Tip | A plethora of cultural strengths that can be fruitfully utilised in educational initiatives: Report “Living World of the Adivasis of West Bengal: An Ethnographic Exploration” – West Bengal

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Adivasis do not form a homogenous community. Achievements related to socio-economic well-being were found to vary across groups and places among the members of the same community. [some excerpts]*

There exists—in both the public and academic domains—a wide knowledge gap about that selectively forgotten, and pragmatically remembered population of the country known as Adivasis. Who they are, where they live, what they do, their socio-economic status, their cultural and linguistic practices— are issues about which information is largely fragmented and ambiguous. For example, in West Bengal, there are 40 Adivasi groups notified by the government as Scheduled Tribes (Sts). Yet, most people use the terms Adivasi and Santal interchangeably, while the latter, in fact, is but one of the 40 notified tribes forming 47 percent of the total ST population.

Wide socio-economic variations between the different Adivasi groups and within the specific Adivasi communities, despite having been shown in the Census data, have hardly attracted any attention either in public policy or in general discussion. Their rich linguistic and cultural heritage and their potential to interact with other societies on equal terms do not seem to have found any base among the apparently mainstream societies. The widely prevailing belief which tends to associate all Adivasis with a nomadic life isn’t rooted in objective reality; more often than not it comes from the easy—fictitious—route of distance and dominance. […]

The very common instances of violations of the Right to Forest Act, the Right to Education Act, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, and the like, have to be eliminated. It is not very difficult to identify the issues related to accessing the educational opportunities by the Adivasi children in general, and children within certain groups in particular. They include difficulties of physical access, the problem of language and culture, and the contrast between the apparent backwardness of these communities as imagined by the authorities and a very different objective reality that upholds a plethora of cultural strengths that can be fruitfully utilised while planning educational initiatives. Utilisation of resources available in the form of educated Adivasi youths would be just one of several to achieve this end.

Similarly, the terrible neglect in public delivery of healthcare must not be allowed to continue. […]

Prof. Amartya Sen
Learn more about Living World of the Adivasis of West Bengal released at
Kolkata Book Fair 2020 >>

The smart boy or clever girl who is deprived of the opportunity of schooling, or who goes to a school with dismal facilities (not to mention the high incidence of absentee teachers), not only loses the opportunities he or she could have had, but also adds to the massive waste of talent that is a characteristic of the life of our country.

Nobel Awardee Amartya Sen in The Argumentative Indian (Penguin Books, 2005), p. 344 | Find this and other books published in India | Tribal Children’s Right to Education | Video documentary on the Lifeworld of an Enlightened Villager | Related posts about childhood >>

The general challenges of cultural threats in the spheres of language, social structure and economic progress tend to have particular relevance with regard to the numerically smaller groups. Social policy needs to address these problems with special attention and emphasis.

Finally, it is imperative that the entire outlook on the Adivasi question be reversed. Instead of seeing the Adivasis as ‘problems,’ the entire country can benefit massively by perceiving the Adivasis as co-citizens and sharing their historically constructed cultural values which often manifest the best forms of democracy and uphold the notions of higher levels of justice, fairness and equality than those which prevail in the seemingly mainstream societies. By ensuring their rights to live their own lives, the country can in fact guarantee itself a flourishing democracy.

The findings of the study, as mentioned in the beginning, are neither comprehensive nor definitive in nature. There were many areas that the study could not look into. Nevertheless, the indications of the study can usefully add to social inquiry as well as policy modifications.

* Source: Brochure for the report titled “Living World of the Adivasis of West Bengal: An Ethnographic Exploration”, issued on the occasion of the Kolkata International Book Fair 2020, courtesy Dr. Boro Baski (email 27 February 2020)

[Bold typeface added above for emphasis]

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