Monday, April 14, 2014

The Blog begins...

According to the 2001 Census, the indigenous people of India - known as Scheduled Tribes and also as Adivasis, compose 8.14% of the total Indian population. There are 697 tribes in India.

Many urban middle class Indians still view the tribal as primitive or uncouth or childlike and unsullied by civilization. Post independence, there has been a great deal of acculturation, displacement and other changes among the tribes. This transition has led to a sense of angst among the tribal people, aggravated by their extreme deprivation and exploitation at all levels.

Around the middle of March, a very interesting 2-day conference was held entitled Tribes in Transition: Conflict over Identity, Resources and Development. Organised by the Dept of English, Jamia Milia Islamia, New Delhi  with the Ghosaldanga Bishnubati Adibasi Trust, Santiniketan, the first day was at the Sriniketan Community Hall of Visva Bharati and the 2nd day, at the RSV School, Ghosaldanga, Birbhum, ending with the Baha Parab festivities on the 3rd day.

Santal children sing a welcome song. Dr G N Devy
in the background
Eminent speakers, both tribal and non-tribal kept the audience entranced for the two days, taking us across a gamut of tribal issues. For a newbie like me, it was an eye opener indeed. Covering topics ranging across Tribal Cultural heritage & Conflict over  Identity, Tribal Literature, Human Trafficking, Tribal Health and Problems of Employment of Tribal Youth. A tongue-in-cheeked management student speaker felt that if papad, a cottage craft could be branded and marketed as Lijjat by Gujarati women, creating sustainable livelihood, why not the country liquor brewed from the Mohua flower?

Dr G N Devy of the Bhasha Research & Publication Centre, Vadodara, who gave the keynote address, informed us that the concept of tribe in India is a product of colonization - though, strangely, there were no tribes in Europe! Back in the 17th century, the Portugese used the term to refer to all Indian communities.  The term resurfaced in the late 19th century in colonial discourse in India. People belonging to "tribal" communities  were considered to be the lowest in social hierarchy by 17th century ethnographers, but today in India, these people proudly identify themselves as TRIBE - a distinctive identity.  However, nation building  negatively impacted tribal development and nearly 70 years after independence, there are still a multitude of serious issues to be resolved. For more on the conference, read Dr Boro Baski's report :

Class rooms at RSV
Of the many problems affecting tribal is that of being educated and retaining their culture at the same time. Santali schoolchildren of Birbhum would often find themselves lost in a sea of mainstream education and often dropout as a result. As a response to this problem, the Rolf Schoembs Vidyashram  (RSV)  school was started in 1996. Situated between the two tribal villages of Ghosaldanga and Bishnubati, near Shantiniketan, as a non formal tribal day school offering junior school education in the tribal idiom. Once the children cross Class V, they are sent out to join the mainstream government school nearby.

The founding of the RSV school meant breaking new ground in the education and schooling of Santal children. This day-school (elementary), which consists of 5 school years, provides intensive academic and pedagogical support of these children in small classes of a maximum of 15 pupils. Lessons take place in circular buildings which are open at the sides, and - weather permitting - in the open air. The school was conceived and developed by Gokul Hansda and Boro Baski, two Santals with degrees and a doctorate from the Visva-Bharati-University in Santiniketan. Gokul Hansda was headteacher up to 2010, when Boro Baski took over his predecessor's position.

Befriending a "Bohurupi"
Waiting for the festivities to start on the Baha Parab day, I spent some time at the government school near Bishnubati, to which all the little students from RSV would eventually go to. On my way out, I found myself suddenly surrounded by a whole bunch of children - who thought I was a Bohurupi! I managed to extricate myself only when i promised to take their photograph.  Here it is - barring a few stragglers.

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