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.
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“).
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 breathtaking Nilgiris are home to a number of indigenous tribes, one of which is Toda. Unfortunately, the once thriving tribe has fewer than 1,000 members today. Based on the yardstick set by our modern education system, these tribesmen and women are considered illiterate and backward. However, one has to visit their homes, interact with them and see their craft to truly understand the depth of their knowledge, art, traditions and sensibilities.
The Toda tribe is largely dependent on buffalo herding and embroidery for its livelihood. Its members are incredibly skilled artisans known for the red-and-black embroidery on white fabrics that has even earned them a GI (geographical indication) tag. They live sustainable lives, in harmony with nature where all their resources are available. The Toda tribals have their own language, which does not have a script. Over the last century, their numbers have been dwindling. The sharp decline in their population is largely related to the decline in agriculture land, much of which has been lost of afforestation.
With their dwindling numbers, their art, craft and traditions are facing a slow death. If not preserved, the day is not far when their unique embroidery, for instance, is lost forever.
The Todas are an extremely closed community, barely connected to the rest of the world and, thus, deprived of the opportunities connectivity offers. They are not alone in leading marginalized and excluded lives. Overall, Scheduled Tribes account for 8.6% of India’s population, according to the 2011 Census.
Source: “Preserving our vanishing tribes, their heritage, language and wisdom” by Osama Manzar (Livemint, 8 September 2017)
Date Visited: 31 December 2021
“I would like to direct attention to the general approach when we encounter the ‘other’ – the question of our protocol, etiquette and attitude. In our eagerness to know we probably show a disregard to these civilities. We try to buy friendship for building up rapport; we try to intrude into others’ territory without being invited and carry presents that we perceive would be appreciated to assert our friendliness.” – Anthropologist R.K. Bhattacharya in “The Holistic Approach to Anthropology” >>
Find up-to-date information provided by, for and about Indian authors, researchers, officials, and educators | More search options >>
Search tips: in the search field seen below, combine the name of any particular state, language or region with that of any tribal (Adivasi) community; add keywords of special interest (health, nutrition endangered language, illegal mining, sacred grove); learn about the rights of Scheduled Tribes such as the Forest Rights Act (FRA); and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, women’s rights, and children’s right to education; specify any other issue or news item you want to learn more about (biodiversity, climate change, ecology, economic development, ethnobotany, ethnomedicine, global warming, effective measures to prevent rural poverty, bonded labour, and human trafficking).
For a list of websites included in a single search, click here. To search Indian periodicals, magazines, web portals and other sources safely, click here. To find publishing details for Shodhganga’s PhD search results, click here >>
Tips for using interactive maps
- toggle to normal view (from reader view) should the interactive map not be displayed by your tablet, smartphone or pc browser
- for details and hyperlinks click on the rectangular button (left on the map’s header)
- scroll and click on one of the markers for information of special interest
- explore India’s tribal cultural heritage with the help of another interactive map >>
Tip: click on any red marker for details on endangered languages in a particular region of India.
Please note: the facts and figures cited (via hyperlinks) links call for updates and fact checking >>
Learn more: Endangered languages: Peoples’ Linguistic Survey of India >>