A little over 8% of India’s population comprises its original, indigenous inhabitants.
Spread across the country’s hinterland, especially in its central and northeastern forests and hills, India’s tribes have their own distinctive language, culture, and lifestyle. But they are also among the country’s most deprived communities.
“Most tribal villages and settlements have no access to schools and medical care. Very few are connected with all-weather roads,” Mohan Guruswamy, chairman of New Delhi’s Centre for Policy Alternatives, wrote in Scroll.in last week. “Perish the thought of electricity, though all the coal and most of the hydel projects to generate electricity are located in the tribal regions. Their forests have been pillaged and the virgin forests thick with giant teak and sal trees are things of the past.”
It is a far cry from their situation in the 19th century when the demands of industrialisation still hadn’t entirely encroached on their lands and way of life.
A recently released set of photographic illustrations, issued between 1868 and 1875, by the New York Public Library (NYPL) provides a snapshot of tribal life in India more than a century-and-a-half ago.
Quartz brings you a collection of some of the rare photos from the NYPL archives: