightful resistance,” 44 but, as I point out in Chapters 2, 3, and 8, they could also resort to “collective bargaining by riot.” 45 There is, in fact, a “close connection” rather than a “sharp division” between peaceful and not-so-peaceful repertoires of resistance as negotiation.46 I speak in Chapters 3 and 7 of a switch from the former to the latter. This does not imply any judgment on the efficaciousness of political violence, which can, of course, backfire and lead to brutal reprisals during counterinsurgencies. Yet overtly violent forms of resistance or “rebellions” reshape existing social structures and processes during intense phases of conflict, militarizing, polarizing, and fragmenting societies at times and fostering social cohesion at other times of liminal uncertainty.47 In the chapters to follow, we will find instances of both tendencies, which, paradoxically, reinforce the intimate antagonisms between adivasis and the modern state.

To rethink resistance in the margins of modern India, in sum, we do not need to invoke exotic ideas about tribal “zones of anomaly” or romanticized conceptions of resistance.48 Once we recognize the mutual constitution of modern states and their margins and of everyday state and society, our understanding of resistance appears closer to its etymological root re + sistere, meaning to endure or withstand, which is the basis of negotiating power from below. Resisters are consciously engaged in a classic Gramscian “war of maneuver” that seeks to “soften” the resolve of those in power to yield to the demands of their subjects.49 Equally, the margins of the modern state are not its blind spots or fiscally sterile territory but spaces in which wily subjects negotiate and rework state power from below. These were and are spaces defined, too, by the anxieties of administrators, whether in the nineteenth century or in counterinsurgency operations in the Red Corridor over the past decade.


The term adivasi was coined by activists in Jharkhand roughly a century ago.50 It is a Sanskritic neologism, akin to swaraj (self-rule) or loktantra (democracy), that designates at least 100 million Indians today as “aboriginal.” At first glance, we might conclude that this is a settler-colonialist label transposed from the New World onto a very different context. Yet, if we compare it to Dalit (literally, “broken” or “fragmented”), we can recognize how both terms emerged in the colonial public sphere in dialogue with an “ethnographic state.”51 Adivasi heroes such as Birsa Munda and Jaipal Singh, much like Dalit icons such as Jyotirao Phule and B. R. Ambedkar, fought for the rights and freedoms denied to them.52 However, unlike Dalits, who were disparaged as “untouchable” labor for centuries, if not millennia, groups recognized as adivasis today were previously regarded as forest-dwelling jatis and incorporated in myriad ways into precolonial polities across the Indian subcontinent. Forests, which covered up to half of South Asia until approximately 1850, have long been spaces for royal hunting expeditions, princes and warriors in exile, monastic orders and ashrams, and floating communities specializing in foraging and hunting alongside subsistence agriculture.53 The political fortunes of Bhils in western India, for instance, were closely connected with those of Mughal, Maratha and British colonial, and Indian postcolonial regimes successively over four centuries.54 Similarly, forest dwellers in Bastar and highland Odisha were enmeshed in complex ritual and politico-economic exchanges with their jungle rajas and patron goddesses.55 Despite the differences in the precolonial circumstances of Dalits and adivasis, the modern state offers the common ground on which eclectic affinities can exist between both sets of groups claiming rights and recognition.

This book argues that adivasis ought to be seen as artifacts of modern statemaking over the past two centuries. In other words, adivasi history begins not in the distant and murky past but with efforts by particular groups, regardless of their ecological niches, to remake themselves as aboriginal or first-settler communities in the eyes of colonial and postcolonial Indian states. The early history of encounters between these groups and military officials of the East India Company state gave birth to colonial anthropology.56 Thereafter, the post-1858 “ethnographic state,” as a clearing house of claims, recorded and counted these groups and, following the Scheduled Districts Act of 1874, demarcated their dwelling places as protected areas.57 Fuzzy precolonial histories known to us through royal chronicles and oral historical traditions lent, and continue to lend, weight to modern political claims by groups referring to themselves as tribes or adivasis.58 As I show in Chapters 2 and 3, through a variety of ethnopolitical practices of “hailing the state,” certain groups, therefore, became “tribal” or adivasi over the long nineteenth century.59 In nearly every case, we cannot verify these claims through archaeological or written historical sources. As a matter of fact, such exercises in scholarly verification or fact-checking are unlikely to further the cause of either adivasi politics or history-writing.60

In pursuing this line of argument in this book, I depart from dominant strands of writing on adivasis in modern India. Nationalist historians characterized adivasi histories as insurrectionary anticolonial pasts. Just as the Revolt of 1857, Swadeshi, and Quit India occupy pride of place in school textbooks and the academic histories of modern India, we may discern a parallel tendency in the nationalist histories of adivasi insurgencies. Three historical episodes on the western frontier of the Bengal Presidency, which lie at the core of Chapters 1 through 3, came to be reified as exceptional cases of anticolonial rebellion: the Kol Insurrection (1831–32), the Santal Hul (1855–56), and Birsa Munda’s ulgulan (1895–1901).61 The historians chronicling these episodes relied on extensive colonial records of counterinsurgency, which contained details of the causes and organization of the rebellions as well as the military tactics used by the rebels and countered by British armed forces. All three rebellions were interpreted as reactions to the intrusions of a new colonial order, a subset of a broader all-India response to British rule in India. This fledgling historiography can be situated against the backdrop of the tumultuous years around the visit of the Simon Commission and the passage of the Government of India Act of 1935, when the Congress began reaching out to the adivasis.62 Although movements for socio-religious reform such as the Tana Bhagats among the Oraons and the Hari Baba movement among the Hos had drawn inspiration from the figure of M. K. Gandhi, the Congress had not actively courted adivasis because they were assumed to be firmly in support of the Raj.63 The turn in nationalist historiography to incorporate adivasis into the wider anticolonial struggle thus ought to be seen as paralleling the efforts of the Congress to reach out to these groups and to negate demands for an autonomous Jharkhand (see Chapter 4) or separate nation-states among the Mizos and the Nagas.64 Such efforts in politics and academia continued in tandem in the early decades after independence.

When Ranajit Guha and his colleagues assembled Subaltern Studies in the late 1970s and early 1980s, they relied on not only the historical knowledge produced by nationalist historians on adivasis but also, somewhat surprisingly, nationalist historiographical assumptions. Early Subaltern Studies subtly replaced the portrayal of adivasis as proto-nationalists with a politically charged depiction of those Eric Hobsbawm had termed “primitive rebels” as authentic anticolonial rebels.65 Guha turned to the same triad of rebellions studied by a previous generation of historians but rendered them, vis-à-vis the structural linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure and the structuralist anthropology of Claude Lévi-Strauss, as the basic units of analysis in a broader study of peasant insurgencies.66 Guha here also followed the prevailing sociological consensus in India on the “tribe-caste continuum,” which characterized adivasis along a linear axis from simpler to more complex, hierarchical forms of social organization.67 In the same way that the sociologist Émile Durkheim had studied the “most primitive” religion in the world to reveal the “the religious nature of man” as “an essential and permanent aspect of humanity,” Guha turned to nineteenth-century adivasi rebellions to explore the “elementary aspects of peasant insurgency” in India and beyond.68 For Guha, in comparison to the Gandhi-led struggle for independence, “the peasant movements of the first three-quarters of British rule represented a somewhat inchoate and naïve state of consciousness.” 69 Quite apart from the disconcerting evolutionism at work here, it has been pointed out that Subaltern Studies emerged from a sense of failure within the Indian left to “adequately engage and mobilize the peasantry.”70 By giving a twist to the old nationalist historiography and situating it in a wider comparative context, adivasis, as the simplest kinds of peasants in India, could be claimed to be inherently opposed to the Raj.

Take for instance Guha’s analysis of the Santal Hul, which I analyze in Chapter 2. Guha writes that the Hul showed the “first glimmer,” albeit “feeble and incipient,” of a political consciousness among the Santals.71 The brothers leading the insurgency, Sidhu and Kanu, for instance, understood “some of the basic elements of economic exploitation and the political superstructure which legitimized these.”72 “Negation,” the next step for the rebels, according to Guha, may be seen in Sidhu-Kanu’s statement that the Thakur or deity that appeared before them was a “white man” who sat and wrote orders to them. For the radical historian, this was “clearly a case of overdetermination, the power of the colonialist sahib and that of the pen-pushing dhoti-clad babu were telescoped here in a composite vision and raised to divine power.”73 What Guha omits to tell us is that the same files show that Thakur’s sanctum sanctorum had “wrapped up in a white cloth and tied round with a piece of gold string . . . four books, which it is reported fell from heaven,” containing “the orders of the Thackoor,” and hence, they “were read every day at the Thackorbaree.”74 The four books turned out to be “translations of the Gospel of St. John into Bengalee and other languages,” perhaps left among the Santals by a passing missionary.

If the novel and hybrid political theology of the Santal rebels isn’t striking enough, consider Guha’s equally glaring omission that the rebels’ parwana or proclamation to the government says: “The Amlahs [judicial officers] . . . made the whole Rules and Regulations bad and this is sin to the Sahebs.”75 The Thakur allegedly told Sidhu-Kanu: “Tell the Sahib to cut your claims[;] you must not run away. Tell the sahib to let the Manjees go.”76 Kanu actually “told all the Sonthals that they were . . . to pay all the revenue to Govt” and to place themselves “under the charge” of him and his brother Sidhu.77 In other words, the Santals were expected to remain loyal to the Raj but simply treat Sidhu-Kanu, both manjhis (village headmen), as local state authorities in place of the existing set of officials. Far from dealing with a feeble or incipient political consciousness here, we are compelled to recognize that the Santal Hul was far from a straightforward anticolonial uprising. The social forces at play in Santal society did not drive the rebels to negate the colonial state but to negotiate with it as a distant sovereign. At the same time, we ought to appreciate adivasi rebellions, as Tanika Sarkar has argued recently, as intense periods of “modern self fashioning.”78

The same set of assumptions that guided Guha and early Subaltern Studies haunted a generation of scholarship on adivasi rebellions. In the decades leading up to Birsa Munda’s ulgulan, another episode of peasant insurgency examined in Elementary Aspects, upwardly-mobile Mundas had petitioned the colonial state to recognize their land rights, opposed the established authority of Hindu zamindars and rajas as well as the mankis and mundas, and declared themselves loyal subjects of the Raj. When the ulgulan broke out in 1895, Birsa and his lieutenants sought a Munda Raj under colonial overlordship.79 Once again, a logic of negotiation with the colonial state rather than its negation seems to be the object of adivasi rebellion. In a related vein, some historians have noted that discourses of “wildness” make available to adivasis a creative resource to negotiate with the colonial state.80 The simple binary opposition between adivasis and the modern state is unsettled precisely at the moment of insurgent politics. Colonial constructions of tribe may be far more collaborative ventures than historians have imagined. When we now read colonial-era insurgency records in the scheduled areas, it is impossible to simply retreat into the old tropes of nationalist historiography.81

Studying historical processes of becoming adivasi, we must reckon with the centrality of the colonial state as a clearinghouse of competing claims. When some Oraons and Mundas in Chotanagpur petitioned the colonial state to recognize their claims as bhuinhars or first settlers, they appealed to English common law to protect and further their interests vis-à-vis those of their zamindars and village headmen.82 It was Edward Tuite Dalton, whom we met in the previous section as a military officer and pioneer of ethnological studies in colonial Bengal, who commissioned land surveys, ensured the passage of the Chota Nagpur Tenures Act (1869), and pursued ethnographic research on tribes claiming aboriginal status. Dalton’s official policy of “favor bordering on partiality”83 toward the “non-Aryan” or “pre-Aryan” tribes of Bengal came to inform anthropologist-administrators in the hills and forests of Northeast India, the western Indian tribal belt along the Arabian Sea, the central Indian tribal heartland, the Madras Agency Tracts, and the North West Frontier Province. As we shall see in Chapters 3 and 4, the colonial ethnographic state was unusually responsive to its tribal subjects, whose peaceful petitioning and calculated acts of strategic violence led to the eventual codification of customs in laws such as the Chota Nagpur Tenancy Act (1908), the Central Provinces Land Alienation Act (1916), and the Agency Tracts Interest and Land Transfer Act (1917). It is in this context that we may appreciate K. Sivaramakrishnan’s perceptive observation that the colonial anthropology of tribal India might, in fact, be profitably read as an anthropology of the colonial state.84 At the same time, with colonial governmentality as the only game in town, claim-making by Adivasis not only softened and negotiated processes of modern statemaking from below but also co-produced the ethnopolitical categories that enshrined tribal custom and autonomy in the statute books.


Autonomy has, over the past century, become the rallying cry of Adivasi politics across the Indian subcontinent. It is rooted in colonial discourses of “primitivism” and “wildness” that have become the basis for a political existence for adivasis separate from the workings of caste society.85 Yet it is also an instance of what Gayatri Spivak has dubbed “strategic essentialisms.”86 When the Simon Commission came to India in 1928, it received a memorandum from adivasi representatives from Chotanagpur that laid out the rationale for a separate status (Chapter 5):

[W]e aborigines, sir, can with equal or perhaps greater justice claim that as descendants of the earliest known owners of Indian soil and with more hoary traditions of sovereignty in the land, we too are entitled to as much or perhaps greater indulgence and an equal, if not a larger, share in the government of our people. The Mahabharata, the national Epic of the Hindus, records the achievements of the Munda sovereign, Jarasandha who ruled northern India from Rajgriha or Rajgir in this very district of Patna. . . . But to turn from ancient history and tradition to contemporary facts. At the present day the aborigines of India number sixteen millions out of which as many as five millions and a half or more than one-third inhabit this most artificial and heterogeneous province of Bihar and Orissa, mostly in a compact body in Chota Nagpur and the Santal Parganas . . . but we, sirs, have no one to represent us in the Cabinet, our representation in the council is farcical and our representation in the public services is negligible.87

The memo concluded with demands for “the establishment of a separate administration under a sympathetic and well informed Governor directly under the Governor General” and “a separate legislature for the aboriginal tracts now loosely and illogically tacked on to Bihar and Orissa.” And yet, two decades or so later, the great adivasi leader Jaipal Singh Munda moderated these demands during debates over the new constitution for postcolonial India:

What my people require, Sir, is not adequate safeguards. . . . We do not ask for any special protection. We want to be treated like every other Indian. . . . I take you all at your word that now we are going to start a new chapter, a new chapter of Independent India where there is equality of opportunity, where no one would be neglected. We are all equal.88

What Jaipal Singh wanted, however, was a separate state of Jharkhand within the Indian Union. Even as the scheduled areas were retained by the fledgling post-colony, it took nearly half a century for Jharkhand to materialize. By then, debates over autonomy had taken on an altogether different tenor.

The long transition from the colonial to the postcolonial has, as I show in Chapters 5 and 6, reworked older discourses of primitivism in a postcolonial regime of “internal colonialism” through big hydroelectric dams, mining and logging interests, and greater market penetration.89 As Sukhram Hao, a retired schoolteacher in Khunti, put it to me:

After Jaipal Singh failed, the sarkār became very powerful. The policemen, the forester, the mining companies: all of them threatened to take over Chotanagpur. But we adivasis never gave up. Our fight [larai] for our rights [haq] has continued since the days of the English.

It is tempting, therefore, to view adivasis as inherently antagonistic to the postcolonial state or “keeping the state away.”90 Yet any claims of internal colonialism must be qualified: The production of different strata of adivasi citizen-subjects in the post-colony came to be tied inextricably to the emerging political economy of resource exploitation. As Stuart Corbridge has argued:

the politics of Jharkhand is becoming more complex, with old divisions becoming blurred, as the process of transformation unfurls. This process may be benefiting some tribals and damaging others, but above all it is ensuring that the chief vehicle for the pursuit of ethnoregional politics—the undivided Scheduled Tribe—is itself now under threat.91

Adivasis are hardly homogeneous. In contemporary India, we are speaking of roughly 100 million people. Besides ethnic differences, social stratification among adivasi communities have grown alongside state-directed development projects in the scheduled areas. The relations between different strata and segments of adivasi society, particularly in villages, correspond to the class divisions generated by the new regime of internal colonialism in which adivasis are both agents as well as victims.

Activism on behalf of adivasis continues in a paternalistic vein, but resistance-as-negotiation by Jharkhand’s adivasis has shown that middle-class Gandhian paternalism does not exhaust the possibilities for activism. In postcolonial India, the role once played by sympathetic anthropologist-administrators is now taken up by civil society activists who oppose the construction of dams, highways, and other development projects that seek to convert natural resources into capital.92 Activists often rely on a host of “simplifications,” which irk scholars in varying measure, to demand constitutionally mandated rights for adivasis.93 Yet, as I demonstrate in Chapter 6, adivasis have negotiated with the logics of state developmentalism and democratic politics in canny ways.94 “Culture talk,” in Mahmood Mamdani’s terms, essentializes, even reifies, ethnic identities by treating them as coherent or whole “communities.”95 Yet strategic essentialism implies speaking back to the state in its own languages and logics. This is what Soma Munda and his comrades did during the Koel-Karo anti-dam movement, when key symbols of adivasi identity came to be mobilized cleverly against caste Hindu engineers and officials from Bihar.96 Unlike the better-known Narmada anti-dam movement, Soma Munda’s project succeeded in its aims:

We made the sarkār bend to our will with our reliance on custom, law, and non-violence [ahimsa]. We don’t need to hold any meetings or rallies in Ranchi or Delhi. We are not like Narmada Bachao of Medha Patekar [sic]. Our politics is local. We will resist them here on our turf.

Jharkhand, alongside Chhattisgarh and Uttarakhand, came into existence in 2000 after long-standing movements for statehood that sought to preserve adivasi autonomy.97 Over the last quarter century, new laws have extended panchayati raj to the scheduled areas and devised innovative models of joint forest management and co-ownership for forest dwellers.98 Being adivasi in postcolonial India has meant, above all, ceaseless negotiations for autonomy with a state apparatus trapped in its own contradictory discourses of improvement and protection.

When Maoist rebels have entered scheduled areas in eastern and central India, they have found fertile ground without necessarily weaning adivasis away from their entanglements with the postcolonial state.99 In fact, the adivasi youth who joined Maoist ranks in Jharkhand and adjoining states did so to counter the strategic essentialisms devised by village elders during their parleys with the postcolonial state. As one of my interlocutors, Benjamin, said:

In every village, the young and the old are at odds with each other nowadays. Our tradition [parampara] is simply to listen to what the elders say. We must farm for them; our wives and sisters must cook and prepare rice beer for them. What is so good about such traditions?

As I lay out in Chapter 7, these young women and men sought to remake rural adivasi communities in a new modernist idiom, featuring guns, cash, mobile phones, and new ways of being adivasi. Whereas some of their peers joined rural NGOs, these youth joined the Maoist movement to seek social change. Far from threatening to overthrow the Indian state, even Maoist groups have ended up, in the words of Partha Chatterjee, “negotiating, albeit provisional and unstable, arrangements with local state agencies to distribute governmental benefits.”100 At the same time, as I argue, Maoist rebels opposed to a gerontocratic society ruled by older men have been compelled to coexist uneasily with both NGOs and the postcolonial state in a new regime of multiple, overlapping sovereignties.

Large NGOs such as Utthaan, which features prominently in Chapters 7 and 8, must also operate in zones of conflict alongside the everyday state and Maoist rebels. Far from having a depoliticizing effect on rural life, Utthaan’s work exacerbated existing social conflicts in villages, lubricated the political economy of rebellion, and sustained a novel political order in conditions of apparent disorder. It pursued well-funded projects of “participatory development” even as it acted in concert with government agencies to implement developmental programs such as the Swarnajayanti Gram Swarozgar Yogna (SGSY), a major rural self-employment initiative of the Indian welfare state. For the first three months of my fieldwork in Khunti, I lived with Utthaan professionals and learned the nature of their everyday work in the villages. This is how I came to meet and know Anil, Kalyan, Joachim, and others who appear in the pages of this book. Unlike most NGO professionals, I did not hesitate to stay at their homes or eat and drink with them. As Anil put it later, “We thought you were like them only at first. But then we realized you were not one of them.” In addition to breaking caste taboos of interdining, I also began to learn the Mundari language in situ among my hosts, their kin, and their fellow villagers. The blurred boundaries between state and nonstate actors allowed me to traverse a complex social terrain in ways that local bureaucrats, rebel leaders, and middle-class NGO professionals could, if they wished, also do.

Blurred boundaries and multiple sovereignties in the so-called Red Corridor have, as Chapter 8 reveals, led to the negotiation of a new kind of political order from the crucible of insurgency and counterinsurgency. In the new order, rebels turn to electoral democracy to pursue their political ambitions, with ballots replacing bullets as the preferred modality of conducting politics. Paramilitary troops clash with local policemen and bureaucrats, whom they regard as compromised by their dealings with Maoist insurgents and their supporters in rural Jharkhand. NGOs such as Utthaan work within the same landscape, offering livelihood-based development options alongside those offered by the postcolonial state and Maoist groups. Adivasi citizen-subjects are, nonetheless, far from hapless victims of these sovereign bodies, which they must now negotiate simultaneously in their everyday lives. The ongoing pathalgadi movement, which has installed stone slabs with inscriptions from the Indian constitution across the villages of central Jharkhand, shows how far the postcolonial state and its laws suffuse the political imagination of adivasi women and men.101 Even adivasi youth rebel-turned-politicians find solace in the promises of constitutional democracy rather than the utopias of the far left and the far right.

Just as this book pushes readers to rethink resistance in the margins of the modern state, it also encourages them to look beyond exotic images of timeless tribes and anticolonial rebellions to appreciate the creative modernity of adivasi politics. It is a simple enough proposition, but surprisingly, historians and anthropologists have shied away from embracing it. Careful readers will note, too, that I have here eschewed the all-encompassing category of “subalternity” that dominated an entire generation of historiography. As a scholar of Dalit politics once provocatively asked me: “Are adivasis always subalterns? Why?”102 In a book that chronicles adivasi agency, I cannot answer in the affirmative. As Partha Chatterjee explains,

the subaltern was held up as the new sovereign subject of history. Whatever its merits as a romantic literary trope, it was not a good theory of history because it reduced to matters of little consequence, the everyday struggles of the subordinated peasant to make a livelihood, sustain a social world, and nourish a moral community of some worth and dignity.103

The old conceptual structure of Subaltern Studies has become inadequate. The specific project called Subaltern Studies begun 30 years ago has run its course. . . . The questions it asked have now taken other forms; to answer them, it is necessary to craft new theoretical concepts. Subaltern Studies was a product of its time; another time calls for other projects.

Margins, as we have seen, are sites for creative modes of negotiation with colonial and postcolonial states, and it would be unfair to characterize entire communities as “subaltern” without regard to their internal hierarchies and dynamics. Indeed, differences in social status, generation, or gender are, as I show in this book, at the heart of the politics of adivasi resistance. Intimate antagonisms, which define adivasi negotiations with the modern state, cut across the illusory state-society binary to animate the everyday workings of rural adivasi communities. Instead of speaking on their behalf, as middle-class Indians often do, we would do well to listen to the voices of adivasi women and men, young and old, living and dead, whether in the bustling metropolis of Ranchi, the forest-clad hills of Chotanagpur, or the Indian Office archives at the British Library in London. This book is my attempt to cultivate an ethics of listening without judgment to the voices that have spoken to me for the past decade and a half. If I have done my job even half-decently, readers will appreciate the creativity and cosmopolitanism of adivasi politics in modern India over the past two centuries.


This is a book about resistance-as-negotiation as much as it is about the making of tribes and states in the margins of modern India. Over the next eight chapters, we shall travel through time from Jharkhand’s precolonial pasts to its postcolonial present. Chapter 1 begins in the precolonial period, when places such as Jharkhand were anything but marginal to the socio-religious and politico-economic worlds of central-eastern India. Contrary to much received wisdom, the current inhabitants of so-called tribal places such as Jharkhand have not lived there from time immemorial as idyllic forest communities in splendid isolation from the rest of the subcontinent; neither are “tribes” prehistoric vestiges that we find amongst us today. They are, instead, modern social formations whose origins can be traced empirically to identifiable historical moments. In conjoining the making of tribes in India with how modern state margins emerged, we would do well to see them not as top-down impositions by foreign rulers but as negotiated outcomes of social conflicts before and during the onset of colonial rule.

Chapters 2 through 4 flesh out a theory of resistance-as-negotiation in British India. Starting from the emergence of modern state margins in the 1830s, these chapters show how everyday acts of claim-making, whether peaceful or not, by newly minted tribal subjects emerged in tandem with the primitivist ideology of paternalistic colonial anthropologist-administrators in Jharkhand. Statemaking was not merely an elite prerogative but a process negotiated from below by “tribes” that sought to define their own identities more sharply over the nineteenth century. Three major episodes of tribal rebellion over the century—the Kol Insurrection of 1831–32, the Santal Hul of 1855–56, and the Birsaite Ulgulan of 1895–1901—are analyzed in depth in these three chapters. Far from being inchoate and spontaneous acts, I show, these rebellions remade the contours of the colonial state in Jharkhand and beyond. Paternalistic colonial officials, too, were, by the early twentieth century, wholeheartedly committed to preserving the rights and privileges of tribal or “aboriginal” peasants vis-à-vis their caste Hindu landlords and rajas.

Chapters 5 and 6 straddle the colonial and postcolonial eras. After independence, the Congress largely accepted the basic colonial rationale for separating tribal places and populations from mainstream Indian society. Yet the new postcolonial regime, regarded by its opponents as an upper-caste Hindu affair, parleyed with prominent adivasi leaders such as Jaipal Singh Munda to negotiate a new social contract based on constitutional safeguards, reserved seats in legislatures, reserved jobs in the public sector, and a separate state within the Union. The last of these failed to materialize until the turn of the twentieth century, but a fresh wave of modern statemaking, driven by intensive resource extraction for industrialization, produced new adivasi citizen-subjects. Exoticized as the cornerstone of the new postcolonial polity, adivasis came to be highly differentiated internally vis-à-vis the political economy of “internal colonialism.” Village elders clung to and mobilized long-standing stereotypes and discourses of primitivism to defend “culture” and “community” to limit the extent of state-directed development in scheduled areas. The Koel-Karo anti-dam movement, which succeeded, unlike its better-known counterpart in the Narmada Valley, encapsulated the contradictions of this era of postcolonial statemaking and subject-making.

Chapters 7 and 8 bring us closer to the present, dwelling on the emergence of a new political order in this century that critiques and seeks to replace the primitivism of the previous two centuries. Young adivasi women and men took up arms in Maoist rebel groups to attack the old gerontocratic order of their village communities in the new state of Jharkhand. They articulated new ideas of tribal modernity that harked back to the adivasi rebels of the nineteenth century. In the tug of war between the old and the new, the blurred lines between “state” and “society” meant that renegotiating state power from below necessarily reworked everyday social relations (and vice versa). Amidst insurgency and counterinsurgency as well as Maoist groups and rural NGOs, adivasi youth in Jharkhand brought to life a new political order defined by multiple, overlapping sovereignties and fresh claims on the postcolonial state to remake it from below. As ex-insurgents contested local and regional elections over the past decade, those who were once rebels, even outlaws, became state representatives who endeavored to remake rural society according to their distinctive political imaginaries.

The conclusion retraces the historical narrative of the book’s chapters and restates its central claim about resistance-as-negotiation as a process of making states and tribal/adivasi subjects from both above and below. It steers away from the culturalist frames through which adivasis are depicted and stereotyped in modern India by showing how “culture” and “community” are made, unmade, and remade through the agency of ordinary women and men. Adivasi politics, on this reading, is far more modest, pragmatic, and open-ended in its possibilities than its well-meaning patrons in colonial and postcolonial eras have imagined.


1. Prime Minister’s Speech at the Chief Minister’s Meet on Naxalism, April 13, 2006. The term Naxalism emerged in the late 1960s after a vanguardist movement, inspired by Mao’s example, sought to challenge state power in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal. The two best overviews of the Naxalite movement still remain Sumanta Banerjee, In The Wake of Naxalbari: A History of the Naxalite Movement in India (Calcutta: Subarnarekha, 1980) and Rabindra Ray, The Naxalites and their Ideology (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1988). Although the movement ended up being brutally crushed in the 1970s, the terms Naxal and Naxalism linger on in the vocabulary of urban Indians, the media, and the state. These terms are Indian equivalents of Maoist and Maoism, respectively, and are used interchangeably.

2. Adivasi is the label of self-identification used by those whom the colonial and postcolonial Indian states have termed as “tribes,” “scheduled tribes,” “forest dwellers,” and so forth. For a discussion of these competing terms and why adivasi is more appropriate today than the others, see the introduction to Daniel J. Rycroft and Sangeeta Dasgupta, eds., The Politics of Belonging in India: Becoming Adivasi (London: Routledge, 2011). I follow them and others in referring to adivasis in the lower case.

3. To protect the identity of my informants and interlocutors, I am careful throughout the book to avoid using their real names or the exact locations of their villages. Counterinsurgency operations continue alongside what remains of the Maoist insurgency in the state. Ensuring the safety of those who opened their homes and lives to me seems a minimal obligation to fulfill.

4. Johannes Fabian, Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes Its Object (New York: Columbia University Press, 1983).

5. A preliminary sketch of this argument is articulated in Uday Chandra, “Intimate Antagonisms: Adivasis and the State in Contemporary India,” in Indigeneity on the Move: Varying Manifestations of a Contested Concept, ed. Eva Gerharz et al. (New York: Berghahn Books, 2018).

6. James C. Scott, The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011), 2.

7. Ibid., 20.

8. Ibid., 8.

9. Willem van Schendel, “Geographies of Knowing, Geographies of Ignorance: Jumping Scale in Southeast Asia,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 20 (6): 655–56.

10. Bengt G. Karlsson, Unruly Hills: Nature and Nation in India’s Northeast (New Delhi: Social Science Press, 2011), 16, 21.

11. Alpa Shah, In the Shadows of the State: Indigenous Politics, Environmentalism, and Insurgency in Jharkhand, India (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2010), 190.

12. See, for example, Ernst Gellner, “Tribalism and the State in the Middle East,” in Tribes and State Formation in the Middle East, ed. P. Khoury and J. Kostiner (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), 109–26; Pierre Clastres, Society Against the State: Essays in Political Anthropology (New York: Zone Books, 1987).

13. Stephen Fuchs, The Aboriginal Tribes of India (Bombay: Macmillan, 1973), 45–46.

14. F. B. Bradley-Birt, Chota Nagpore: A Little-Known Province of the Empire (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1910), 27.

15. E. T. Dalton, “The ‘Kols’ of Chota-Nagpore,” Transactions of the Ethnological Society of London 6: 1–2.

16. E. T. Dalton, Descriptive Ethnology of Bengal (London: Thacker, Spink and Co., 1872), 164.

17. Sebastian Junger, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging (New York: Hachette Books, 2016).

18. Joshua Greene, Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them (New York: Penguin Books, 2013).

19. Amy Chua, “Tribal World: Group Identity is All,” Foreign Affairs (July/August 2018); see also Francis Fukuyama, Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment (New York: Macmillan, 2018).

20. Marlene Wind, The Tribalization of Europe: A Defence of Our Liberal Values (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2020).

21. Bodhisattva Kar, “Seeing Like a Scott: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Historiographical Condition Have Failed,” paper presented at “Workshop: Performing Identity: Ethnicity and Ethno-nationalism in the South-east Asian Borderland Region of North-east India,” Göttingen, Germany, December 15–17, 2011.

22. B. B. Chaudhuri, “Towards an Understanding of the Tribal World of Colonial India,” in Economic Changes and Social Transformation in Modern and Contemporary South Asia, ed. Shinkichi Taniguchi et al. (Tokyo: Hitotsubashi University, 1994), 26.

23. David Ludden, “The Process of Empire: Frontiers and Borderlands,” in Tributary Empires in Global History, ed. Peter Fibiger Bang and C. A. Bayly (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 135–36.

24. Thomas Blom Hansen and Finn Stepputat, eds., States of Imagination: Ethnographic Explorations of the Postcolonial State (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2001); Veena Das and Deborah Poole, eds., Anthropology at the Margins of the State: Comparative Ethnographies (Sante Fe: School of American Research Press, 2004).

25. Gautam Bhadra, “What Constitutes a Margin or Margins? The Politics of Perception and the Representation of Power: The Insurrection of 1857 in Kolhan,” in Mutiny at the Margins: New Perspectives on the Indian Uprising of 1857, ed. Crispin Bates, Vol. 1 (New Delhi: Sage Publications, 2013), 189.

26. Anna L. Tsing, “From the Margins,” Cultural Anthropology 9, no. 3 (1994): 279. See also Tsing, In the Realm of the Diamond Queen: Marginality in an Out-of-the-Way Place (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993).

27. Talal Asad, “Where Are the Margins of the State?” in Anthropology at the Margins of the State, ed. Das and Poole, 279–88.

28. David Washbrook, “Law, State, and Agrarian Society in Colonial India,” Modern Asian Studies 15 (3): 713. An analogous point in the African context appears in Frederick Cooper, “Conflict and Connection: Rethinking Colonial African History,” American Historical Review 99 (5): 1516–45. On Latin America, see Gilbert Joseph and Daniel Nugent, eds., Everyday Forms of State Formation: Revolution and the Negotiation of Rule in Modern Mexico (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1994).

29. David Gilmartin, Pamela Price, and Arild E. Ruud, eds., South Asian Sovereignty: The Conundrum of Worldly Power (New Delhi: Routledge, 2019).

30. Gunnel Cederlöf, Landscapes and the Law: Environmental Politics, Regional Histories, and Contests over Nature (Ranikhet, India: Permanent Black, 2008); Helen F. Siu and Deborah S. Sutton, eds., Empire at the Margins: Culture, Ethnicity, and Frontier in Early Modern China (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006).

31. K. Sivaramakrishnan, “Unpacking Colonial Discourse: Notes on Using the Anthropology of Tribal India for an Ethnography of the State,” Yale Graduate Journal of Anthropology 5: 57–66.

32. Asoka K. Sen, From Village Elder to British Judge: Custom, Customary Law, and Tribal Society (New Delhi: Orient Blackswan, 2012).

33. Douglas Haynes and Gyan Prakash, “Introduction: The Entanglement of Power and Resistance,” in Contesting Power: Resistance and Everyday Social Relations in South Asia, ed. Douglas Haynes and Gyan Prakash (Berkeley: University of California Press), 2–3.

34. Sherry B. Ortner, “Resistance and the Problem of Ethnographic Refusal,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 37 (1): 174.

35. Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1 (New York: Random House, 1978), 95–96.

36. Lila Abu-Lughod, “The Romance of Resistance: Tracing Transformations of Power through Bedouin Women,” American Ethnologist 17 (1): 42.

37. Timothy Mitchell, “Everyday Metaphors of Power,” Theory and Society 19 (5): 547.

38. D. Theodossopoulos, “Introduction: On De-Pathologising Resistance,” History and Anthropology 25 (4): 415–30.

39. For an earlier version of this argument, see Uday Chandra, “Rethinking Resistance,” Journal of Contemporary Asia 45 (4): 563–73.

40. James C. Scott, Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985). See also Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990).

41. C. A. Bayly, Recovering Liberties: Indian Thought in the Age of Liberalism and Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 25.

42. Charles Tilly and Sidney Tarrow, Contentious Politics (Boulder, Colo.: Paradigm Publishers, 2007).

43. See, for instance, Vinita Damodaran, “Colonial Constructions of the ‘Tribe’ in India: The Case of Chotanagpur,” Indian Historical Review 33 (1): 44–75; Susana B. C. Devalle, Discourses of Ethnicity: Culture and Protest in Jharkhand (New Delhi: Sage Publications, 1992).

44. Kevin O’Brien and Liangjiang Li, Rightful Resistance in Rural China (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).

45. Eric J. Hobsbawm, “The Machine Breakers,” in Labouring Men: Studies in the History of Labour (London: Weidenfield and Nicolson, 1968), 7; see also E. P. Thompson, “The Moral Economy of the English Crowd in the Eighteenth Century,” Past and Present 50, 76–136; Eric J. Hobsbawm and George Rudé, Captain Swing (New York: Pantheon Books, 1978); David Underdown, Revel, Riot, and Rebellion: Popular Politics and Culture in England, 1603–1660 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987).

46. Charles Tilly, Louise Tilly, and Richard H. Tilly, The Rebellious Century, 1830–1930 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1975), 282.

47. Veena Das, Life and Words: Violence and the Descent into the Ordinary (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008); Elisabeth J. Wood, “The Social Processes of Civil War: The Wartime Transformation of Social Networks,” Annual Review of Political Science 11, 539–61. On liminal uncertainty, see Victor W. Turner, The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure (Chicago: Aldine Publishing Company, 1969), 95–166.

48. K. Sivaramakrishnan, “British Imperium and Forested Zones of Anomaly in Bengal, 1767–1833,” Indian Economic and Social History Review 33 (3), 243–82.

49. Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks (New York: International Publishers, 1971), 238–39; James C. Scott likens these social relationships to “a kind of struggle or contest constrained within some rough limits. The antagonists in such contests . . . know each other’s repertoire of practical action and discursive moves. There is, in other words, a kind of larger social contract that gives some order and limits to the conflict.” “Afterword to “Moral Economies, State Spaces, and Categorical Violence,” American Anthropologist 107 (3): 398.

50. D. Hardiman, The Coming of the Devi: Adivasi Assertion in Western India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1987), 13. Assimilationists, critical of the official languages and logics of the state, have nonetheless preferred to describe the same groups as simply vanvasi (forest-dwellers) or, as per the sociology of Hindu nationalism, “backward Hindus.” The logic of assimilation goes back to G. S. Ghurye, The Aborigines—“So-called”—and Their Future (Poona, India: Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics, 1943); G. S. Ghurye, The Scheduled Tribes (Bombay: Popular Prakashan, 1963).

51. Nicholas Dirks, Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001), 127–228.

52. Here, I wish to work towards a dialogue with Dalit Studies, particularly Ramnarayan Rawat and K. Satyanarayana, eds., Dalit Studies (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2016); and Rupa Viswanath, The Pariah Problem: Caste, Religion, and the Social in Modern India (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014).

53. R. G. Fox, “‘Professional Primitives’: Hunters and Gatherers of Nuclear South Asia,” Man in India, 49 (1): 139–160; P. Hockings, Ancient Hindu Refugees: Badaga Social History, 1550–1975 (The Hague and New York: Mouton Publishers, 1980); S. Sinha, ed., Tribes and Indian Civilization: Structures and Transformation (Varanasi, India: N. K. Bose Memorial Foundation, 1982); C. Singh, “Conformity and conflict: Tribes and the “agrarian system” of Mughal India,” Indian Economic and Social History Review 23 (3): 319–40; A. P. Sen, “Of Tribes, Hunters, and Barbarians: Forest Dwellers in the Mauryan Period,” Studies in History 14 (2): 173–91; S. Guha, Environment and Ethnicity in India, 1200–1991 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999); I. Chatterjee, Forgotten Friends: Monks, Marriages, and Memories of Northeast India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2013).

54. S. Guha, Environment and Ethnicity in India; A. Skaria, Hybrid Histories; M. Fattori, “The Bhil and the Rajput Kingdoms of Southern Rajasthan,” in Narratives from the Margins, ed. S. Das Gupta and R. S. Basu (New Delhi: Primus Books, 2012), 127–52; A. G. Nilsen, Adivasis and the State: Subalternity and Citizenship in India’s Bhil Heartland (New Delhi: Cambridge University Press, 2018).

55. Nandini Sundar, Subalterns and Sovereigns: An Anthropological History of Bastar, 1854–1996 (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1997); Burkhard Schnepel, The Jungle Kings: Ethnohistorical Aspects of Politics and Ritual in Orissa (New Delhi: Manohar, 2002).

56. Gunnel Cederlöf, Founding an Empire on India’s North-Eastern Frontiers, 1790–1840: Climate, Commerce, Polity (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2012); Poornima Paidipaty, “Tribal Nation: Politics and the Making of Anthropology in India, 1874–1967,” PhD dissertation, Columbia University, 2010; Boddhisattva Kar, “Nomadic Capital and Speculative Tribes,” Indian Economic and Social History Review 53 (1): 41–67; Lipika Kamra, “The Politics of Counterinsurgency and Statemaking in Modern India,” D.Phil. thesis, Oxford University, 2016, pp. 58–97.

57. For an elaboration of this line of argument, see Uday Chandra, “Liberalism and Its Other: The Politics of Primitivism in Colonial and Postcolonial Indian Law,” Law and Society Review 47 (1): 135–68.

58. Townsend Middleton, The Demands of Recognition: State Anthropology and Ethnopolitics in Darjeeling (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2015).

59. Lisa Mitchell, Hailing the State: Indian Democracy between Elections (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2022).

60. Prathama Banerjee, “Writing the Adivasi: Some Historiographical Notes,” Indian Economic and Social History Review 53 (1): 131–53.

61. Kalikinkar Datta, The Santal Insurrection of 1855–57 (Calcutta: University of Calcutta, 1940); Jagdish Chandra Jha, The Kol Insurrection of Chota-Nagpur (Calcutta: Thacker, Spink & Co., 1964); and Kumar Suresh Singh, The Dust-Storm and The Hanging Mist: A Study of Birsa Munda and His Movement in Chhotanagpur, 1874–1901 (Calcutta: Firma K. L. Mukhopadhyay, 1966).

62. Z. A. Ahmed, Excluded Areas Under the New Constitution, Congress Political and Economic Studies No. 4 (Allahabad, India: K. M. Ashraf, 1937); P. K. Shukla, “Agrarian Issues of the Adivasi Peasantry of Colonial Chotanagpur and the Nationalist’s Response (1920–1940s),” Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, 71 (2010), 485–96.

63. D. De, Gandhi and Adivasis: Tribal Movements in Eastern India (1914–1948) (New Delhi: Routledge, 2022); Sangeeta Dasgupta, “Mapping Histories: Many Narratives of Tana Pasts,” Indian Economic and Social History Review 53 (1): 99–129.

64. Chandra, “Liberalism and Its Other,” 151–56; K. S. Singh, Jawaharlal Nehru, Tribes, and Tribal Policy: A Centennial Tribute (Kolkata: Seagull Books, 1990); Ramachandra Guha, Savaging the Civilized: Verrier Elwin, His Tribals and India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1999), 234–77.

65. Ranajit Guha, Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency in Colonial India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1983); D. Arnold, “Rebellious Hillmen: The Gudem-Rampa Risings, 1839–1924,” in Subaltern Studies I: Writings on South Asian History and Society, ed. Ranajit Guha (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1982), 88–142; Tanika Sarkar, “Jitu Santal’s Movement in Malda, 1924–1932: A Study in Tribal Protest,” in Subaltern Studies IV, ed. Ranajit Guha (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1985), 136–64.

66. Dipesh Chakrabarty, “Subaltern Studies and Postcolonial Historiography,” Nepantla 1 (1): 23.

67. F. G. Bailey, Tribe, Caste, and Nation: A Study of Political Activity and Political Change in Highland Orissa (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1960); Andre Beteille, Studies in Agrarian Social Structure (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1973); N. K. Bose, The Structure of Hindu Society (New Delhi: Orient Longman, 1975); S. Sinha, “Tribe-Caste and Tribe-Peasant Continua in Central India,” Man in India 45 (1): 57–83.

68. É. Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (1912; repr. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 13.

69. Guha, Elementary Aspects, 11.

70. R. Chandavarkar, “‘The Making of the Working Class:’ E. P. Thompson and Indian History,” History Workshop Journal 43 (1997): 181.

71. Guha, Elementary Aspects, 28.

72. Ibid., 29.

73. Ibid., 54–55.

74. Mr. Toogood, Magistrate of Murshidabad, to the Commissioner of Circuit, Nuddea Division, IOR/P/145/14.

75. “Enclosure: Perwanah of Sidhu and Kanu,” IOR/P/145/14.

76. “Examination of Seedoo Sonthal,” IOR/P/145/22.

77. “Examination of Kanoo Sonthal,” Bengal Judicial (Criminal) Procedings No. 132, December 20, 1855, IOR/P/145/26. Kanu explained further: “The Sahibs are investigating cases properly but the Amlahs more every thing had, if we complain, they say what will you give me I say 1 Rupee then they say that wont give 5.”

78. Tanika Sarkar, “Rebellion as Modern Self Fashioning: A Santal Movement in Colonial Bengal,” in The Politics of Belonging in India, ed. S. Dasgupta and D. J. Rycroft, 65–81.

79. Uday Chandra, “Flaming Fields and Forest Fires: Agrarian Transformations and the Making of Birsa Munda’s Rebellion,” Indian Economic and Social History Review 53 (1): 69–98.

80. A. Skaria, Hybrid Histories: Forests, Frontiers, and Wildness in Western India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1999); cf. Bhanga Bhukya, The Roots of the Periphery: A History of the Gonds of Deccan India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2017).

81. A new wave of scholarship on this theme is signaled in C. R. Bates and A. Shah, eds., Savage Attack: Tribal Insurgency in India (New Delhi: Social Science Press, 2014).

82. Sangeeta Dasgupta, Reordering Adivasi Worlds: Representation, Resistance, Memory (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2022); Uday Chandra, “Flaming Fields and Forest Fires.”

83. E. T. Dalton, Descriptive Ethnology of Bengal (London: Thacker, Spink and Co., 1872), 164.

84. Sivaramakrishnan, “Unpacking Colonial Discourse.”

85. Chandra, “Liberalism and Its Other”; Skaria, Hybrid Histories; Bhukya, Roots of the Periphery.

86. Gayati Chakravorty Spivak, “Subaltern Studies: Deconstructing Historiography,” in The Spivak Reader, ed. D. E. Landry and Gerald MacLean (London: Routledge, 1996), 214.

87. Bihar and Orissa Memorandum 136, cited in Indian Statutory Commission: Evidence, Bihar and Orissa, Sixth Meeting, Patna, India, December 17, 1928, IOR.

88. Jaipal Singh, CAD II.4, January 24, 1947.

89. J. Whitehead, Development and Dispossession in the Narmada Valley (New Delhi: Pearson Education, 2010); F. Padel, Sacrificing People: Invasions of a Tribal Landscape (New Delhi: Orient Blackswan, 2009); F. Padel and S. Das, Out of This Earth: East India Adivasis and the Aluminium Cartel (New Delhi: Orient Blackswan, 2010); J. Parry, “The Sacrifices of Modernity in a Soviet-Built Steel Town in Central India,” Anthropology of This Century 12 (2015),; E. Rashkow, The Nature of Endangerment: Tigers, ‘Tribes’, and Biocultural Diversity Conservation in Central India, 1818–2019 (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2022).

90. See, for example, Alpa Shah, “‘Keeping the State Away’: Democracy, Politics, and the State in India’s Jharkhand,” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 13 (1): 129–45.

91. S. Corbridge, “Industrialisation, Internal Colonialism, and Ethnoregionalism: The Jharkhand, India, 1880–1980,” Journal of Historical Geography 13 (3): 249–66.

92. Amita Baviskar, In The Belly of the River: Tribal Conflicts Over Development in the Narmada Valley (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1995); Nandini Sundar, ed., Legal Grounds: Natural Resources, Identity, and the Law in Jharkhand (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2009).

93. Alpa Shah, In the Shadows of the State: Indigenous Politics, Environmentalism, and Insurgency in Jharkhand, India (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2010); Chandra, “Going Primitive.”

94. Uday Chandra, “Beyond Subalternity: Land, Community, and the State in Contemporary Jharkhand,” Contemporary South Asia 21 (1): 52–61; Uday Chandra, “Primitive Accumulation and ‘Primitive’ Subjects in Postcolonial India: Tracing the Myriad Real and Virtual Lives of Mediatized Indigeneity Activism,” Interventions: International Journal of Post-colonial Studies 19 (3): 322–37.

95. M. Mamdani, ed., Beyond Rights Talk and Culture Talk: Comparative Essays on the Politics of Rights and Culture (New York, St. Martin’s Press, 2000).

96. Kaushik Ghosh, “The Modernity of Primitive India: Adivasi Ethnicity in Jharkhand and the Formation of a National Modern,” PhD dissertation, Princeton University, 2006.

97. Louise Tillin, Remapping India: New States and Their Political Origins (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), esp. chs. 5–6.

98. A. Dandekar and C. Choudhury, “PESA: Legislation as Myth,” in More than Maoism: Politics, Policies and Insurgencies in South Asia, ed. R. Jeffrey, R. Sen, and P. Singh (New Delhi: Manohar, 2012), 151–62; Nandini Sundar, ed., Branching Out: Joint Forest Management in India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2001); Anand Vaidya, “The Origin of the Forest, Private Property, and the State: The Political Life of India’s Forest Rights Act,” PhD dissertation, Harvard University, 2014.

99. S. Baruah, In the Name of the Nation: India and Its Northeast (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2020); A. Shah, “The Tensions over Liberal Citizenship in a Marxist Revolutionary Situation: The Maoists in India,” Critique of Anthropology 33 (1): 91–109; N. Sundar, “Reflections on Civil Liberties, Citizenship, Adivasi Agency, and Maoism: A Response to Alpa Shah,” Critique of Anthropology 33 (3): 361–68; Uday Chandra and Lipika Kamra, “Maoism and the Masses: Critical Reflections on Revolutionary Praxis and Subaltern Agency,” in Revolutionary Violence Versus Democracy: Narratives from India, ed. Ajay Gudavarthy (New Delhi: Sage, 2017), 191–221.

100. Partha Chatterjee, Lineages of Political Society: Studies in Postcolonial Democracy (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011), 93.

101. Virginius Xaxa, “Is The Pathalgadi Movement in Tribal Areas Anti-Constitutional?” Economic and Political Weekly 54 (1): 10–12; A. Singh, “Many Faces of the Pathalgadi Movement in Jharkhand,” Economic and Political Weekly 54 (11): 28–33; Mukulika Banerjee and Manisha Priyam, “Margins and Marginality: The Pathalgadi Movement and Jharkhand Elections 2019,” The India Forum, June 2020,

102. Suryakant Waghmore, personal communication.

103. Partha Chatterjee, Lineages of Political Society: Studies in Postcolonial Democracy (New Delhi: Permanent Black, 2011), 150; cf. Partha Chatterjee “After Subaltern Studies,” Economic and Political Weekly 47 (35): 44–49.