eBook & eJournal | Reaffirming Indigenous Identity Through Narrative: Conference report

Tribes In Transition-II: Reaffirming Indigenous Identity Through Narrative
Report for the ICSSR-sponsored Two-Day National Conference organised by The Department of English & Outreach Programme Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi on 27-28 February 2017

Read or download the full report (printfriendly PDF, 560 KB)

Concept Note:

The term “tribe” – used synonymously today with other terms like “indigenous”, “aboriginal”, “Adivasi” and “First Nations people” – has a long history that connects diverse communities across the world on the basis of their common worldview. Beginning as part of the colonial vocabulary of administration, the term “tribe” had constructed such communities in terms of the western dichotomy between the civilized and the primitive, and had viewed them either as primitive savages hostile to civilization or as peripheral beings who lived in a primeval world that becomes an idealized site for an alternative culture. In later years, many creative representations of them in literature, art and narrative cinema had perpetrated these stereotypes, though the motivations behind them may have been different. In more recent times, some writers have invoked the existence of the Fourth World, composed of the world’s indigenous people, whose history and ecology have been appropriated by the other two Worlds.

In post-Independence India, there has been a great deal of what the anthropologists call “culture contact”, resulting in acculturation, displacement and other related changes among the tribal peoples. These changes have triggered aggressive political movements among some tribal groups, sometimes closely aligned with non-tribal ideological elements, which have led to new and experimental narrative forms.

In the wake of globalization and heavy industrialization, the tribal people of India have been struggling with a growing sense of Angst, at various levels. A direct result of migration and acculturation is seen in the rapid erosion faced by many tribal languages today – an erosion that could lead to the loss of unique knowledge systems and oral traditions transmitted through these languages for centuries. The Centre for Oral & Tribal Literature, Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi, is working towards the preservation of India’s tribal cultural heritage by collecting, documenting and translating the different genres of tribal folklore, particularly their creation myths. By bringing together tribal storytellers, writers and cultural artistes to a common platform with research scholars from Literature, Linguistics, History, Sociology and Anthropology (among others), the proposed Conference will contribute to this monumental task being undertaken by Sahitya Akademi.

While grappling with the issues of tribal and indigenous identity, culture, history and narrative, the Conference will address relevant questions such as: What is the outcome of the interface between oral tradition and modernity? What is ‘tribal imagination’? What is the tribal sense of history? How can tribal oral traditions be preserved in the digital age? How does contemporary tribal literature compare/ contrast with the traditional genres? Why do tribal and indigenous narratives suffer from low visibility within mainstream academia? What is the significance of tribal and indigenous characters in mainstream narratives? How does the perspective of the ‘outsider’ differ from that of the ‘insider’? Finally, the Conference will try to connect with grassroots workers and activists working on problems of healthcare, education, employment and human trafficking among the tribal and indigenous communities of India.

Important Sub-themes of the Conference:
Oral tradition and modernity
Tribal memory and imagination
Tribal art forms and aesthetics
Tribal versions of the Indian epics
Script movements among tribal groups
Endangered oral languages
Tribal resistance narratives
Approaches to tribal healthcare
Tribal education and employability
Human trafficking in tribal areas

Contribution to Existing Research:
The Conference will add a multidisciplinary approach to the existing research on tribal/ indigenous communities in India. While the conventional areas within the disciplines of Literature, Linguistics, History, Sociology and Anthropology will dominate the discourse, new areas from Cultural Studies, Folklore Studies, Film Studies, Art and Aesthetics etc, will also be introduced. Finally, it is hoped that by critiquing existing approaches to tribal healthcare and education in India, the Conference will lay the groundwork for some much-needed changes in government policy towards the Scheduled Tribes.


  1. Ananya Barua, “The Karbi Ramayana in Assam and its Modern Re-telling in Documentary Film”
  2. Anu Krishna, “Plantation Development and Tribes: Experiences of Expropriation of Land, History and Identity – A Case of the Mannans”
  3. Archana Barua, “The Shared Ramayana Tradition in Assam across Man-made Boundaries of Tribe, Caste and Community”
  4. Arun Kumar Oraon, “Contribution of Tribal Society to Modern Medicine”
  5. Athiko Kaisii, “Oral Literature and Memory: A Study of Tribal Folklore”
  6. Bidyut Suman Ekka, “Education as a means of Entrepreneurial Exploration: A Multiple Case Study Approach among the Tribes of Odisha”
  7. Bipasha Rosy Lakra, “Perspectives from the Margins: Examining Adivasi Narratives of the Naxalbari Movement in West Bengal, 1967-72”
  8. Dhaneshwar Bhoi & Neelima Rashmi Lakra, “Scheduled Tribes, Access to Higher Education and Employability Question”
  9. Ekta Khandway, “Inversion of the Locus of Enunciation of knowledge in Time Commences in Xibalba by Luis de Lion”
  10. Evy Mehzabeen, “The Tribe Against Itself: Narratives of Ethnicity and Othering of the Bodos and the Adivasis in Bodoland”
  11. Gomati Bodra Hembrom, “Adivasi Script Movement: Identity, Education and Cultural Revitalization”
  12. Juhi R.V. Minz, “Reaffirming the Identity of the Tribal Woman: An Exploration of Mahasweta Devi’s Imaginary Maps
  13. Krishendu Pal, “How ‘Queer’ is the Indigenous? : An Attempt to Read ‘Two-Spirit’ Creations in the Canadian Context”
  14. Mahi S. Thavarathu, “Diminishing the Stereotypes: Re-presenting the Tribals of Kerala in Kocherethi and Odiyan
  15. Mochish K.S., “Adivasi Land Struggles and the Print Media: An Analysis of Muthanga Land Struggle in Wayanad, Kerala”
  16. Moumita Roy, “A Comparative Study of Mahasweta Devi’s Aranyer Adhikar(1979) and African-American Texts”
  17. Mridula Rashmi Kindo, “Tribal Poems of Protest of Jharkhand as Powerful Expressions”
  18. Mukulika Choudhary, “Les Visages de Tahiti: Reimagining Tahitian Tribes in Modernist paintings and Travelogues”
  19. Norkey Wangmu Yolmo, “Yolmo Funeral at Homeland and Abroad”
  20. Nupur Chawla, “Representing/ Re-presenting Conflict: A Study of Temsula Ao’s Short Fiction”
  21. Pradyumna Bag, “Denial of Differences: Examining the Marginalization of Tribal Cultures and Languages”
  22. Pravin Kumar, “Depiction of Life Values in Tribal Literature”
  23. Rajitha Venugopal, “Grappling with Modernity: Narayan’s Kocharethi as a Metaphor of Adivasi Lives in Kerala”
  24. Rakesh Soni, “The Concept of Indigenous Knowledge”
  25. Rini Pratik Kujur, “The Dismantling of Tribal Narratives by the Impositions of Mainstream Story-making”
  26. Rishav Chatterjee, “Folk Adaptations of Tagore and Shakespeare: Reconceptualizing Canons as a Transition from the Periphery to the Centre”, p.
  27. Saheb Ram Tudu, “Illustrating the Santal Rebellion of 1855-56 in Disaeabon Hul
  28. Sandesha Rayapa-Garbiyal, “Runglwo: Undergoing a much awaited Paradigm Shift”
  29. Saroj Kumar Mahananda & Abhishek Pundir, “The Familiar Case of the Nishad in the Mahabharata: An Alternate Reading”
  30. Shabeena Kuttay, “Existence and Identity: The Intellectual Discourse on Tribal Resistance”
  31. Shimi Moni Doley, “Text, Context and the Reader: An Ideological Reading of Miri Jiyori
  32. Shreya Jessica Dhan, “Defining the ‘Tribe’ in State Discourse: From Adivasi and Schedule Tribe to Indigenous Peoples”
  33. Sudipto Mukhopadhyaya, “Revisiting Aranyer Adhikar: in Theory and Practice”
  34. Teresa Tudu, “Tribal Literature: Santhals and their Cultural Anxiety”
  35. Tonol Murmu, “The Santali Script Controversy and Ethno-religious Identity”
  36. Vasundhara Gautam, “Apne Ghar Ki Talash Mein: Identity, Subjectivity and Home in Nirmala Putul’s Works”
  37. Ved Prakash, “Rhythms of Resistance: A Study of the Kondh Tribe of Orissa through ‘Blood Earth’ Project”
  38. Vijay Baraik, “Tribal Education and Employment Situation in Jharkhand”
  39. Violina Borah, “R/establishing Identity: Reading Violence through Mahasweta Devi’s The Hunt

Source: Courtesy Dr. Ivy Hansdak, Assistant Professor, Department of English, Jamia Millia Islamia University New Delhi (email 4 October 2017)

Usage in legal and historical records

“Many ST seats [reserved for students from Scheduled Tribes] are not filled in professional colleges because the candidates are not found suitable.” – Santali poet, scholar and translator Dr. Ivy Imogene Hansdak in Presidential elections: An Adivasi in high office (Indian Express) | Interview >>

Read the inaugural Speech by Dr. Ivy Hansdak: “Is tribal identity relevant in today’s world?” delivered during the conference titled “Tribes In Transition-II: Reaffirming Indigenous Identity Through Narrative” | Conference report >>

“In India, the term ‘tribe‘ has referred, since the 16th century, to groups living under ‘primitive‘ and ‘barbarous‘ conditions. The colonial administration used the term to distinguish peoples who were heterogeneous in physical and linguistic traits and lived under quite different demographic and ecological conditions, with varying levels of acculturation and development. In the various countries of South Asia, tribal peoples were often called by derogatory terms such as jungli (‘savage’) during the colonial period.” – Marine Carrin, General Introduction to Brill’s Encyclopedia of the Religions of the Indigenous People of South Asia >>

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