Adivasi people: proud not primitive | Read the full article >>
[…] Defining what’s special about India’s adivasi or indigenous people is complicated. People, mostly anthropologists and human rights defenders, who know adivasis and have worked closely with them, also tend to be accused of romanticizing tribal peoples. Yet you can begin to understand what’s special about them if you read India’s first Prime Minister Jawarharlal Nehru’s lyrical descriptions about the tribes of India. In his Panchsheel, or development guidelines, he begged our civil servants to respect adivasis and for Tribal Belt development to focus on ‘respecting their own genius’, not turning them ‘into pale imitations of ourselves’.
Yet almost 66 years after Independence, India’s adivasi people continue to be treated shabbily. They are described practically universally, in even our best newspapers and magazines, as primitive and backward. Our media is totally ignorant about the meaning of adivasi culture and history. It is common on major festivals to see them depicted perhaps as ‘noble savages’, dancing in feathers and grass skirts, for an uninformed public to gawk at like creatures in a zoo.
When we arrived in the Nilgiris in 1984, my husband Stan and I often asked young adivasi people what they thought the word adivasi, ‘original people’ in Sanskrit, meant. Their replies were predictable. They answered ‘ignorant, uncivilized, wild, jungle folk, illiterate, uneducated and even stupid people’. Children joining local schools had their adivasi names changed by their teachers and were instructed to civilize their communities. They were taught to feel ashamed of their people and their culture. Since 1986, we have aimed to help these communities assert their rights, especially over land. Also to join the outside ‘mainstream’ if they so wished, on their own terms, with pride in their culture, with heads held high. We consistently worked on issues of pride and self-esteem.
So, the news that Survival International has launched a campaign called ‘Proud not Primitive’ is really welcome. Adivasis constitute nine per cent of the Indian population. They once led lives of quiet dignity. Now they live and die in quiet desperation.
‘Development’ in the areas where adivasi people live leaves them exploited and deprived, in total contradiction to Nehru’s beautifully worded Panchsheel. The reality of the adivasi existence, most of the nine per cent, is nothing short of shameful. […]
The forest department has criminalized their existence, treating them as intruders when in fact the recent Forest Rights Act acknowledged the historical injustice perpetrated on them and declared that their rights to an ancient forest heritage would finally be recognized.
Adivasi people have an alternative world view, which has rarely been acknowledged or recognized. Their existence was never based on accumulation or consumerism. To understand the cliché, they have a ‘symbiotic relationship with nature’, needs close observation of a forest community. They took what they needed from nature, but never in excess. They never hoarded. This is viewed by non-tribal neighbours as ‘lazy’ and unambitious. They never had a need to subdue, conquer or master nature. So, unlike their neighbours, they did not cut down vast tracts of forest. They plant vegetables between the trees. […]
It is in this context that Survival India’s campaign is sorely needed. There is a new generation of adivasis educated in the dominant society’s ‘world view’ who are beginning to look back at their own heritage and culture, Alex Hailey-like, to their ‘roots’.
This cultural revival is crucial for the survival of the adivasi world view, the only truly sustainable lifestyle when the world is looking desperately for solutions to save the earth. […]
All of us can learn from them. And it’s about time we started.
Source: “Adivasi people: proud not primitive” by Mari Marcel Thekaekara, New Internationalist 15 July 2013
Address : https://newint.org/blog/2013/07/15/india-adivasi-survival-international/?55521117611331971
Date Visited: 21 April 2021
[Bold typeface added above for emphasis]
Read more posts by Mari Marcel Thekaekara >>
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