A Rogue and Peasant Slave

Why do adivasi societies defend themselves so desperately against the state? What is it that sparks so much protest and conflict in India’s adivasi regions? These are some of the questions this book seeks to answer. The first part shows how the bhils of western Madhya Pradesh were affected by colonialism, the perceptions and notions that shaped colonial policy, its effects on material life and politics, how bhil groups adapted to these developments—and resisted them. A social history cast as narrative—a narrative of blindness and rancour, resistance and change—it charts the emergence of an unjust and oppressive social order.


The second part is a reflection on adivasi politics in the twentieth century. It begins with the (understandably suspicious) adivasi response to nationalism, and goes on to examine India’s development policies and their effect upon adivasi societies. It looks at the emergence of an adivasi middle class and the contradictions of its political role, as well as collective modes of protest and adaptation. A Rogue and Peasant Slave challenges the current academic consensus on the relationship between adivasi societies and the castebased agrarian order, and seeks to place them in the context of a wider agrarian and ecological  history. It reveals the intimate connection between the past and the present, and shows how some of India’s most pressing contemporary conflicts can only be understood with reference to a history whose consequences are still working themselves out.


Shashank Kela worked as an activist in a trade union of adivasi peasants in western Madhya Pradesh between 1994 and 2004. This is his first book.


‘Succeeds in bringing alive, with great sympathy, the histories of those who reject our ways of life’Wall Street Journal–Mint


‘Well argued, cogently written—fills a major lacuna in the existing literature on adivasi pasts and futures in mainland India’—Mahesh Rangarajan, Director, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library


‘Chronicles the devastating impact of colonialism on adivasi societies in India continuing to the present engagement of the state with the forest communities’—The Hindu


‘Contributes to the scholarship on tribal societies and adds to the voices speaking out against the neglect and exploitation of adivasi people’—India Today