“A mine of information” that questions earlier writings on tribals, colonial history and the effects of globalization: Book review – Jharkhand and Bihar

A plateau accounting for half of the country’s mineral wealth comprising coal, iron-ore, copper, bauxite, chromite, dolomite, limestone, manganese and mica in erstwhile Chotanagpur area deserves to be studied in depth not only for the minerals but for its human endeavour to liberate itself from exploitation by greedy industrialists and insensitive rulers, be it colonialists or Indian, from time to time. This collection of papers, packed with well researched articles from different authors, and edited by Lata Singh and Biswamoy Pati, does full justice to the cause and effect of the subaltern people’s suffering and uprising. A well-crafted introduction by the editors explains the need to study the areas of colonial and contemporary Bihar and Jharkhand from different angles. They note that, “Earlier writings on tribals glossed over the question of hierarchies and differentiation within the tribal community locating the ‘tribe’ as a homogenous category.” This, the editors feel, gave an incorrect picture of their struggles and needed to be set right. An important point to be considered in the introduction is the mention about emergence of women as an instrumental vehicle of folk philosophy presenting an alternative epistemology through their songs. […]

Jharkhand — or the land of forests — with nearly 40 % of India’s mineral resources was carved out of the southern part of Bihar on 15 November 2000. According to the 2011 census the percentage of tribal population of India stood at 8.6 and in Jharkhand of the state population it is 26.2%. This collection therefore concentrates on the tribal population, its identity and its struggles. When the colonial regime intensified the transition of the tribal agrarian system into feudal state, and when the indigenous people lost their holdings, there was an uprising led by Birsa Munda in the late 19 century.

Photo Birsa Munda © Wikipedia >> photograph in Roy (1912-72)

“Munda’s rebellion had shaken the foundations of the British empire, fighting the British army’s advanced weapons with bow and arrows. He died under mysterious circumstances in the Ranchi jail, and has, since then, been remembered as a martyr.” – Sushmita in The Wire >>

“Despite the many honours bestowed on Birsa Munda at high places, there has not been much change in the situation of tribal people at the grassroots level. The basic motivations behind tribal rebellions, i.e., Jal, Jangal aur Zameen (water, forest and land) remain the same. Hence, the fight by the tribal people of India will probably continue until a radical change is made in the government’s policy towards them.” – Ivy Imogene Hansdak in The Indian Express >>

“Who owns India? Who owns the forests and rivers, the farmlands eyed by industry, the slums coveted by real estate developers and airport authorities, the hills and plateaus desired by mining barons? In roughly a third of the country, this is no idle question.” – Sunil Khilnani in Outlook Magazine >>

“Many people – though not all – have been able to secure freedom from torture, unjustified imprisonment, summary execution, enforced disappearance, persecution and unjust discrimination, as well as fair access to education, economic opportunities, and adequate resources and health-care.” – Universal Declaration of Human Rights | United Nations >>

Pati’s paper ‘Beyond Geographical Boundaries’ deals with the wisdom related to the meaning of territories and geographical spaces. During the process of colonisation, resistance was witnessed in the Chotanagpur area as it meant serious problems for the people. Under the theme ‘Colonial Christianity and the Munda rebellions the author deals with possible reasons for conversion of tribals to Christianity as this remained a largely un-researched area. Unseen powers like witchcraft gave theOraaons community reason to convert as it thought Christianity protected it from certain dangers. Many conversions took place to Hinduism (though there are no systematic methods of becoming a Hindu, the tribals became Hindus for similar reasons as they embraced Christianity) both such converted tribals maintained their traditional practices intact. The community felt that even other grievances like dealing with zamindars, could be solved by conversion, as propagated by the German missionaries. […]

In one of the best articles of the collection Vinita Damodaran exposes the danger caused to environment especially to that of Chotanagpur forests during colonial regime. When the forests were left undisturbed and the region was populated by 33 different tribal communities, there was peace among the inhabitants. When the migration started from outside, there was gradual alienation of Adivasis caused by the new landlord and money lending class. This process was accelerated during the colonial period. Building of railways hastened the process of more people coming in because of the natural wealth and eventually such migration based on exploitation destroyed the normal ways of life of the tribes. […]

She concludes that the process of globalisation and colonial intervention transformed the region bringing poverty and immiserisation to the majority of the tribal groups.

Another impressive paper is by Sandali P. Sharma on ‘The Contested Canvas of Mithila Paintings’. When introduced to the world by W. C. Archer, discovered after an earthquake in Bihar in 1934, Mithila or Madhubani paintings became highly popular. Originally done on mud walls, using natural colours, after a major drought in 1966, the All India Handicrafts Board encouraged the art by making the women paint on paper for generating income. The author investigates the contexts and processes of marginalisation of cultural production by way of caste. She questions the earlier assumptions of superiority of the paintings by upper castes. Several authors are quoted by her that makes the reading more meaningful. A complementary article to this is by Dev N. Pathak on the songs of Mithila. […]

The article on witch-hunting reads like a thriller and gives much information about this dark area.

The book is mine of information and most authors have articulated their original thoughts questioning some of the traditional knowledge about the tribal life and people, especially of the area they chosen to study.

COLONIAL AND CONTEMPORARY BIHAR AND JHARKHAND: Edited by Lata Singh, Biswamoy Pati; Primus Books, Virat Bhavan, Mukherjee Nagar Commercial Complex, Delhi-110009. Rs. 995.

Source: Bihar’s past struggles reconstructed by K. R. A. Narasiah, The Hindu, 22 September 2014
Address : https://www.thehindu.com/books/books-reviews/bihars-past-struggles-reconstructed/article6436022.ece
Date Visited: 15 November 2021

[Bold typeface added above for emphasis]

The tribes and castes in India are communities apart. Those who belong to castes belong to no tribes, and those who belong to tribes are outside the caste pyramid. What brings them together is probably their love for songs.


Ganesh Devy in What unites Indians is a love for songs >>
Publications >>

For a list of websites included in a single search, click here. To search Indian periodicals, magazines, web portals and other sources safely, click here. To find an Indian PhD thesis on a particular tribal community, region and related issues, click here >>

Dr. Ivy Hansdak

“[A] common perception of conversion, prevalent in India, is that all conversions take place only among deprived lower caste or tribal groups, which are considered more susceptible to allurement or coercion. The reality of upper caste conversions is ignored in this climate of cynicism.”– Dr. Ivy Imogene Hansdak in Pandita Ramabai Saraswati: the convert as ‘heretic’

“Tribal men and women mix freely, but with respect for each other [but] caste Hindu society in India is so convinced of its own superiority that it never stops to consider the nature of social organisation among tribal people. In fact it is one of the signs of the ‘educated’ barbarian of today that he cannot appreciate the qualities of people in any way different from himself – in looks or clothes, customs or rituals.” – Guest Column in India Today >>

Photo: Report on Women’s Rights, p. 15

Equality of Opportunity in matters of Public Employment
Constitution Article 15

Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.—(1) The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them. (2) No citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them, be subject to any disability, liability, restriction or condition with regard to— (a) access to shops, public restaurants, hotels and places of public entertainment; or (b) the use of wells, tanks, bathing ghats, roads and places of public resort maintained wholly or partly out of State funds or dedicated to the use of the general public. (3) Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any special provision for women and children. 2 [(4) Nothing in this article or in clause (2) of article 29 shall prevent the State from making any special provision for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes.]

Source: pp. 9 & 16, “Women’s Rights in India: An Analytical Study of The United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and The Indian Constitution, Legislations, Schemes, Policies & Judgements 2021” by Research Division, National Human Rights Commission, India (www.nhrc.nic.in) | Learn more >>
URL: https://www.jorhatjudiciary.gov.in
Date Visited: 9 May 2023

“Casteism is the investment in keeping the hierarchy as it is in order to maintain your own ranking, advantage, privilege, or to elevate yourself above others or keep others beneath you …. For this reason, many people—including those we might see as good and kind people—could be casteist, meaning invested in keeping the hierarchy as it is or content to do nothing to change it, but not racist in the classical sense, not active and openly hateful of this or that group.” | Learn more about India’s caste system and the effects of “casteism” on tribal communities >>

“Tribal languages are a treasure trove of knowledge about a region’s flora, fauna and medicinal plants. Usually, this information is passed from generation to generation. However, when a language declines, that knowledge system is completely gone.” – Ayesha Kidwai (Centre for Linguistics, School of Language, Literature and Culture Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi) quoted by Abhijit Mohanty in “Seven decades after independence, many tribal languages in India face extinction threat” | Learn more about the work done by the People’s Linguistic Survey of India and endangered languages worldwide >>

“The notion of ‘mainstreaming’ needs to be challenged not just because Adivasi culture is being crushed, but also because Adivasi values and ways of life offer insights that the ‘mainstream’ needs. If we are to halt the destruction of ecosystems, we need to understand how closely biodiversity and cultural diversity are intertwined. Perhaps it is time to reverse the gaze and begin to learn afresh from Adivasis.” – Felix Padel & Malvika Gupta (The Hindu) | Learn more about the role of tribal communities in fostering biodiversity, ethnobotany and cultural diversity | Success stories | Tribal identity >>

“I think that by retaining one’s childhood love of such things as trees, fishes, butterflies and … toads, one makes a peaceful and decent future a little more probable, and that by preaching the doctrine that nothing is to be admired except steel and concrete, one merely makes it a little surer that human beings will have no outlet for their surplus energy except in hatred and leader worship.” – George Orwell | Learn more: Childhood | Customs | Games and leisure time | Literature – fiction | Storytelling >>

“The theoretical debate on caste among social scientists has receded into the background in recent years. [C]aste is in no sense disappearing: indeed, the present wave of neo-liberal policies in India, with privatisation of enterprises and education, has strengthened the importance of caste ties, as selection to posts and educational institutions is less based on merit through examinations, and increasingly on social contact as also on corruption.” – Harald Tambs-Lyche (Professor Emeritus, Université de Picardie, Amiens) in “Caste: History and the Present” (Academia Letters) | Learn more: Accountability | Democracy | Education and literacy >>

[T]here are three major rights on forests to be transferred to the forest-dwelling tribal people [including] Title for Forest Land Under Occupation, right of ownership, access to collect, use, and dispose of minor forest produce, [i.e.] all non-timber produce of plant origin, including bamboo, brush wood, stumps, cane, tussar, cocoons, honey, wax, lac, tendu or kendu leaves, medicinal plants and herbs, roots, tubers.

Implementation of Forest Rights Act: Towards an informed collective action by stakeholders by Azim Premji University Team, Initiative for Effective Implementation of FRA


More posts with information on India’s forest legislation are found on this website (in reverse chronological order): Forest Rights Act (FRA) | Illegal mining >>

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