This article discusses the close relationship between Bengali writer Mahasweta Devi’s literary work and her activism in support of indigenous people in India, and considers the two activities as interventions in the field of law. Devi’s emphasis on the continuity between colonial and postcolonial legal frameworks invites us to look at law as a governing discourse that stigmatized Adivasis. The criminalization of indigenous people via the Criminal Tribes Act (1871) and the presumption that they belonged to a “state of nature” form part of an orientalist bias against the tribals that was legally sustained during colonialism and also through Nehru’s discourses on the modern nation. Through analysis of the short story “Operation? – Bashai Tudu”, where law appears as a non-democratic instrument for governing the poor, and using extracts from a hitherto unpublished conversation between the author and Devi, it argues that Devi’s work can be considered as a crucial analytical tool with which to explore the genealogy of Adivasi marginalization.