Tribal Identity and Resistance Narratives: Papers presented for “Tribes In Transition-II: Reaffirming Indigenous Identity Through Narrative” (National Conference) – New Delhi

Plenary session 2: Tribal Identity and Resistance Narratives

Chaired by: Padmashri Prof. Anvita Abbi, Formerly Professor in Linguistics, JNU, New Delhi, currently Hon. Director, Centre for Oral and Tribal Literature, Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi & President, Linguistic Society of India.

Paper Presenters: Bipasha Rosy Lakra (JNU, Delhi), Dr. Ved Prakash (Central University of Rajasthan, Ajmer), Sudipto Mukhopadhyay (Kalyani University, West Bengal), Mridula Rashmi Kindo (IGNOU, Delhi), Nupur Chawla (JMI, Delhi) and Saheb Ram Tudu (Artist, Cognizant Tech Solutions, Kolkata).

Prof. Anvita Abbi introduced the six speakers who presented some interesting papers on tribal identity and resistance narratives, narratives in the form of interviews, music, poems, short fiction and paintings. Each paper talked about the struggles of the tribal people to save their land from exploitation in the garb of a flawed development model.

Bipasha Rosy Lakra, through her paper “Perspectives from the Margins: Examining Adivasi Narrative of the Naxalbari movement in West Bengal, 1967-72”, investigated the role of Adivasis in the Naxalbari movement. She used the transcripts of interviews of Adivasis who were a part of the movement during 1967-72. She concluded that in popular historiography the role of Adivasis was undermined, especially that of women. The whole movement is gender-blinded and the role of female comrades is diminished.

Ved Prakash’s paper “Rhythms of Resistance: A Study of the Kondh Tribe of Orissa through ‘Blood Earth Project’” looked at music as a site of resistance. He referred to Taru Dalmia’s Blood Earth Project which focussed on the exploitation of the tribes of Orissa whose lands were taken away from them in order to build huge factories. The songs also deal with the theme of homelessness and the failure of state machinery to provide help to these tribal areas. They are sung in the unwritten Kui language and use many idioms from Kui which carry the rich heritage of the people. The resistance music is inspired by the Jamaican Reggae music and the paper tries to problematize the notion of voice in the protest songs.

Sudipto Mukhopadhyay’s paper “Revisiting Aranyer Adhikar: in Theory and Practice” analyzed Mahasweta Devi’s text on tribal war for their traditional right to forest resources. The paper problematized the notion of theory versus practice and tried to formulate a methodology of study of the tribes in transition, specifically focusing on the Santal (Santhal) community. The ‘right to forest’ is one such paradigm of identity formation that has been appropriated by the Adivasis which bears its evidence in the oral narratives/performances contingent to each community. This concept, theoretically speaking, provides one with the ‘right’ to the resources of the forest and the Adivasi lands. But in practical reality, the ‘rights’ are often transferred and substituted to a larger bourgeois world. At this juncture, do we need to revise the definition of the concept of the ‘right to forest’. Yet the question remains, how do we reconcile the two?

Nupur Chawla, in her paper “Representing/ Re-presenting Conflict: A Study of Temsula Ao’s Short Fiction”, examined Temsula Ao’s writings that represent Naga society and the ongoing conflict between its people and the government. The way Ao depicted the conflict in her short stories such as “The Last Song”, “The Jungle Major” and “Letter” in her book, These Hills Called Home, is distinct in its objectivity and humanistic concerns. She also discussed Ao’s concerns through her short fiction where the author urges the youngsters to be in touch with their painful past and culture by giving importance to memory.

Mridula Rashmi Kindo, in her paper “Tribal Poems of Protest of Jharkhand as Powerful Expressions”, translated a tribal poem written in the Oraon/ Kurukh language to English and talked about the displacement of people because of the Netarhat firing range in the Chhotanagpur area. Tribals in the poem are determined to save their land and are willing to lay down their lives. For the tribals, land gives them identity, and existence is directly related to land. The picturesque narrative of the poem contains repetitions which bring out the urgency to oppose the governmental authorities. This poem, originally in Kurukh, had an important place in the agitation and motivated the tribal by giving them a voice.

Saheb Ram Tudu in his paper “Illustrating the Santhal Rebellion of 1855-56 in Disaeabon Hul” talked about his work on the Santhal Hul (Rebellion) of 1855-56 through paintings made by him for the children’s story book, Disaeabon Hul, published by Adivaani Publishing House, Kolkata. The idea of recreating the forgotten history of the Santhal Hul (Rebellion) and its two leaders, Sido and Kanhu Murmu, provided the inspiration for his work. His paper is from the perspective of an artist who found inspiration in the terrifying world of state control.

(Student Rapporteur: Ms. Mansi Grover)

Objectives of the conference:

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.

[Bold typeface added above for emphasis]

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

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

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