On stereotypes and “three kinds of knowledge” (universal, community and individual knowledge): Papers presented for “Tribes In Transition-II: Reaffirming Indigenous Identity Through Narrative” (National Conference)

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Parallel Session 2: Land, Identity and Tribal Autobiographical Narratives
Chaired by: Sandesha Rayappa, JNU, New Delhi
Paper Presenters: Mahi S. Thavarathu (JNU, New Delhi), P. Rajitha Venugopal (JMI, New Delhi), Vasundhara Gautam (BML Manjul University, Gurgaon), Rakesh Soni (IGNTU, Amarkantak).
Mahi S.Thavarathu, through her paper: “Diminishing the Stereotypes: Re-presenting the Tribals of Kerala in Kocharethiand Odiyan”, questioned the dominant notions governing ‘purity’ and ‘morality’ in a civilised society, and also highlighted the process of ‘othering’ of the tribal people. The paper specifically looked at the mis/representations of Malaaraya tribe which is rapidly facing the perils of Hinduisation and Sanskritisation. To correct the image of the tribe, the presenter relied on the semi-autobiographical novel by Narayan, and read the novel as an act of resistance against the misrepresentation of the community by the academic and the literary world. The paper also engaged with the changing contours of identity, displacement and crisis, set in motion by modernity.
Rajitha Venugopal presented a paper titled “Grappling with Modernity: Narayan’s Kocharethi as a Metaphor of Adivasi Lives in Kerala.” This paper was an attempt to look at how modernity served as a “double-edged phenomenon” as far as the Malaaraya [Mala Arayan] community depicted in Narayan’s Kocharethi are concerned. This paper also studied how Narayan’s act of narration and tracing the transition of the community serves both as a counter-representation as well as an act of self-assessment. It was argued in the context of the innate limitation of history that the dominant narrative inevitably overlooks different strands of culture, beliefs and traditions, with a vicious inclination to homogenise and standardise. Narayan’s Kocharethi was read as a text positing threat to the dominant representations of the tribe (Malaaraya). By analysing the depiction of three generations of a tribal family, she reflected on the changing trajectories in the socio-cultural life of the community and unveiled the complexities generated by modernity. The identity-negotiations occurring in the face of rapid modernity exhibit the transformations in the internal structures of the community, as modernity manifests itself as a liberating force that inevitable results in the erasure or appropriation of tribal ethics.
Vasundhara Gautam, in her paper “Apne Ghar Ki Talash Mein: Identity, Subjectivity and Home in Nirmala Putul’s Works”, argued that tribals have been misrepresented in colonial and pre-colonial historiography and emerge as the most marginal of the social groups. The biases that informed the colonial and pre-colonial historiographers exist today in form of certain stereotypes which need to be dismantled. With a view to making the required corrections, she engaged with the poetic world of Nirmala Putul and read her works in their appropriate socio-cultural milieu. She observed that Adivasi women in post-independence era have suffered because tribes have [been] assimilated within the dominant patriarchal model. The idea of ‘identity’ and ‘home’ appear to be more problematic in case of an Adivasi woman, and here, she posits that we need to rescue tribal narratives from a certain homogenising tendency.
Rakesh Soni, through his paper “The Concept of Indigenous Knowledge” enunciated the characteristics of three kinds of knowledge namely – universal knowledge, community knowledge and individual knowledge. The two types of knowledge, universal and individual, can help us to understand reality from its own views. Self-realization of reality has both individual and universal character and knowledge happening simultaneously. At this stage, individual acts are universal but also bound with the individual’s physical body that is governed and regulated by Prarabddha karma. In this context, he laid importance on the community knowledge. Community knowledge means such knowledge whose validity and verification is made by a particular community or ethnic group that resides in a particular land or territory and has a particular cultural identity. In some cases, it is also known as indigenous or tribal knowledge
(Student Rapporteur: Mr. Abhishek Pundir)

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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