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On Indigeneity and India


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Medium (Personal)

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2019/03/31

Vidita Priyadarshini is a graduate student in political science at Central European University. Here we talk about current events at Central European University.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: There are land rights and acquisition claims in India in general. You have graduate research in this area. I ask because there are a lot of Indian people in India and a lot of sectors in India. It becomes a complex question.

However, you are doing general research. What does that imply?

Vidita Priyadarshini: Until 2013, we were operating with the Land Acquisition Act 1894. It was made by the British when we were a colony. Basically, we adopted 75% of its provisions after independence in 1947. This was a federal law.

But we had many state legislations as well. As you know, it is a federal country. So, they must make all sorts of legislation that compete. This federal law had a lot of amendments over time.

Any state institution has eminence domain over all land of the country. So, it can be acquired for anything deemed a profit purpose. There were amendments where the eminence domain claim was dropped. They had to talk about justice, compensation, rehabilitation, etc.

Because there were a lot of debates. You could not simply shirk off the expense claims after independence. Eventually, when we liberalized in the 1990s, we opened our economies. It became a bigger question.

They wanted to ease out more land for privatization. They wanted money for infrastructure. Any kind of mining projects for petrochemicals. When these claims became more important for some national governments, we traditionally have the mandate over land governments, but they used the federal law to get this thing out of the way.

So, people started making claims about these things. “You have to give us compensation.” You cannot simply arbitrarily price compensation. You have evaluate things and our standard of living.

In some cases, there were large-scale displacements. There was no way to relocate them somewhere. My research is about how the government institutions mediate between these competing claims.

I find this is mostly doing acquisition-style stuff, but there is no way that the communities who lose their rights collectively because we do not have the concept of community rights. They cannot go and ask for their rights back.

Because they are doing this through ways that has legislation with these elements of compensation, rehabilitation, etc. When they do find their problem has become extensive, these conflicts become very exclusive and are quite long-lasting.

In general, we have our problem. They do not have harmonization of land rights councils. Because state governments can do whatever the hell they want based on their own conventions.

The state has more national resources and more space for mining. They were trying to convert as much land as possible. If someone doesn’t, they will try through other means like developing development hubs for IT or something like this.

They are not harmonizing these methods. So, they can get their land and money back and not cause so much precariousness.

Jacobsen: One underlying premise here in the conversation. What defines Indigenous in India, an Indigenous person?

Priyadarshini: We have some historically recognized tribal groups put in this list called Schedule Tribe Lists. These are the Indigenous peoples. They are usually concentrated in the eastern parts of the country. Of course, they are everywhere else.

Most of the contestations that we know of with Indigenous peoples with respect to land acquisitions happen in the eastern part. In the 1960s and 1970s, there was a big problem of the Maoist conflicts.

That is what we know of. It is problematic. [Note from Vidita: write down different line.] There is a definition in the constitution. I do not know how the classification actually works, but it is distinct from the past identity in the country.

Jacobsen: What is the percent of the population?

Priyadarshini: These conflict cases are mostly centered in the eastern part with the mining. They are resource-rich regions. From the 1990s onwards, a lot of mining projects happened.

That is where land conversion for these purposes actually became volatile because people were dependent on these resources as communities.

Jacobsen: What percent would be official tribes — apart from the conversation about conflict cases?

Priyadarshini: 9%, approximately, that is 104 million people.

Jacobsen: [Laughing] That is three times the population of Canada. How does this relate to larger conversations around land rights claims in other areas of the world? Because this is a general analysis.

I would assume this general analysis would apply to other areas given the generality.

Priyadarshini: I think one issue is India hasn’t modernized its land record system. After a lot of acquisitions, for example, you have governments taking up things like land redistribution.

Then they give compensation, market trading, and other land trying to give it back. Any claims of land or any property claims, for example from lands taken from the British after independence and after land redistribution.

They cannot be executed properly because we o not have a systematic land record system. The other thing, there is no political will to allow for this to happen because then they would have to start talking about community ownership of land.

Even if you systematize the individual land holding system properly, there might be claims with Indigenous communities without concepts of individual ownership, but may have the idea of collective land ownership and then may want to make a claim to land.

We have recognition of community use and community ownership. Anything about property rights; any discussion on property rights is systematically avoided by these two things because they are not even trying to work out the already existing land holdings and then any transferability concerns will not be met with.

They inquired with this invocation for the general public’s purpose. They say that they will give some money and then this will be fine. In some cases, money is quite okay. In other cases, not just about the money, it is about whether a particular community uses it in a way that cannot be unsafe.

This is where these things become more exclusive. I think one way to relate to this would be a discussion on the underdeveloped property rights issue in this country. In the 1970s — I am not a lawyer, but as far as I understand it, the issue is problematic.

Property as a right used to be a fundamental right. Then there was a huge change and then it only became a constitutional right. In some ways, it still can be superseded by these public purpose things.

Because it is not a fundamental right anymore. The government says that we can acquire land for a good purpose. Then it is fine. You can make claims against it because it is still a constitutional right, but it does not trump anything else.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Vidita.


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


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