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The Bhils of Western India - Some Empirical and Theoretical Issues in Anthropology in India (An Old and Rare Book)

The Bhils of Western India - Some Empirical and Theoretical Issues in Anthropology in India (An Old and Rare Book)
Item Code: NZX092
Author: Robert Deliege
Publisher: National Publishing House
Language: ENGLISH
Edition: 1985
Pages: 194
Other Details: 9.00 X 6.00 inch
weight of the book: 0.34 kg
About the Book

Bhils are the most fascinating people and perhaps the oldest surviving inhabitants in the tribal belts of the country since their antiquity is evidenced by their extreme primitiveness. They provide a veritable field and an interesting area for ethnological and anthropological research. At present the Bhil society is undergoing a process of change and calls for fresh interpretations to explain these changes.

The present volume is an attempt to amass the bulk of Bhil literature, weave it into a theoretical framework and place the analysis into a wider perspective. It deals with the origin and social structure of the Bhils and dilates upon their fundamental transformation into caste-like groups. The diverse sections of the Bhils have been tried to be linked together in a diachronic chain and interpret the changes in tribal institutions as resulting from a process of increasing hierarchization.

The book describes very succinctly the Bhil institutions in their idealized form with an analysis of the changes encountered in the process of Hinduization. It not only highlights their village patterns – symbolic of a decentralised segmental organisation – butalso presents a penetrating account of their marital status and institutions.

A well-documented and a comprehensive work written in a lucid and coherent style, will prove to be of sustained interest to the sociologists, anthropologists and the reader in general both within and outside the country.


Until very recently, tribals have been the major concern of anthropologists working in India. The main studies of Elwin von Furer-Haimendorf, D.N. Majumdar, etc. were chiefly devoted to the Hills areas of India and our knowledge of the Hindu peasant society was scanty. This has changed over the last 50 years or so and, nowadays, the major achievements of Indian anthropology were attained among the Hindu castes. In the last few decades, our knowledge of tribal India has made very little progress; anthropologists like Béteille, Fuller, Dumont, Pocock, Parry, Srinivas, etc. seemed to have no interest at all for the tribes of India. Consequently, tribal studies have been somewhat stagnant and little new has been recently written. The few researches undertaken in tribal areas did not add much to what had already been discovered in the past, and did not go much beyond pure descriptive monographs. This is particularly true of the Bhil tribes whose standard of ethnography is quite low.

Furthermore, in the case of the great tribal groups like the Bhils, the Gonds or the Santals, one has to face another pro- blem: their society is so large, numbering several millions, that a monograph can hardly give usa clear picture of a people which extends beyond several linguistic regions. The Bhils of Rajasthan are no doubt different from the Bhils of Maharashtra but no attempt has been made so far to put some order in the immense amount of ethnographic data collected among the different Bhil subtribes.

The present study is a modest attempt to assemble a reasonable amount of Bhil material and to order it in some theoretical perspective. Therefore, notwithstanding our stay in some Bhil villages of district Jhabua (Madhya Pradesh) and district Surat (Gujarat) in 1976, this study is mainly based upon second hand material and tries first of all to organize it in order to provide a clearer picture of Bhil society. Many aspects have, however, been forgotten and are left to further studies. Generally speaking, this study deals with the social structure of the Bhils, but also with the nature of the transformation of tribal society into caste-like groups. One is actually puzzled, while reading a monograph about the Bhils, by the great confusion which exists due to the lack of a diachronic perspective. The monographs often fail to see that Bhil society is undergoing a process of change and that all Bhil institutions should be interpreted according to this change. Many writers have, for example, denied the reality of Bhil society by pointing out some Hindu customs whereas it is necessary to analyze these customs in a diachronic perspective and see that they are often recent adoptions in the process of Hinduization. The pure tribal society does not exist any more, it has to be reconstructed or even postulated and has therefore only an ideal reality. In such a perspective, any custom, any peculiarity or incongruity in the social institutions does make a sense and, above all, we can arrange all the subtribes on the tribe-caste continuum.

If one is to make a scientific study of the tribal society of Western Central India, one should also see that all the numerous subtribes which are found in many regions are not different cultures, without interrelations, but are fast Hinduized subtribes which differ from the Bhils only by their higher degree of Hinduization. Therefore, in those regions where the tribals are no longer isolated and are therefore strongly influenced by easte Hindus, one can indeed see a Jot of small tribal groups which have split off from the main body of-the tribe due to the ongoing process -of Hinduization. Those small tribes are not mentioned in the literature of the 19th century, and their names —in many cases, names of headmanship—also point to a recent existence. This process of fission constitutes the very subject matter of this study. The Chodhras, Grasias, Naikas Dublas, etc: are all envisaged as belonging to what can be labelled the Bhil cultural area, i.e. the hilly and jungle regions bordering Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat.

Given this rather analytic approach, a general description of the Bhil tribes will not be found in this study. Little will be said here about religion of the Bhils, their economics, their cultural life, etc. Many reports have indeed been written by anthropologists, and those who read French can refer to my research at Louvain University (Deliége 1977) which gives an extensive discussion of Bhil institutions at various levels. As stated above, we actually need some new perspective about tribal India and, though more ethnographic data are still welcome, we should reach deeper levels of theoretical know- ledge in order to improve our understanding of tribal society.

Further researches about untouchables of south India convince me that there is indeed a basic difference between them and the tribals. The harijans are usually ashamed of their caste origin whereas many tribals are proud of being Adivasis. This difference perhaps symbolizes the gap which separates tribals from the rest of Hindu folk. Whereas the harijan is rejected but dependent, the tribal is independent. The recent tribal history is a progressive loss of this independence and freedom. The observers of tribal society have often regretted this passage from a free, open and rather egalitarian society to a hierarchized, sober caste-oriented society. The process of transformation of tribal groups into castes is the passage from equality to hierarchy, and it is a paradox of history to see that while the Indian nation was searching her way to democracy and equality, the tribals were in a parallel process ranking their sections, and claiming a status in the caste hierarchy.

**Contents and Sample Pages**

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