For many of us it is a stigma to be called by the name we have been given, depending on how it is understood and taken. Unfortunately for most of us our name and our identity itself is a stigma. A stigma of one’s own actual being and being called who you actually are, stigma in speaking our own language, stigma in honouring and observing our own customary and cultural practices. Lets be aware that this stigma has been consciously created among a people or section of people to be subjugated by another, who consider them-selves to be ‘superiority’ and ‘fairer’, and thus those ‘inferior’ and ‘unfair’ or ‘weak’ are to be subjected and dominated. It is that feeling of guilt for us and therefore should be shameful of our identity, and the stigma we carry takes away our self-esteem and makes you to submit to those who consider themselves to be superior to us.
The feeling of inferiority has been injected to the Adivasis ever since the time of Madra Munda (in the Hindu era) who was ‘disqualified’ for being the king not being as sophisticated or ‘sabhya’ in mannerism of behaviour as and appearance as Phani Mukut Rai, a non-adivasi (who was adopted by Madra’s father as a child, but taught by a Pandit). The stigma of being recognized as an ‘inferior’ was not only limited for Adivasi during fifth and eighth century, but it was added with impact with different names we were called with in the colonial era. The names Adivasis in central India were identified with including in the Chotanagpur’s District Courts of East Indian Company in 1807 and referred as “wild ‘tribes’”, “pastoral ‘tribes’”, “agricultural ‘tribes’” or “mixed or imperfect ‘tribes’” along with such terms as ‘aborigines’, ‘primitive’, also like wise referred to by Asiatic Society in 1866, till Charles Grand in 1870 started listing the Adivasis, now for the purpose of administering our land and resources and the local population as well who used it… as we all know the khatians and patta systems were made ‘records’ of individual or family ownership of Adivasi land and the rest then given to understand as that of the government and since they administer, you pay the ‘malgujari’ -tax to the government. When British decided to leave the administration in the Indian leadership and the new constitution was being drafted, Jaipal Singh argued against use of the term ‘tribe’ or ‘tribal’ for the Adivasis. Instead his argument in the Constituent Assembly was to use the term ‘Aboriginal’ in English and ‘Adivasi’ in Hindi before the adoption of the new Construction. But leaders like Sardar Patel and others were not so concerned and today the terms used were accepted without acknowledging the arguments of the Adivasi leader being opposed to use of these terms. His argument was voted out and thus Adivasis today, as you said are called the ‘anusuchit janjati’ or ‘schedule tribe’. It seems we have accepted them. But have we?What a name can not and can do
What determines the identity of the Adivasis? Who tells us if we are tribe or janjati or what ever we have been made to think of ourselves to be today? The Adivasi – who do not speak their language, who have given up their customs and practices, who have denied the existence of their real ancestors who were the source of knowledge and their identity, all in the guise of being ‘modern’, they have given up their fate to those who ‘wrote’ their history and named them with different names to determine who an Adivasi is. Once a happy, honest, simple and cultured person today suffers the image of being portrayed as someone ‘primitive’, ‘illiterate’ and ‘uncivilised’, one who drinks and dances to the drums… The culture of the ‘cultured’ one seen by the ‘modern’ eye can only see the culture in its face value. Therefore the culture of Adivasis today has become an ornamental museum piece. It is ironic that our akhra – which is the cradle of Adivasi folk culture, is dishonoured by outsiders as well as by our own, of which only the visual culture of the Adivasis is taken for the cameras to demonstrate the ‘tribal’ identity, as if dancing with costumes is what cultural means.
Today, even the anthropologists who gave the name ‘tribal’ to the Adivasi, do not use the term ‘tribal’, it is used for group not necessarily Adivasi or Aborignal in or indigenous to a certain regions. In the legal battle as ‘tribal’ you don’t have much ground to claim for you rights as much as you do if you are recognized as an ‘Aboriginal’ or ‘Adivasi’. The phenomenon of name then is associated with the whole notion of rights, one person’s rights against the other depending on who can claim what. The individual rights versus collective claims and their collective rights. It is because these terms can single out rights / claims of individuals, or legal entities or states as against the collective rights of communities (see Note below). Interestingly, today the United States government insists on using the word ‘tribe’ in the United Nations instead of indigenous for its native indigenous ethnic groups, so does the Indian, Bangladeshi, Thai and Malaysian governments, whereas the indigenous representatives are opposed to it and demand to be called indigenous peoples or with their own names. Also, the argument is to be accepted as peoples against the use of the term populations for these groups in the UN process (the whole UN process can be seen through link 1. below). If you note you can see that there is a motive for promoting such terms for people – be it at whichever level, and you need to be aware of it. The term ‘tribal’ is not synonymous to Adivasi – the term ‘Adivasi’ has some how been given by the Sanskrit speakers when Sanskrit was a spoken and written language. It is more acceptable today as well because it means who and what the referred people really were at that time. I believe the term ‘Adivasi’ should be used instead of any other term used for the said group of people. The tragedy of name can be seen for one of the group of people in north India identified as ‘criminal tribes’, also called the ‘de-notified tribes’ as they were rebellious and did not tolerate the presence of others dominance, most probably because of their reaction outside dominance seen as ‘crime’ were given this name by outsiders. They are the nomadic groups of people, however, it cannot be said if they consider themselves to be Adivasis. It is because of the name tagged to their identity, members of this group are arrested for no crime of their own, they are booked and charged with false cases most of the time if the police is not able to find the real culprit in a theft or criminal case. Some police personals also use them as pimps to do illegal activities, if they do not; they face the consequences of ending up in prison for crimes not committed by them. One who happens to be a member of this ethnic group, and the name given to them eventually determines their fate. (A friend of mine from Jamia University in Delhi has made a documentary film on the life of these people with interviews on record in 2002).Legacy and claim in the name
One has to be careful with names. Looking at the Native Americans or the First Nations, you don’t call them ‘indian’ – it is an abusive word, in the circumpolar region Inuits would not like to be called Eskimos, they would like to be called by their own name Inuit. Saamis would not want to be called Lapps, as they were presently called in Scandinavian countries. Similarly the Koi-Koi and San in South Africa would not like to be called the ‘bush men’. You don’t call a coloured person a Negro or Afro-American, they are called either Black or African-American. Adivasis in central India and / or in Chotanagpur have been called by different names, ‘vanarsena’, ‘vanvasis’, ‘kols’ and all the versions mentioned earlier during the British Raj including that of ‘tribes’. None of which are the same as Adivasi or aboriginal or the names we call ourselves with, which means humans. During the Vedic era the Adivasis were equal to ‘vanars’ in the early modern era. Founded on Darwinian theory Adivasis were ‘wild, mixed or imperfect…etc. TRIBES’. Adivasis have their cultural and belief system but with the introduction of ‘creation’ or the ‘Genesis’ concept, again which is a western and Biblical concept, the Adivasi cultural and belief system was over shadowed and marginalized to the maximum. For these Adivasis who continued to being members of ‘Adi-dharma’ or commonly known as Sarna and did not convert to any of the institutional religions were called ‘anya jati- heathens’ by this new religious group or called with other names and their practices ‘andhbishwasi- believe in superstition’, and from that kind of life they were to be civilized and saved. Not to talk of the latest Marxian ideologies and other ideologies that are present today …the latest ideology being for or against globalisation.Collective or individual name for Adivasi claim
Let us question ourselves, then what has been the ultimate motive for these names given to the Adivasis? Let’s also ask ourselves, if the religious conversion and reforms with a given religious perspective, has it done justice to the Adivasi perspective in helping them shape their social and cultural life? Answer it as yes or no, the fact is that the Adivasi stand divided among themselves more then they affiliate with the respective religious groups they have converted into and their perspectives. These affiliations have more to do with upward social mobility more then their spiritual enlistment. Here talking of social reforms in the pre independent era with a religious leanings, be it the Vaishnavites, other reformers with Hindu outlook or Gossners, Levanskis and the Anglican with the gospel. Not denying that some, if not all have made outstanding contributions in the regions for the Adivasi people and also for the local communities. But the question still remains if any of that is helping Adivasis to unite among themselves? It would depend on what objectives they have.
Yet there had been other kind of social awakenings mainly against the continued exploitation by outsiders all through out the history of the Adivasis. Be it form that of Tilka Majhi or the leaders of Siddhu and Kanu or Singrai and Bhindrai and later Birsa and the Tana Bhagats, all with a vision of a just Adivasi society. All for the Adivasi and their fellow beings to live a life of honor. Ultimately it is your self-determination of how you want to change yourself, not how others want you to change, that too with their conditions and their world-view. The question is why are these social movements reforms not talked about by Adivasis today? Instead social reforms with an outside perspective are given more importance then that of your own. The challenge of keeping to your social reform becomes even bigger in the globalising society of today.
Why is the individual rights more preferred then collective rights? The British rulers facing a touch resistance during the Santhal Hul, 150 years ago, and then the uprising in Chottanagpur a 100 years ago recognised the collective rights of Khutkati system and the like, Chottnagpur Tenancy, Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act. and Willkinson Rule were the outcome. Why is it that the British government then had recognized it, but today, her delegation (see link 2 below) along with USA, China, Malaysia, India, Bangladesh’s are so strongly opposed to adoption of the article 25 to 30 of the draft Declaration that deals with “collective rights” for indigenous peoples on their land and resources and article 3 for Self-determination as proposed in the draft Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples in almost all the UN Working Groups on Draft Declaration sessions. Their condition for adoption is if they use their own wording in phrasing these articles. For example from the draft Declarations preamble paragraph which says “Affirming that the indigenous peoples are equal in dignity and rights to all other peoples, while recognising the right of all peoples to be different, to consider themselves different, and to be respected as such…” the UK delegation wants the wording “in dignity and rights” from the said text removed, so does the US delegation. In the third paragraph where it is proposed … “Reaffirming also that indigenous peoples, in the exercise of the rights, should be free from discrimination of any kind…” the UK delegation wants to remove the wording “in the exercise of their rights” from the text. It is only the preamble paragraph, but Articles? Take article 26, which deals with ownership of land. The first paragraph of the text proposed here says “indigenous people have the right to own, develop, control and use the land and territories, including the total environment of THE land, air, water, coastal sea, sea ice, flora and fauna and other resources which they have traditionally owned or otherwise occupied or used. …”, the governments amended texts say, “indigenous peoples have the right to own, develop and control and use THEIR lands and resources…”, and there are altogether 45 Articles. Nearly twenty years since the process has been going on, this year being the last and there has been no substantive progress. More over this declaration even if adopted has only moral binding for the governments it is not even legal binding, and still why are they so opposed? It is because our gairmajurwa lands, forest land, the common land and others legally remains with the government, once which was our common land, for Akhra, grazing, common fishing, for hunting or for collecting mahua flower or ‘madkom baa’, if the government finds something underneath it, on the surface or above it which has a commercial value and wants to exploit it, they will not have to deal with any one and or pay compensation for it acquisition. Because what you are given is your ‘patta’ or ‘khatian’, only for your rarity -revenue land every thing else is sarkari or state property. The government can issue license to any company to mine, build dam, make a golf club, or a national park or what ever a profit-making agency can think of, be it military firing range or defence zones. We have, the Bokaro Steel City, Dhanbad, Ranchi, Chaibasa, Tatanagar or Jamshedpur- which does not even have an Adivasi name any more, Raurkela and other names will matter when we have our presence there, presence that can reflect our features. Now Tuderma multi purpose project scheme is on its way, struggle in Panchwara goes on… while we have Koel Karo and Netrahat so far saved – we like to think that it is saved- from going away, but it is not certain when there is going to be another unannounced commandment from the World Bank or the International Financial Agencies willing to release (lend) their fund to have some thing else proposed here. The Indian government will be highly obliged, as always the ministries who approve the project have larger chunks of commission so will the officers who implement it…and so on. When there is a big kill many scavengers make a feast out of it.Correct name in the census
All these notions of the civilised superior against the uncivilized inferior has its roots in the Darwinian theory of looking at the human society, on the other hand the civilised as opposed to ‘paganism’ is another slap in the face of Adivasis… I also have difficulty in accepting the cultural practices such as Karam and other Adi-dharma or Sarna cultural practices being imitated by other organised religious institutions. Is it because most of the members in this religious institution come from the same ethnic background as of those who practice Adi-dharma or Sarna cultural, is it for themselves to feel that they too belong to the Adivasi culture, and is take for granted by them that they can imitate those practices ignoring the spirituality of this cultural practice. Let Adi-dharma or Sarna be what the Adi-dharma and its practices is in its full holiness. Why imitate the custom only without accepting its spirituality? To console yourself that you are still sticking to your ‘Adivasi custom’ but do away with its spirituality! It is like the Basmati rice or Neem patented by the US company for them to use and sell. They don’t grow it. It has its origin in India. I think before the Indian government’s census forms have the column of Adi-dharma or commonly called Sarna to be recognised as a separate cultural and spiritual belief system it should be RESPECTED by those who have left it and adopted the institutionalised religious practices. I do not question the existence of these religious institutions; I have my respect for the contribution they have made to the people of this region. But I say a cultural practice without its spirituality is like a human being without his/her soul. As for freedom which is a value that cannot come from outside,… someone coming from outside and telling you that that now you are a free man or a free woman. First he/she needs to know what has enslaved them or what he/she has been enveloped into. Is it not that stigma one has to be free of, and accept who an Adivasi is and where their roots lay? Saamis in Norway, Finland and Sweden are doing it (learning about their culture). Aboriginals in Australia are doing it. The Mohawk, the Cree and the First Nations peoples in North America are doing it. Inuits in Greenland, Canada and in the north are doing it, so are the Ainu in Hokkaido Island in Japan. Though much is lost for them, still they are reviving their languages, the customary systems and rituals, dress, food, even some of their own sports… (See links 5, 6 and 7 below)Naming some examples
For example, the Saami festival in Jokkmokk in Sweden every year early February (this was their 400th year – see link 3 below), though the region is dominated by Swedes, the Saami with their gaktis -traditional dress, recognise each other who come here from all over from Norway, Finland and from the rest of Sweden. They come here to meet each other, sell their handicrafts, reindeer – sheep – fox and other fur products, knifes, toys, drinks, musical instruments, their traditional goods and more. To have music concerts, young boys and girls also come to look for their life partners, shows and exhibitions takes place. For the non-Saami Europeans, even if you cannot distinguish them with the looks, the Saami with the Saami gakti says it all. With the patterns in it you can tell which clan or village he or she comes from, a certain knot of the belt on the waist of a young girl. So does the decoration in the boy’s belt indicating if he is engaged or single, that would indicate to help them find their partner. Although the Saami people are mixed with their European neighbours in the course of time due to different reasons, the consciousness of their ethnic identity is the driving force for regaining their indigenous identity in northern Europe. In Norway the Saami today have their own Parliament comprised of Saami representatives from four countries. Though this is a western model their traditional Siida system- of land anagement and reindeer herding territories. Siida, though not in its original form, still is symbol of their social organizations today. They have schools for their children in Saami language, and prefer to send their children to be sent here instead of Norwegian, Swedish or Finnish language medium schools in respective countries.Given and inherited Clan name and titles
If we look at ourselves we are much rich in this respect…we still have our language, Hor-ror, Ho, Mundai, Kharia, Kurukh, Nagpuria, Kurmali, Kortha and also the Malpaharia, some even with scripts of our own- other then Davnagri, Bangla or Roman, we have our own social and government system Majhi Pargnait, Khutkati, Manki Munda and Parha system (like what Siida was to Saami), we still have our Baa, Karam, Mage and other festivals, (I have not notice Saami having these exclusive cultural festivals, except annual festivals and Easter – having been converted to Christianity in seventh century) we still also have our own sports like bhawar and many other sports other then hockey and other modern sports, we still have our Sasangdiris, Jahers and Majhi-thans… Many other indigenous people around the world have lost theirs including the Adivasis in central and south India, if not in the north east India – who eventually are losing it due to rapid westernisation. Those indigenous peoples in the first world or ‘developed countries’ who have lost their language, customs and social practices due to long being assimilated with outsiders and the rapid industrial development and modernisation. Now when there is barely any thing left they are reviving it using the disciplines of archaeology, anthropology, historiography and other means that is made possible. It certainly does not mean that going back to the roots is opposed to modernisation. In some of the Saami family (farm- fishing or herding) cabins I have seen snow scooters, cars and four seater (water landing) airplanes parked out side. Saamis despite of all the odds are proud to be Saami even after attempts to assimilate them into the national mainstream cultures. For ourselves, let’s think before it is too late, what worth is a modern life if modesty of the modern living has erased your identity from us, we then are living some one else’s life, not our own.
The policy of assimilation emphasised in the Indian National Tribal Policy today certainly is not in our own terms. On the first place why assimilation? The process was used for the nation building after independence of our country (India ratified only ILO Con.107 which speaks of centralization, indirectly speaks of assimilation). It is not only Nehru who was responsible in India for promoting the assimilation policy, the nation building process was taking place all over the world after the two World Wars and assimilation of minority, tribes and the indigenous was taking place else were as well. We have to realize that if we live some ones else’s life it will be too difficult and next to impossible to even buy back our own life. And as we see India march into opening up its economy to the maximum, when all, be it material physical and or social cultural things will become a commodity for consumption and profit, someone else making money out of our identity and its richness. Considering that our physical and minerals wealth are gone, even after legend story of Tore Kora or Khasra Kora with Lutkum Haram and Lutkum Budi having warned us, and now as the Coal Bearing Areas Development…Act. that can over rule the Land Acquisition Act; the forest are about to go after this India’s New Forest Policy comes to force, our lands are gone as soon as the Fifth Schedule is amended and Chotanagpur Tenancy and Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act are done away with. It won’t be late when our social and cultural practices and symbols too will become mere commodities with no value of its own but for tourist attraction and research, if any of that is left, and will be opened for research and discussions in the universities and write in journals about.
If we talk of claims, it is the name that is key to it. And that is why names and titles are important. It is not only individual names and titles, as it was once when one would not say if they are Tiru, Kerketta, Tudu, Lakra or Soren but introduce themselves with their given name, say Kaily, Madra, Binko, Eyon and then say Manjhi, Munda and Uraon etc. As I understand the clan name was an internal affair. It had not only to do with clan lineage but also to address oneself to be a part of a larger group, which had their territorial claims and their chieftain. Today, what we are called also determines what we can claim or are entitled to. If you are called ‘Anusuchit Janjati’, ‘Scheduled Tribal’ or ‘tribal’ you are entitled for mere ‘reservation’ in the social, economic and political system where we are only subjects. Lets see it this way, if your given name, say is, ‘delhiet’, ‘bombaywala’ or ‘ranchiar’ and your clan or family name then is ‘doctor’, ‘engineer’, ‘clark’ or ‘aya’ which is an internal matter, well not always if it makes you proud about it, by the grace of (…)…etc. and we all proudly claiming to be call Indians inheriting her ‘pride’ and giving ourselves to or bowing to her chieftainship. Well I am not trying to sound myself as an antinational. I am just questioning ourselves of how much Indian can we be if our mother nation does not even want to address her subjects with their real name. She will tax you and you and you will do the same to those who come to you for your service.Respect and honor to real parents who named you!
Even if a mother accepts her stepchild, may be for his/her physical features (our minerals and natural resources), and not accept him/her for who that child is, with the name given to this child by his/her ancestral parents, the child will not be enjoying to live his/her own life nor will the death be his/her own. Coming back to the child’s real name – Adivasi or aboriginal then he she has a rightful claim. May be the mother is really treating the child as an orphans, as the child grows up use him or her to serve his her mother in reservation and when the youth of this child is over you disown the person and take all his /her claim (emptying all the mineral and natural reserves). The child will legally still be called an Indian, but will not be entitled to his / her real possession – the native land and his/her claim to it. All the indigenous peoples all around the world are demanding this native claim today from their ‘parents’ –their governments.
If you go back to your real name ‘Adivasi’ – Ho, Hor, or humans – and if translated correctly in English – Aboriginal you have a claim to be native. The claim as said most of the indigenous people around the world are fighting for today from the very local court level to United Nations level. It is the name that reminds and reaffirms you to have your rightful claims from others who have taken it away from you. If we have forgotten our name that our ancestors have given us, we have to learn our language to know the meaning, -the thirteen festivals are the reminder of our real naming ceremony- if we do not recollect the meaning of our name, on our death our future generation will not be there to even claim our body. They will not be there to lay the Sasan Diri on our name –the customary clan line burial ceremonial stone. The Adivasi will then only be the legend of the past who’s future has failed him / her to the ‘modern’ world. Simply because he / she has been made to forget who he / she is and is living the reserved life GIVEN by somebody like stepparents, and will probably live that life all through his / her life and certainly THE next one as well (now for sure) without a name and without a past to know where did he/she came from. Because the generation that follows us will not have the will nor the power to buy back their life from the ‘reserved life’ which the Adivasi HAS BEEN GIVEN, as the land of Adivasi will not be theirs and the Sasang Diri of ours, if we still hope to have for us having completed our days, which by customs cannot be laid on the land that is rented or leased to us by the state or any one who has taken the ownership of our lands.
The Adivasi has to have his/her own family and community, if need be, give just reservation to others who have come to live with them, and this reservation will not be hierarchical but an egalitarian one. The First Nations indigenous peoples in Canada have proved it (see link 4 below). They have not only reclaimed their lands, but also set up their own governing system, they collect tax and give services. They monitor their resources and respect their traditions. They are more or less equal partners in the Canadian government system with other state parties.
After all what I have said, I would say with all due respect, I appreciate the comment Sri M.P. Dungdung from New Delhi makes in defence of some of the Adivasis who have made it to the TOP but not responding in Sadri if spoken to in this language. However, the issue is larger than just a response in the local language. Specially on the issue of respect, I have difficulty in understanding why they are supposed to be more respected than any other member in the Adivasi society? It may be in the ‘society they live in’ which demands that mannerism. I don’t think that’s an Adivasi value. I would like to know how does an Adivasi in his / her wholeness different form a non-Adivasi who have imposed their social norms and conditions and tell us how the Adivasis should behave in their society that down looks at our very existence. Let us not forget that the officers are government servants, they execute what their seniors order them to do. Even the decisions they make are in the interests of the government, they are cogs in the wheel of the government system. Let us also not forget who carried out the Gua firing known as Gua kand, it is the Adivasi officer leading the escort…, who is sent on the front to negotiate when the people protest the Netrhat fining range? It is the commander who is an Adivasi sent to negotiate in the field. It is Adivasis in the battalion who are deputed to protect the interest of the Jagdugora’s Uranium Cooperation of India Ltd. (UCIL) uranium mining activity when the Advises are dying of consuming radioactive contaminated surroundings and when they protest, it is the security battalion comprising of Adivasi recruits posted here to defend UCIL. Be it junior or senior most levels of officials who serve the government, he /she is responsible to the government not to the people, and because it is not the Adivasi people’s government you cannot expect any thing other then a few personal favors. I am not denying that there are good and very capable and committed officials in the government and they have made outstanding contributions in different ways. The Khasis in Meghalaya, in festivals their senior most officers and the common Khasi can sit in the same table and can enjoy being together. That is where you see the egalitarian behaviours. Their Queen is very respected but is far more different and not separated from her people due to the pride of being what she is unlike the image of what queen should be and look like. The mannerism, I understand from what you are talking of, seems like that of the castes society where the level of respect is defined by which category you are placed in. I wish the respect in the real sense, if we mean it, we should have for our Naikes, Mankis, Parhas, Parganaits, Manjhiharams, our elders who are the custodians and guardians of our society, they are no more custodians, nor have their dignity today because they have lost our respect in the ‘society’ we have assumed to be ours where their place is at the BOTTOM. I think that making the top and bottom to equal level will be the beginning of learning Adivasi values, and learn to respect of who we are. Thank you for your attention. I conclude my remarks here. Johar!
Bineet J. Mundu
If the courts of your country have denied that right you are entitled to as with your real name your are entitled to and can claim you can go to the International Covenant on the Civil and Political Rights (Article 27 – see link 8 below) or International Labour Organisation (under its Convention 169 – India has not ratified it).Links:
1. Update on UN’ draft Declaration on the rights of the Indigenous Peoples:
2. UK’s position on collective rights:
3. The 400th year of Jokkmokks festival:
4. First Nations in Canada:
5. Saami People:
6. Australian Aborignals
7. Ainu in Hokkaido Japan
8. Indigenous land rights claim on the basis of ‘culture’
a) Ivan Kitok v. Sweden (197/1985)
b) Bernard Ominayak, Chief of the Lubicon Lake Band v. Canada (167/1984)