Indian Sociologists

Indian Sociologists

Question

What were the main arguments on either side of the debate about how to relate to tribal communities ?

Answer
1. The first known sociologist S.C. Roy became deeply interested in tribal society on a bio-product of his professional need to interpret tribal customs and laws to the court.

2. Roy travelled extensively among tribal communities of Jharkhand and did intensively field work among them. All of this was done on an amateur basis, but Roy's diligence and keen eye for detail resulted in valuable monographs and research articles.

3. G.S. Ghurye was second best known sociologist for his writtings about tribal people of India. He became very popular specially for his debate with Varrier Elwin which first made him-known outside sociology and the academic world.

4. In the 1930s and 1940s there was much debates on the place of tribal societies within India and how the state should respond to them. Many British administrator-anthropologists were specially interested in the tribes of India and believed them to be primitive peoples with a distinctive culture far from mainstream Hinduism. They also believed that the innocent and simple tribal would suffer exploitation and cultural degradation through contact with ‘Hindu culture and society. For this reason, they felt that the state had a duty to protect the tribes and to help them sustain their way of life and culture. Which were facing constant pressure to assimilate with mainstream Hindu culture.

(v) The debate about the tribal people of India during fourth and fifth decades of the first half part of twentienth century. Put a great challenge before the nationalist Indian. They were equally passionate about their belief in the unity of India and the need for modernising Indian society and culture. They believed that attempts to presserve tribal cultures were misguided and resulted in maintainning tribals in backward and in need of reform, they felt that tribes, too, needed to develop.

(vi) G.S. Ghurye became the best known exponent of the nationalist view : Due to arguments and debates among the different groups of scholars, sociologist and colonial supporters of western ideology gave and opportunity to Ghurye to become the best known exponent of the nationalist view. He insisted on characterising the tribes of India as ‘backward Hindus' rather than distinct cultural groups. He cited detailed evidence from a wide variety of tribal culture to show that they had been involved in constant interactions with Hinduism over a long period. They were thus simply further behind in the same process of assimilation that all Indian communities had gone through. This particular agrument namely, that Indian tribal were hardly ever isolated primitive communities of the type that was written about in the classical anthropological texts-was not really disputed.

(vii) Main point of difference which came out from the debate related to tribal communities : The differences were in how the impact of mainstream culture was evaluated. The ‘protectionsist’ believed that assimilation would result in the severe exploitation and cultural extinction of the tribals. Ghurye and the nationalists. On the other hand, argued that these ill-effects were not specific to tribal cultures, but were common to all the backward and downtrodden sections of Indian society. These were the inevitable difficulties on the road to development.

(viii) Conclusion : Today we still seem to be involved in similar debates. Discuss the different sides to the question from a contemporary perspective. For example, many tribal movements assert their distinctive cultural and political identity - in fact, the states of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh were formed in response to such movements.

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