Toda cultural heritage and education: Nilgiri mountains – Tamil Nadu

Photo © Tribal Cultural Heritage in India Foundation

A visit to the Toda hamlet known as Taranadmund near Ooty makes it clear that for the Toda community, cultural heritage is part of everyday life and worship. The local economy continues to involve buffalo rearing.

Photos © Tribal Cultural Heritage in India Foundation

As the Tamil Nadu State Government promotes Toda culture in the context of Indian and foreign tourism, a senior couple now inhabits a newly constructed traditional home facilitated by a grant. It features traditional materials and decorations such as the barrel shaped thatched roof and a low entrance door that also characterize nearby shrines. According to these Toda elders, the younger generation prefers the privacy and convenience afforded by the simple houses seen in the same hamlet just as elsewhere.

For parents belonging to the Toda and Kota communities scattered across the Nilgiri region, sending their children to the Thakkar Baba Gurukulam is an option. It is named after Thakkar Baba (Takkar Bapa, Amritlal Vithaldas Thakkar (1869–1951). In a 1941 lecture, he “highlighted negative stereotypes about tribal ‘laziness’, ‘promiscuity’, ‘illiteracy’, and ‘addiction to shifting cultivation’. The cultural racism in such stereotypes forms the backdrop to the continuing discrimination and humiliation of Adivasis.” (Felix Padel & Malvika Gupta in “Are mega residential schools wiping out India’s Adivasi culture?”, The Hindu, 13 February 2021)

Thakkar Baba, a social worker working for the upliftment of tribal people, became a member of the Servants of India Society founded by Gopal Krishna Gokhale in 1914; and later the general secretary of the Harijan Sevak Sangh founded by Mahatma Gandhi. On his initiative, the Bharatiya Adimjati Sevak Sangh, a National Level Voluntary Organization, was constituted 1948. With grants by the Government of India, it manages Women & Child Development programmes, schools, and hostels. (See also Wikipedia entry “Thakkar Bapa“).

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Unlike Jawaharlal Nehru (who oppposed a sudden break with the tribals past), Thakkar Baba was in favour of assimilation by way of “bringing tribes into the Hindu fold”:

Till the mid twentieth century there were, broadly, two approaches to the question of how to conduct elections that would imply sending representatives to assemblies and councils and thereby giving all Indians franchise. Tewari writes that whereas the nationalist view wanted to bring the largely tribal areas into elected legislative bodies, this was “bitterly opposed by the ‘official block’ sympathetic to the aboriginal communities. … the scholar-administrator viewed the tribal problem as an administrative one while the nationalists saw it as a legislative problem. The dialectical clash of these two camps generated an intense discourse which had far-reaching ramifications for the future of tribal communities inhabiting the Indian subcontinent.” There were stances on tribal representation from figures on various ends on this prism, including those of JH Hutton, who advocated protectionism; AV Thakkar, a Gandhian nationalist and the one-time head of of the Harijan Sevak Sangh, who advocated for bringing tribes into the Hindu fold; and BR Ambedkar, who was in the block ostensibly sympathetic to the tribal communities.

Source: “Uncivilising the Mind: How anthropology shaped the discourse on tribes in India” by Richard Kamei (doctoral candidate at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai (Caravan Magazine, 1 March 2021)
Date visited: 29 April 2021

The Toda people are a small pastoral community who live on the isolated Nilgiri plateau of Southern India. Before the late 18th century, the Toda coexisted locally with other communities, including the Badaga, Kota, and Kuruba, in a loose caste-like community organization in which the Toda were the top ranking.[1] […]

The Toda traditionally live in settlements consisting of three to seven small thatched houses, constructed in the shape of half-barrels and spread across the slopes of the pasture.[2] They traditionally trade dairy products with their Nilgiri neighbour peoples.[2] Toda religion centres on the buffalo; consequently, rituals are performed for all dairy activities as well as for the ordination of dairymen-priests. […]

Source: Toda people – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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Date Visited: Fri Aug 12 2011 10:02:38 GMT+0200 (CEST)

Toda elders Photo © Tribal Cultural Heritage in India Foundation
Learn more about the Toda community, their cultural traditions and the Nilgiri biosphere >>

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