This non-adivasi activist in his initial response to the adivasi activists' letter had said that the adivasis were not a homogeneous group and that even among them there were some bad elements like for instance the members of the Salwa Judum vigilante outfit and so targeting a non-adivasi who has after all borne tremendous sacrifices for sticking up for the rights of the adivasis is not fair. In the second letter declining the award this non-adivasi activist says that he has always thought and felt like he was an adivasi and so just the fact of his being born a non-adivasi should not disqualify him from claiming to be an adivasi. He goes on to say that this kind of segregation on the basis of birth is akin to being an ethnic fundamentalism.
The basic issue, however, is not about whether non-adivasis can or cannot represent adivasis or whether birth should or should not determine whether one is an adivasi or not but about the fairness of an award being given to a non-adivasi on behalf of the adivasis of India. The vast majority of adivasis have suffered horrendous injustices from non-adivasis or, as in the case of the Salwa Judum vigilantes, adivasis sponsored by non-adivasis and continue to do so. They have formulated their own strategies for fighting these injustices and are capably implementing them. In fact they are doing much more for themselves than the non-adivasi activists who are fighting along with them. Then going just by the numbers, there are many more adivasis suffering state and capitalist repression than there are non-adivasis who are fighting for them and so any award to the adivasis of India should go to an adivasi who is by birth an adivasi and not to a non-adivasi who may think that he is in thought and deed an adivasi. Especially since there are a number of adivasi activists who are fighting capably for the adivasis and should be rewarded for their efforts much more than any non-adivasis.
There is also of course the whole debate about the politics of awards. Like charity and philanthropy the phenomenon of awards also is a kind of sop that seeks to paper over the deeper injustices of capitalist exploitation. If there is no exploitation and resultant poverty in the first place then where is the need for philanthropy and awarding people who work to alleviate the suffering of the poor. Ideally those working for a just social order should refuse awards from an unjust social order. However, given that such awards do give some strength to the fight against injustice, there may be some justification in accepting these awards but only if they are given to the actual sufferers of capitalist exploitation and repression and not to those from the upper or middle classes who go and help them, however laudable their work may be.