“We have to write our own stories, about our issues, from our own perspectives”: Remembering Abhay Xaxa, a Fiercely Unapologetic Adivasi Scholar-Activist – Chhattisgarh & Jharkhand

Abhay Xaxa Facebook photo on TheWire >>

Read the full obituary by Mahtab Alam in TheWire (10 April 2020) >>

A champion for Adivasi rights, Xaxa played an active part in anti-displacement movements in central India. […]

Xaxa passed away because of a heart attack. A native of the Jashpur district of northern Chhattisgarh, Xaxa had completed his PhD from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) after receiving his masters in social anthropology from the University of Sussex, UK. […]

His research at JNU involved looking at Tribal Marginality and Laws related to Land in Jharkhand. In Xaxa’s understanding, there is a deeply embedded relationship between the legal structures governing land laws and the marginality of the tribal communities. In his view, the relationship is dual in nature as these laws not only impact the marginal situation of tribal communities, but they also, in turn, get influenced through their marginality.

Further in his research, he went on to argue that the agency of tribal communities along with their capacity to negotiate has been undermined because of their marginal position in the broader social structure. Hence, there is a knowledge gap in the understanding of the ways in which legal systems, including law-making and implementation function in the tribal areas. Only by filling up this gap, he observed, would there be an alternative argument about the functions of legal structures vis a vis Adivasis of India. […]

While he worked with non-Adivasi groups and civil society organisations closely, he was very clear that Adivasis had to write their own stories. He was critical of both academia as well as civil society organisations. In a detailed interview in 2010, he said, “(A)ll the stories we hear (from Adivasis) are from Oxford graduates and ‘upper’ caste people. Those are not our stories. But nothing is too late; we have to write our own stories, about our issues, from our own perspectives. It is better late than never.”

His poem from 2011 I Am Not Your Data is an apt commentary on the way civil society organisations treat Adivasis and what’s wrong about it. In November 2017, he sent me a poem titled, Beautifully Damaged People. It didn’t just explain the plight of Adivasis but also declared that the future was the Adivasis! The last stanza of his poem read:

“For if there is any hope of future for this world,
It is by the beautifully damaged people.
Who among the doom and gloom, smile and survive
In togetherness with nature,
The Adivasis!”

There is no doubt that the struggles of the Adivasis will go on uninterrupted. But with Xaxa gone, many have lost a true friend, a fine researcher, a passionate scholar, a committed activist, an able mentor and a budding actor. Xaxa had worked in a yet to be completed feature film called Sonchand, which according to him was the first Adivasi community film project based on crowd-funding and community resources, challenging the Eklayva mythology relating to Adivasis.

Source: “Remembering Abhay Xaxa, a Fiercely Unapologetic Adivasi Scholar-Activist”
URL: https://thewire.in/rights/remembering-abhay-xaxa-a-fiercely-unapologetic-adivasi-scholar-activist
Date accessed: 10 April 2020

Abhay Xaxa, national convenor of the coalition National Campaign on Adivasi Rights, quoted in The Indian Express | To read the full report, click here >>

Several Adivasi rights groups have issued statements against the Supreme Court order. These include the All India Forum of Forest Movements, National Advocacy Council for Development of Indigenous People, Bhumi Adhikar Andolan, Campaign for Survival and Dignity, and National Alliance for People’s Movements. […]

The Supreme Court order of February 13, directing states to evict Scheduled Tribes (ST) and Other Traditional Forest Dweller (OTFD) whose claims over forest land have been rejected, notes that Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Telangana are the states that rejected maximum claims, and where more than 4 lakh claimants are set to be evicted. […]

Under the Forest Rights Act, until the claims process is on, Adivasis (STs) and OTFDs should not be evicted. Lakhs of claims are in process, as also the appeal process against rejected claims. The process is taking so long due to bureaucratic delays. There is also the issue of corruption, where to suit the agenda of powerful mining and other private companies, genuine claims are rejected. The fate of over a million Adivasis, who are worse off than minorities and Dalits, has taken a disastrous turn and they don’t have a voice in this decision.

Source: “With Supreme Court order on forest land, 4 lakh claimants set to be evicted in 3 states”, The Indian Express (23 February 2019)
URL: https://indianexpress.com/article/india/with-supreme-court-order-on-forest-land-4-lakh-claimants-set-to-be-evicted-in-3-states-5597400/
Date visited: 10 April 2020

[Bold typeface added above for emphasis]

“Tribal men and women mix freely, but with respect for each other [but] caste Hindu society in India is so convinced of its own superiority that it never stops to consider the nature of social organisation among tribal people. In fact it is one of the signs of the ‘educated’ barbarian of today that he cannot appreciate the qualities of people in any way different from himself – in looks or clothes, customs or rituals.” – Guest Column in India Today >>

“Casteism is the investment in keeping the hierarchy as it is in order to maintain your own ranking, advantage, privilege, or to elevate yourself above others or keep others beneath you …. For this reason, many people—including those we might see as good and kind people—could be casteist, meaning invested in keeping the hierarchy as it is or content to do nothing to change it, but not racist in the classical sense, not active and openly hateful of this or that group.” | Learn more about India’s caste system and the effects of “casteism” on tribal communities >>

“Tribal languages are a treasure trove of knowledge about a region’s flora, fauna and medicinal plants. Usually, this information is passed from generation to generation. However, when a language declines, that knowledge system is completely gone.” – Ayesha Kidwai (Centre for Linguistics, School of Language, Literature and Culture Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi) quoted by Abhijit Mohanty in “Seven decades after independence, many tribal languages in India face extinction threat” | Learn more about the work done by the People’s Linguistic Survey of India and endangered languages worldwide >>

“The notion of ‘mainstreaming’ needs to be challenged not just because Adivasi culture is being crushed, but also because Adivasi values and ways of life offer insights that the ‘mainstream’ needs. If we are to halt the destruction of ecosystems, we need to understand how closely biodiversity and cultural diversity are intertwined. Perhaps it is time to reverse the gaze and begin to learn afresh from Adivasis.” – Felix Padel & Malvika Gupta (The Hindu) | Learn more about the role of tribal communities in fostering biodiversity, ethnobotany and cultural diversity | Success stories | Tribal identity >>

“I think that by retaining one’s childhood love of such things as trees, fishes, butterflies and … toads, one makes a peaceful and decent future a little more probable, and that by preaching the doctrine that nothing is to be admired except steel and concrete, one merely makes it a little surer that human beings will have no outlet for their surplus energy except in hatred and leader worship.” – George Orwell | Learn more: Childhood | Customs | Games and leisure time | Literature – fiction | Storytelling >>

“The theoretical debate on caste among social scientists has receded into the background in recent years. [C]aste is in no sense disappearing: indeed, the present wave of neo-liberal policies in India, with privatisation of enterprises and education, has strengthened the importance of caste ties, as selection to posts and educational institutions is less based on merit through examinations, and increasingly on social contact as also on corruption.” – Harald Tambs-Lyche (Professor Emeritus, Université de Picardie, Amiens) in “Caste: History and the Present” (Academia Letters) | Learn more: Accountability | Democracy | Education and literacy >>

Read the inaugural Speech by Dr. Ivy Hansdak: “Is tribal identity relevant in today’s world?” delivered during the conference titled “Tribes In Transition-II: Reaffirming Indigenous Identity Through Narrative” | Conference report >>

In his play Muktadhara (The Waterfall), Tagore robustly employs this element of freedom. The play relates the story of an exploited people and their eventual release from it. [Today, when] tribal populations across India are being uprooted with impudence Tagore’s message of freedom, in all its shades, is of utmost relevance.

Bhaswati Ghosh in Freedom in Tagore’s Plays | Learn more >>
Backgrounder & image © Economic Times >>
  • Ekalavya* Residential School Scheme (EMR): a network of boarding schools where tribal children are to be educated in accordance with rules and syllabi provided by the government; such schools are being designated as “Eklavya Model Residential School (EMR)” with the objective of empowering students “to be change agent, beginning in their school, in their homes, in their village and finally in a large context.” – Government Guidelines 2010 | Backup >>
  • Residential School and Ashram School
    In some regions there are similar “Residential Schools” and “Ashram Schools” for tribal children, as in Tripura where they are managed by a society called “Tripura Tribal Welfare Residential Educational Institutions Society (TTWREIS)” – Tribal Welfare Department, Government of Tripura
  • Factory schools “exist to turn tribal and indigenous children – who have their own language and culture – into compliant workers-of-the-future. The world’s largest Factory School stated that it turns ‘Tax consumers into tax payers, liabilities into assets’.” – survivalinternational.org/factoryschools

    Up-to-date information about these and related issues: Safe custom search engine >>

* Ekalavya (Eklavya, Eklabya): the name of a legendary archer prodigy “who, being a Nishada [Sanskrit Niṣāda, “tribal, hunter, mountaineer, degraded person, outcast”], had to give his thumb as a fee to the brahmin guru thus terminating his skill as an archer.” – Romila Thapar (“The epic of the Bharatas”) | Read the full paper here | Backup download link (pdf) >>

Note: “Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group” amounts to genocide, which the United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention defines as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group” (Article II, d & e)

Learn more about Childrens rights: UNICEF India | Ekalavya (Eklavya, Eklabya), EMR & Factory schools | Rights of Indigenous Peoples >>

Find publications on these issues by reputed authors including Open Access (free download): Worldcat.org >>


Search for an item in libraries near you:
WorldCat.org >>

About website administrator

Secretary, Tribal Cultural Heritage in India Foundation (2010-2022)
This entry was posted in Adivasi / Adibasi, Adverse inclusion, Anthropology, Central region – Central Zonal Council, Colonial policies, Commentary, Democracy, Eastern region – Eastern Zonal Council, Education and literacy, Ekalavya (Eklavya, Eklabya), EMR & Factory schools, Film, Forest Rights Act (FRA), History, Misconceptions, Modernity, Networking, Organizations, Photos and slideshows, Press snippets, Quotes, Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Storytelling. Bookmark the permalink.