Adivasi poetry that “expresses unwillingness and disagreement”: Probing into the culture of the ex-tea garden labourers – Assam

Photo © Times of India >>

On second day of TLF, session on “Young Tribal Writers; Their Themes, Issues and Challenges was organized.” The session was chaired by Prof. Sivashish Biswas, Assam University, Assam. During the session, five speakers talked about the emerging young writers from the tribal communities. Dr. Jamuna Bini gave some accounts of eminent tribal poets and writers beginning with the contributions from the famous tribal writer Kamal Kumar Tanti whose poem vitally reflects the tribal history. She further referred that his writings expresses unwillingness and disagreement, the history of his own people whom we referred as Tea Tribe. She viewed that the poems of Kamal Kumar Kanti is with two colours and tastes i.e. black and white.

Source: Tribal literature fest organised in IGRMS by Farzana Patowari, Times of India, 30 November 2019
Date visited: 19 January 2020

A close, felt observation of the world defines the poetry of Kamal Kumar Tanti, which probes into the culture of the Adivasi ex-tea garden labourers in Assam. He speaks to Ashley Tellis on what motivates him to write…

Kamal Kumar Tanti is a promising young voice in contemporary Assamese poetry. He belongs to the Adivasi Tea-Garden Labourer community in Assam. […]

The community I officially belong to (Ex-Tea Garden Labourer community) has a colloquial language called Sadri. We speak both Sadri and Assamese at home. I write in Assamese with the objective to reach out to a larger audience. Even if the minority communities speak in the majority’s language, they can be heard. My voice is for freedom, for people, against injustice, against colonialism and neo-colonialism.

What do you think about the assimilation of all tribal writing by the Assamese (by bodies like the Asom Sahitya Sabha) into the category ‘Assamese’? Isn’t this a form of internal colonialism?

Definitely, there are some representations of tribal legacy and culture assimilated into the mainstream Assamese literary tradition, but I believe that is not the whole picture. What we have observed in the last few decades is that basically all tribal writings are always independent from the mainstream Assamese literary tradition and the mainstream Assamese middle class never showed any serious concern towards tribal writing in Assam. If you take into account the literary traditions from Assam, then you will find very distinct literary productions like Bodo literature, Tiwa literature, Karbi literature etc., as well as mainstream Assamese literature. Asom Sahitya Sabha is now delegitimised by the Bodo Sahitya Sabha, Karbi Sahitya Sabha and other bodies with their distinct identity, language, culture and literature. This has happened gradually after the infamous Assam Movement. The main idea behind this was to come out of the internal colonisation and to establish distinct identities based on the respective literary and cultural traditions of the aboriginal communities. […]

Do you see the romanticisation of your culture as one of the dangers you have to warn yourself against in your writing?

I believe that any creative writer has to cross the barriers of romanticisation and should look into the dirty reality beyond that. As a poet, I can differentiate between romanticism and realism. Through my writing, I always want to discover the reality behind any instance, any incident. On the other hand, romanticism also helps people to go beyond romanticism itself and visualise a world without hegemony, without repression. I am always worried about the danger you have mentioned. I would like to work among my people and understand and re-discover the reality behind romanticisation. All my poems depict my search for my own identity and are actually based on some real experiences.

What do you think of the treatment of the tea tribes in Assam?

I disagree with the naming of our community as “Tea-tribe”. Is there any community in this world named after a commodity? It is the best example of the colonial domination of British, and later the internal colonialism taken over by power-hungry, middle-class Assamese. It is true that our forefathers migrated or were brought from different parts of Adivasi-dominated areas of India during the British colonial period. What I believe is that we are an integral part of greater Adivasi nationality of India. The mainstream, middle-class Assamese is yet to consider us as a part of greater Assamese nationality, though from time to time, they claim we are. It does not mean that if we speak Assamese we are Assamese. We have never seen the middle-class Assamese consider us as Assamese. Rather they always used to call us “Coolie-Bengali,’ just like the minority Muslim community in Assam is called ‘Miya’ or ‘Bangladeshi,’ even though we studied in Assamese medium schools, and adopted Assamese culture. The main question is the identity, and in that, middle-class Assamese never considered that we have a first identity – Adivasi. After that only, we have a second identity ‘Assamese,’ if they consider us so. […]

Source: “In sync with subaltern traditions” by Ashley Tellis, The Hindu, 31 July 2010
Address :
Date Visited: Wed Nov 16 2011 19:43:49 GMT+0100 (CET)

[Bold typeface added above for emphasis]

“I disagree with the current naming of our community as ‘Tea-Tribe / Ex-Tea Garden Labour Community.’ Is there any community in this world named after a commodity?” – Assamese poet Kamal Kumar Tanti | Misconceptions | Scheduled Tribe (ST) >>

Find publications by reputed authors (incl. Open Access)


Search for an item in libraries near you: >>

Find scholarly books, poetry and fiction relating to tribal culture – Indian publishers

List of sites covered by this Google custom search engine

To find children’s and educational books or search Indian periodicals, magazines, web portals and other sources safely, click here >>

Search tips

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”, or “children’s right to education”.

Specify any other issue or news item you want to learn more about (biodiversity, bonded labour and human trafficking, climate change, ecology, economic development, ethnobotany, ethnomedicine, global warming, Himalayan tribe, hunter-gatherers in a particular region or state, prevention of rural poverty, water access).

For official figures include “scheduled tribe ST” along with a union state or region: e.g. “Chhattisgarh ST community”, “Scheduled tribe Tamil Nadu census”, “ST Kerala census”, “Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group Jharkhand”, “PVTG Rajasthan”, “Adivasi ST Kerala”, “Adibasi ST West Bengal” etc.

In case the Google Custom Search window is not displayed here try the following: (1) toggle between “Reader” and regular viewing; (2) in your browser’s Security settings select “Enable JavaScript” | More tips >>

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 >>