Thursday, April 24, 2014

Vote for ...

Gombhira singer Ashok Chakrabarty and his group perform on a makeshift stage in front of the Malda collectorate on Tuesday. Picture by Surajit Roy

The district of Malda votes today. In an unusual move, gearing up to this event, the Election Commission hired five groups of Gombhira folk singers to create awareness and encourage people to vote for the Lok Sabha elections in Malda. Five groups of Gombhira performers performed in all the 15 blocks of the district, especially in areas which have a record of poor turnout during elections. The budget allocated for these performances - Rs 40000. 

The common refrain sung by the performers was: “Na na Deri Nai Aar Nirbachan/Amra Boothe Giya Vote Diya Korbo Angshogrohon." (The elections are near. We will go to the booths to cast votes and participate).

It has been the practice of the government in the past few decades to use folk artists to create awareness among the rural masses on a variety of subjects. Until we, the privileged, make an attempt to recognise, respect and promote these traditions, our folk artists will have to continue to depend on awareness programmes such as these. 

The Durga Pujas are coming up. Calling all Durga Puja organisers across the state, country and the world, perhaps... What about spending a fraction of the "entertainment" budget on promoting a folk form?

With inputs from :

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.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Introducing the Daricha blog

Hullo friends & well-wishers!

Now that the website is up and running, after many months of birthing pains; I thought I would start a blog to keep you posted about what is going on in the folk and tribal art world. But just to start us off, I thought I would answer a question I have been asked a lot over this last year or so.

During my time as the webmaster of, the website of an internationally renowned Indian Classical Music Academy, I’d come to realize that though there was no dearth of online information on classical music in India, the same could not be said about the country’s folk and tribal art forms.

India has a wealth of such art forms, but the awareness, popularity and respect given to them is negligible. There is no lack of folklorist expertise; much research has been undertaken and many books have been written, primarily in the vernacular. But these are inevitably relegated to dusty corners of local bookstores and libraries. The only hope of bringing knowledge about our rich folk heritage into easy circulation is through our favoured medium today -- the internet. A few travel and tourism websites offer superficial and selective details. But no website attempts to consolidate information for global dissemination.

Enter Daricha. :)

With an abiding passion for music and folk crafts, I decided to take on this project as a personal challenge and as my contribution to society. However, i realized that my vision could be achieved  - shift from part time pursuit to major project - only with the help of a team. Friends who shared my vision came on board and Daricha Foundation was born. To help matters along, i gave up my job to devote myself wholly to this project. Other friends have pitched in since, helping out, in oh so many ways. We all believe that - yes, we can - make a difference...

The folk and tribal artists themselves live mainly isolated in their villages, most of them without opportunities to showcase their talents. Some might find their way to annual government-organized craft festivals or festivals organized by some NGOs in urban spaces. But while some initiatives have resulted in greater exposure of a few chosen forms, a great many more are dying a slow death for want of awareness, interest and support combined with the increasing encroachment of urbanization and cultural dilution. These artisans have put away their tools, found other occupations; children of artists are no longer encouraged to learn their traditional arts or crafts due to its lack of economic viability.

My vision for Daricha is that it will reverse the decay through the creation of awareness and demand. That the urban Indian (and people of the rest of the world) will rediscover their love for the colour, drama and beauty of these indigenous art forms and bring back the life and prosperity it rightfully deserves.

It is of course not as easy as all that, but I’m confident that by bridging the gap between the artists and their prospective market; and shining a spotlight on the nuances and history of the art forms it can be achieved over the course of time.

Do take a look at the site, and let me know if you think it is aligned to our objectives. We are always open to feedback.

Ratnaboli Bose.