Providing ‘voice’ to the indigenous communities of India: Bhasha Research and Publication Centre – Gujarat

Bhasha Sanshodhan Prakashan Kendra

Bhasha Research and Publication Centre
62 Shreenathdham Duplex
Behind Dinesh Mills
Opp Shrinagar Society

Tel.: +91 – (0)265 – 233 19 68

Year of creation: 1996


– oral traditions and expressions
– performing arts
– social practices, rituals and festive events
– knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe
– traditional craftsmanship
– other
– Indigenous museums

Safeguarding measures:

– identification, documentation, research (including inventory-making)
– preservation, protection
– promotion, enhancement
– transmission, (non-)formal education
– revitalization

Main countries where active: India

As per the 2001 census, the population of indigenous (tribal) communities in India is 84.3 million in India, i.e. 8.2% of the total population. There is, besides, a six crore population comprising communities designated as ‘denotified and nomadic’ tribes. These communities speak a variety of languages. However, of the numerous languages in India only twenty-two languages are recognized by the 8th Schedule of the Indian Constitution. There are nearly ninety-six other languages having at least 10,000 speakers, and nearly 360 languages with less than 10,000 speakers, that are not officially recognized.
Most of the languages spoken by the indigenous communities are not included in the Indian Constitution. Since many of these languages do not have a script and follow an oral tradition, they do not have a documented or ‘written’ literary tradition and are not taught in educational institutions or employed for administrative work. Due to lack of patronage, these languages are under threat of extinction. With the gradual disappearance of their languages, oral culture, traditional knowledge systems and cultural practices, the very social fabric and cultural identity of indigenous communities is under threat. There is no single University, Research Institute or Museum in India that covers all the languages, literature and the arts of indigenous communities in the country. There are in some states Tribal Research and Training Institutes but their area of operation is confined to their respective state boundaries. Therefore, the studies conducted in these Institutes remain inadequate in their scope.
Bhasha Research and Publication Centre was established in 1996 with the aim to provide ‘voice’ to the indigenous communities of India. The activities of the organization are directed towards the following objectives:
1. To undertake documentation of linguistic, literary and artistic heritage of adivasi communities in India and to publish documented materials.
2. To collaborate with national academies of art and literature and research institutes engaged in the art of adivasi related imaginative activity for the purpose of undertaking or encouraging research in adivasi art and literature.
3. To establish a national level Adivasi Training Academy for the promotion of adivasi languages, literature, arts and culture with a view to initiating formal education in the area of conservation of adivasi imagination.
4. To undertake activities related to social and economic development of adivasi communities
5. To stimulate and create awareness among citizens for the preservation of adivasi languages, art and imaginative life of adivasi communities.

Bhasha was established by a group of people engaged in the conservation of intangible cultural heritage. These included internationally recognized artist, the late Bupen Khakhar, eminent writer, social activist and Padma Vibhusshan recipient Mahesweta Devi and former Professor of English, renowned literary critic, activist and Linguapax Award recipient Dr. Ganesh Devy.
Many of Bhasha’s networks and 86% of Bhasha’s staff members are themselves from Indigenous communities and are themselves transmitters of intangible cultural heritage so they are incredibly qualified to act in the field. The Adivasi Academy is an educational institution which draws scholars India and abroad to exchange ideas and knowledge with indigenous communities.

Bhasha has established a publication house that documents and publishes books on indigenous languages, society and culture. In 1997, Bhasha launched the Dhol magazine for documentation of oral traditions in indigenous languages. Dhol eventually became a platform for expression of indigenous imagination and came to be published in ten major indigenous languages spoken in western India, none of which had ever been documented before: Rathwi, Dungri Bhili, Panchmahali Bhili, Chaudhari, Garasia, Bhantu, Kukna, Dehwali, Pawri and Ahirani. Due to the impact of the magazine, the number analysis of Census 2001 data on these languages reveals that during the past decade speakers of indigenous languages have increased significantly compared to their figure for 1991.

Indigenous language glossaries have been brought out in fourteen indigenous languages. The glossaries are designed as a teaching aid for non-indigenous teachers teaching in indigenous areas as well as for indigenous children who, due to the influence of formal education, are gradually being alienated from their culture and language. The glossaries are used by the government as educational materials in schools.

Bhasha has set up the Adivasi (Tribal) Academy at Tejgadh, a tribal village 90 kms east of Vadodara in Gujarat state, as a national level institute exclusively devoted to conservation of languages and cultural heritage of indigenous communities. The Adivasi Academy is engaged in rescuing the dignity and respecting the cultural heritage of indigenous communities through festivals, organizing cultural performances, theatre, songs, dances, rituals and documenting folklore. The Adivasi Academy has instituted academic courses such as a Post Graduate Diploma in Tribal Culture and Development, Post Graduate Diploma in Tribal Arts and Culture and Post Graduate Diploma in Himalayan Arts and Museology. Bhasha is recognized as a Special Autonomous Centre by Indira Gandhi National Open University.

The Adivasi Academy has established a museum of indigenous communities at Tejgadh. The museum is called ‘vachaa’, meaning voice or expression. Vachaa functions as a forum for expression of creativity and offers intellectual space to indigenous communities documenting and creating dynamical displays of their expressions, both artistic and cultural, in the form of objects, artefacts, performances and digitized multimedia images. The Museum is seen as the ‘laboratory’ for contemporary ethnic, anthropological and artistic studies carried out from the perspective of indigenous communities themselves.

On invitation of the Government of Himachal Pradesh, Bhasha has designed a Museum for Himalayan communities at Keylong. For the conservation and protection of Himalayan culture and ecology, Bhasha has set up a national institution by the name ‘Himlok’ in Himachal Pradesh.

Bhasha has created a National Consortium of Indigenous Arts and Culture by digitally linking 14 Regional Indigenous Museums in India. The Consortium is the only single and largest database of indigenous art in India comprising a repository of craft, folktales, short films, oral narratives, songs and stories.

During the past decade Bhasha organized over a hundred conferences, seminars and workshops on indigenous languages, literature and culture. In 2008, Bhasha initiated a series of international conferences named Chotro in collaboration with European Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies (EACLALS). This conference is held annually, and as the term “chotro” implies, is intended to “bring together” writers, artists and scholars interested in the languages and literatures, the cultures and histories of the indigenous peoples of the post-colonial world. So far there have been three Chotros drawing participants from over twenty six countries.

Bhasha has instituted annual cultural festivals:
Bhasha holds the Kaleshwari Cultural Festival in Panchmahals every year that is attended by denotified and nomadic communities who showcase their drama, epics, dance, music and other cultural practices.
On 1st May Bhasha holds a national Conference of Tribal Writers at Dandi.
A Cultural Festival of indigenous communities is organized at Saputara in south Gujarat on 15th October.
Bhasha has now undertaken a Peoples Linguistic Survey of India, a nationwide survey on existing languages across India, which seeks to answer the question ‘How many living languages does India have?’ The PLSI will map languages around India with the help of the speech communities themselves and linguists. This work is being carried out through a series of workshops throughout the country which bring together scholars and cultural activists to complete surveys on eight hundred languages.
Bhasha has impacted the government’s policy in relation to the Denotified and Nomadic Communities. Similarly, the Government of India’s ‘Bharat Bhasha Vikas Yojna’, Ministry of Human Resource Development, was drafted by Bhasha. The scheme is intended for promotion of the non-scheduled and threatened languages.

The Bhasha centre has developed a close engagement with communities, groups and intangible cultural heritage practitioners in a number of contexts.
Bhasha has had a close engagement with Tribal language groups over time. A network of indigneous writers and thinkers has been established, who regularly contribute to Bhasha’s magazines and publications. There is a network of community teachers who also contribute to magazines, publications and study material in their indigenous mother tongues. Bhasha’s publication work has created a platform for authors from within indigenous communities to publish their works, and has brought to print many previously unrecorded languages and literatures.
The Peoples Linguistic Survey India has established a national level network of language speakers not included in the 8th schedule. Language speakers, linguists, language activists and scholars are all engaged in the project.
Bhasha initiated the establishment of a Tribal Artist Cooperative which provides an opportunity for artists to practice and promote their craft. The Adivasi Academy has and Artist’s Workshop located on site for artists to create and practice their craft. There are 120 members in the cooperative, it is a registered body and is managed by adivasi graduates from the Adivasi Academy. Tribal musicians have been engaged documenting their musical instruments and recording folksongs and instrumental music. Bhasha organizes performances of adivasis artists both at the Adivasi Academy as well as in other major cultural centers throughout the country. These performances contain dance, drama, puppetry, mask plays, recitations of epics and storytelling.

Vachaa, the museum established by Bhasha is a national level Resource Centre for the conservation and promotion of the culture and craft of marginalized communities in India. The staff and curators of the museum themselves belong to indigenous communities, the museum is seen as a forum for the tribal voice.

Source: UNESCO Culture Sector – Intangible Heritage – 2003 Convention :
Address :
Date Visited: Wed Jun 20 2012 17:32:59 GMT+0200 (CEST)

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