Accepted Paper:

Indigenous hunting and the state: claiming rights by emphasizing tradition   


Lea Schulte-Droesch (Groningen University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper outlines the dynamics of a hunting ritual in Eastern India – a contested event between the local Santal population and the state. My paper shall use this ritual to both explore its indigenous meanings as well as the stage it presents for the negotiation and performance of tradition vis-à-vis the Indian state.

Paper long abstract:

Based on recent long-term fieldwork in 2011/12 this paper explores the dynamics of an annual hunting ritual in Eastern India. For the indigenous Santal population of South-Eastern Jharkhand it is an age-old tradition marking a distinct tribal identity. Since the hunting takes place in forest declared as wildlife sanctuary by the state, conflicts have arisen in recent years around the prohibition to hunt. This has led Santal activists to emphasize the religious background of this festival. By adhering to the formal right to practice one's religion they seek to gain permission to continue this "ancient ritual". As a result of the state's discourse on the environment, the activists have learned to emphasize the compatibility of their tradition and culture with this discourse.

My exploration shall be two-fold: In addition to introducing the ritual's historic and contemporary meanings in the cultural logic of the Santal, I shall use it as a case study for the negotiation as well as performance of tradition vis-à-vis the Indian state. The politicization of this annual hunting ritual will be embedded in the larger context of Santal activism urging the government to protect sacred groves, implement the Santal script Ol Chiki in school curricula and formally recognize Santal religion as one of the religions of India. The very confident use of "culture" in all these cases points to Sahlins' concept of culturalism, which shall be used to grasp the ongoing formation of Santal identity.

Panel P50
State-identity interface: explorations in economic, social and cultural dynamics of tribal communities