Adivasis are not really more indigenous than most other Indians; they are marginalized

Periodically I get questions about whether the Adivasi are the “indigenous” people of the Indian subcontinent. The short answer is that they are not distinctive or more indigenous than most of their non-Adivasi neighbors. The President of India is from a Munda-speaking community, and these populations are arguably more culturally intrusive than Indo-Aryan or Dravidian-speaking populations.

More concretely, between about 4000 BC and 1 AD mixing occurred between many populations in the continent. Populations with West Eurasian affinities, with their closest relatives being the indigenous peoples of western Iran, expanded south and east from the Indus Valley zone. Meanwhile, populations with deep East Eurasian affinities, with the closest ties to the people of the Andaman Islands, seem to have pushed north and west. The Swat Valley transect shows increased steppe and “Ancient Ancestral South Indian” (AASI) ancestry over time, pointing to the integration of the subcontinent genetically and culture before 1 AD.

The highest proportion of the AASI ancestry in the mainland can be found among the Paniya and Paliyan tribes of the south, at about 75%. But even here 25% of the ancestry is attributable to the Indus Valley people. The Adivasi are not relict populations but emerge out of the same synthetic forces that resulted in groups like the Reddy or Patidar. Genetically they tend to have more AASI ancestry, but the same is true of many other groups.

Rather, the uniqueness of Adivasi seems to be their distance and marginalization from the Indo-Aryan-inflected societies that developed after 2000 BC. This includes the Dravidian-speaking cultures of the south, as even early Tamil had Sanskrit influences. In contrast, the Adivasi remained more insulated from these influences. The Munda in particular are distinct because not only do they speak a language that is more similar to Austro-Asiatic peoples of Southeast Asia, but their paternal lineage tends to be Southeast Asian. And, it is notable to me that Munda is almost entirely absent in Y chromosomal lineage R1a-Z93. I think this indicates that not only were they marginalized from broader Indic civilization, with distinct mythologies and folkways, but they marginalized and excluded outsiders as well from their solidities.

15 thoughts on “Adivasis are not really more indigenous than most other Indians; they are marginalized”

  1. hm isn’t this question more political than anything else? If the Paniyas have 75% AASI and AASI is the most native component of our ancestry and they have the most of it….isn’t it true then that they are the most native?

    Am I missing something here?

    1. If you get the chance to talk to Native Americans, most will tell you that blood quantum is irrelevant to qualifying a person as indigenous or not. A person with 25% Apache ancestry can get tribal status as much as a full blood.

      IMO same goes for the people of the subcontinent. The UP Jatt with AASI ancestry at 25% is just as native to India as a Paniya at 75%. Having AASI ancestry is the main factor in nativity, not spoken language family.

      1. Its mostly a fake identity these days surviving only because the US government continues to subsidize it. The previous Chief of the Cherokee Nation was only 1/32 Native American for instance.

        1. if you talk to native people they will explain that we outsiders kind of misunderstand it as an ethnicity. they think of themselves as a sovereign nation. that means they can use whatever criteria they want

      2. Branch Dravidian,

        I’m trying very hard to be nicer to people both in person and online but this is proving to be quite the challenge. Did you actually read the comment are you just inserting your politics into this just because? Keep your idealogy out of this, it’s a very simple point. The point about the Native American blood quantum thing is merely political, and everyone knows it which is why many here in Canada scoff when others claim being Indigenous. Being “Aboriginal” or “Indigenous” has lots to do with ancestry. It matters. It’s only touchy because of some controversial actions in the past. How can an “Indigenous” man who is like 75% white be as indigenous as a First Nations dude who happens to be 75% Indigenous? That’s just ridiculous.

        You also claimed that a ” UPJatt” is just as indigenous as a “Paniya”. How? If South Asian Hunter-Gatherer/Ancient Ancestral South Indian is the most indigenous component of the South Asian genome(which is true) and Paniyas have 75% of this component compared to the 30% that Jatts have, how are they similarly indigenous? That makes ZERO sense because clearly Paniyas have more of this ancestry, meaning they are more indigenous. It’s a very cut and dry thing. If you have more of the c omponent that is genuinely native to the land, then you are simply more indigenous.

        1. You’re the one calling the question political and there isn’t anything to get angry about so calm your man boobs. Normal people are not carrying around their ancient ancestral calculations and calling out each other on who belongs more. How others feel is irrelevant, the dude who presents white but has quarter Cherokee ancestry may feel as strongly about his nativity as a full-blooded dude. Tribal councils in North America largely agree with this mentality, only verifying blood quantum to a certain level. Likewise, a UP Jatt will believe he is a much a member of the subcontinent as a Paniya regardless of their AASI %’s. There is no such than as being “more native”, you either got it or you don’t; seeing as they both share ancestries from the same first human populations to reach India, I see them both as a native group.

          Indigeneity in general feels like a silly concept, humans have been mixing and pushing each other out our entire history. Makes me believe that indigeneity is a measure of time and not who got there first. Give it a couple thousand years, nobody will be calling out Anglos in America that they were settler colonizers or whatever bs.

          1. Branch Dravidian,

            Again, I could not care less about your politics. Stop inserting your political BS into this. It doesn’t matter if you identify as a cow or a a skyscraper or a helicoper, what actually DOES matter is your blood and what you ACTUALLY ARE. Doesn’t matter what you believe you are lmao. What matters are the FACTS, especially the fact that AASI is the indigenous component of the South Asian genome and Paniyas and other tribals have the most of this component making them the most indigenous to South Asia.

            It’s a cut-and-dry discussion point and your meaningless deflection into Native Americans/First Nations is laughable considering how that’s got nothing to do with it AND considering many of them are literally just white people larping as First Nations for the numerous benefits(legal, financial etc) considering they’re not even that genetically First Nations, if at all. Again, your deflections are political.

            Also, they don’t need to carry around their ancestry tests. We already have good estimates on the AASI percentages of different groups anyways. Facts>>>.

            a) AASI is the most indigenous component of the South Asian genome/ancestry

            b) Paniyas and other tribals have 75% of this component and the highest amount of it

            c) if both of the above are true, than that means the Paniyas etc are genetically the most indigenous to the land, by far.

            Both a) and b) are true meaning C is also true. Simple. Nobody cares about how you “feel” about this. Your meaningless deflections are also noted.

        2. Being “Aboriginal” or “Indigenous” has lots to do with ancestry.

          this is not legally true in the US tho even from the perspective of a native American tribe. this is really a political issue. it’s not about heritage

          there are Mexicans who are more native American than most native Americans who identify as “Spanish”

          1. Razib,

            Yeah I know. I know it’s political. I’m talking about this from a genetic perspective.

            Back in 11th grade, me and my Law class went to this court and saw a whole bunch of different cases(this was in Ontario btw). There’s this thing called the Gladue court system where people of Aboriginal descent can claim that and it will allow them to receive alternative trials and sentencing outcomes which are more favourable to them. We saw a couple of these cases and many of the Gladue court defendants were literally just full white people who “identified” as ABoriginal because their great grand pa or something was. They looked completely indistinguishable from their white lawyers or judges. So yeah, it’s a political identification. I’m talking about the genetics perspective.

    2. my bigger point is they come out of the same cultural matrix. look the languages they speak. the main distinction is they kept outside of the stream of thought that led to hinduism

      1. Razib,

        so basically your point is if I’m understanding this correctly is that they are genetically Indigenous in terms of ancestral components/genetic makeup but due to their cultural history(language, Austro-Asiatic haplogroups, etc) they are in a different boat?

        Sorry if this comes across as rude, I’m just trying to understand your point better.

        1. there isn’t a major difference genetically btwn tribals and many dalits and OBCs. the difference is cultural. but the cultural matrix is all the same.

  2. Are Mongoloid-looking groups living in Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh indigenous? Or is it Bengalis who are indigenous to CHT?

  3. so there’s an argument about the AASI

    1) we don’t know it’s “more indigenous” tho probably is older

    2) it is quite likely that AASI was not present in modern Pakistan area, and is intrusive, and that eastern Iranian element was indigenous there

    3) a lot of groups in the subcontinent have high AASI

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