‘To enter the phase of post-colonialism the tribes will first have to become state powers…. If so, then 8.08 per cent share in the total population of India is not a negligible number’ (p. 379). Dhagamwar’s concluding lines in the book under review deflate an otherwise compassionate and edifying work on certain tribes and their tribulations since the colonial era: the Pahadiyas of the Rajmahal Hills, the Santals of the Santal Parganas, both originally in Bihar and now in Jharkhand, and the Bhils of north-western Maharashtra.
In her introduction, Dhagamwar delineates the premises of her study: the geographic and cultural isolation of the tribes from settled society; the law as comprising both specific legal situations and the legal system, i.e., the police, lawyers, the courts and jails; the tribe’s unawareness of its own history resulting in loss of its identity and culminating in Verrier Elwin’s “loss of nerve” and attendant consequences; and the focus on land and criminal matters as “these two areas of law are the only ones that matter to tribes” (pp. 12-13, 16-17).