Tip | “How to address misconceptions on tribal customs and culture in the classroom?” – Ideas and practices worth sharing among peers and students

There’s much to learn from the positive contributions made by tribal communities on a daily basis.To start with, let’s learn from insiders and others who have dedicated their lives to ensuring that a precious heritage will continue to make a difference to people from all backgrounds all over India and even beyond:

Boro Baski

Santali is not a dead language [and] does not need to be ‘revived’ [being] one of the two tribal* languages that have been recognized as official languages. Ivy Hansdak responding to an online magazine story on “reviving the Santali language”

The goal is to prepare some model students in our villages, so that others will be inspired to follow them. – Boro Baski in his article “Long-term success of non-formal Adivasi* school in West Bengal”

For us it’s not so much about having a room of one’s own, as a roof over our head [but] affirmation and agency. – Ruby Hembrom at the Jaipur literature festival

Tribals* do not exploit other people’s labour for the sake of their own avarice, nor do they destroy nature to build monuments to the human ego. […] It is almost impossible to characterize all of India’s tribals in a single ethnographic or historic framework. – Ganesh Devy in Painted Words: An Anthology of Tribal Literature

It is wrong and does not help the tribal cause either to reduce the image of the Indian tribal* society to that of destitute remnants, on the verge of dying out. – Voices from the Periphery, a multidisciplinary book on “reversing the gaze”

Adivasi* people have an alternative world view, which has rarely been acknowledged or recognized. Their existence was never based on accumulation or consumerism. […] All of us can learn from them. And it’s about time we started. – Mari Marcel Thekaekara

Gandhi believed that giving more importance, value and relevance to practical skills, and applying traditional knowledge to solving day-to-day problems were essential for the development of rural India. – Bunker Roy, the founder of Barefoot College, which helps rural communities becomes self-sufficient

Enabling people to learn from each other opens up the possibility of creating learning organisations – where people are learning from each other every day at every level. […] It seems like going back to the way things were done in the past – learning by telling stories, learning by hearing how other people did things. – Scene magazine

Bengali literature celebrated the natural, healthy Santal way of living. – Partha Mitter in The Triumph of Modernism: India’s Artists and the Avant-garde

Adivasi* women in post-independence era have suffered because tribes have been assimilated within the dominant patriarchal model [so] we need to rescue tribal narratives from a certain homogenising tendency. – Vasundhara Gautam analysing the poetic world of Nirmala Putul in their appropriate socio-cultural milieu

*Adivasi and “tribal” are not interchangeable as explained by Dr. Ivy Hansdak:

Tribal” is a very broad term in the English language, as we all know, and includes all the different indigenous groups of India.
Adivasi” – which is derived from Sanskrit – is applied to the dark-skinned or Austro-Asiatic indigenous groups of India (usually those from Eastern India). It is a commonly-used term in Jharkhand, Bihar, West Bengal and Odisha. It is also used by the local Mongoloid tribes of North Eastern India for the migrant workers who were brought in as indentured labourers to work in tea plantations during the colonial period. 

Source: personal message (email dated 27 March 2020)

See also

Research the above issues with the help of Shodhganga: A reservoir of theses from universities all over India, made available under Open Access >>

Themes for classroom and self education

As India’s tribal communities are among the most diverse anywhere in the world, teachers and students will benefit from the success stories told by indigenous educators like Dr. Boro Baski and Dr. Ivy Hansdak or publisher Ruby Hembrom: from them we may learn more about new opportunities just as the need for a better understanding of “cultural heritage” while rectifying past mistakes just as present-day misconceptions:

  • customs like the maintenance of sacred groves that benefit modern society: medicinal plants preserved in “biodiversity hotspots” for scientific research (ethnobotany, food security in the face of global warming)
  • aspirations of tribal youth within and beyond their own communities
  • constitutional rights and efforts to avoid “adverse inclusion”
  • modern history: how Nehru, Gandhi and Tagore envisioned rural development
  • colonial policies: stigmatisation and discrimination (“criminal tribes”) yet to be overcome in educational and other institutions
  • linguistic heritage and the value of endangered languages
  • proper nutrition and education for young children and women
  • rapid changes that affect entire communities (modernity)
  • mass media (dignified portrayal of tribal communities)

Simply use the search field, menus and maps found on this website to explore these issues in greater depth.

Learn more about Jawaharlal Nehru’s “five principles” for the policy to be pursued vis-a-vis the tribals >>
Photo © Indian Express

More tips

To find children’s publications by Indian publishers, type the name of a tribal community (e.g. “Santal” / “Santhal”, “Warli”), or region (e.g. “Bastar”, “Gujarat”, “Odisha” / “Orissa”, “West Bengal”), or any related subjects of interest (e.g. “education tribal community”, “Adivasi education) in the search field seen below:

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