The term ‘tribe’ is resented by some because it resonates with antiquated social evolutionist theories, but it is also a legal term. In order to enjoy certain privileges provided by the Indian constitution, a group needs to be recognised as a Scheduled Tribe or Caste. Many of these tribals call themselves Adivasi, or the ‘first dwellers’, a Hindi/Sanskritic term. It is meaningful to distinguish between the two large groups – the Adivasi and the north-eastern tribals. The Adivasi are formed by a culture system based on belief in a close inter-relatedness with nature. For the indigenous people of Northeast India, land is central to their existence as a community. What made the Christian message of the missionaries attractive was not the message of salvation and of Christ’s redemptive sacrifice but because Christ was portrayed as one who could vanquish these evil spirits they were afraid of. However, the sacrificial elements in the animistic religion were replaced by the self-sacrifice of Jesus. Education has been transformative in the life of the people of Northeast India. Having experienced exploitation that left them aliens in their own land, Christianity enables Adivasis to assert themselves on equal terms with the societies around them.
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