Rebels and devotees of Jharkhand : social, religious and political transformations among the adivasis of northern India
Tribe' and 'caste' have been a recurrent and hotly debated issue in Indian anthropology. There appears to be a consensus that originally flexible and fluid social compositions have been 'essentialised' into either 'caste' or 'tribe' categories (Deliege 1985; Cohn 1987), and that in fact a continuum exists, along which groups can be located according to their specific caste or tribal features (Ghurye 1943; Bailey 1960; Mandelbaum 1970) . The present study contributes to this debate by providing innovative insights on the nature of 'tribe' and 'caste' in contemporary India. The study is an ethnographic and anthropological investigation of two divergent yet interrelated phenomena among the Ho and Munda 'tribal' groups of a forested area of Jharkhand, northern India: the emergence of a new 'caste' through the embracing of a Hindu reformist movement by some and the simultaneous revival of tribal essence and adherence to ancestral teachings and spiritual practices by others. Consistent with Srinivas' (1966) Sanskritisation theory, the devotees, or those who convert to the movement, adopt high-caste behaviours and introduce caste discrimination among agnates in the attempt to 'liberate' themselves from the forest as symbol of their 'backward' past. However, the investigation highlights a number of relevant exceptions. It is argued that a process of 'de-Sanskritisation' is taking place among those who retain ancestral practices. By reviving the ancestral notion of wilderness and mastery over forests, these - the rebels - remain faithful to the primordial link between spirits, land and people and continue their ancestors' fight against land and forest dispossession. It is concluded that, to the rebels, it is not Brahmanical criteria of purity and pollution but territorial precedence and mediation with local spirits that legitimise higher social status claims.