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How the British trampled the tribal Indians

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Young Baiga Tribe women.

The British first encountered tribal communities in the hilly regions of the Malabar situated between the Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea. Like with other social orders within the Indian Territory, the relationship between the British and the tribals quickly transformed into a hierarchical superior-inferior one.

The social organization of these tribal communities was distinct from the general mass on many counts, but for colonizers they were just another people subject to the diktats of the British monarchy. They made no effort to understand the complexities of the tribal society until the 20th century.

But these efforts did little to alleviate the tribals from their utter destitution; rather it inflicted upon them only more misery. JP Hutton, the commissioner of the census of 1931 summed up the impact of British policies on the tribals as follows: “far from being of immediate benefit to the tribes, the establishment of colonial rule in India did most of them much more harm than good.”

In 1936, the British government passed the ‘Excluded and Partially Excluded Area’ Act identifying certain sections in India as tribal and therefore needing special protection. But underlying this law, that sought to prevent exploitation and infringement into the tribal communities by outsiders, was a political motive of the colonizers of ruling by dividing the society into distinct and disparate silos.

The policy, however, failed in its objective to bring a complete segregation between the tribals and the general mass, which was the intended purpose of the Act. The infiltrations into these self-sufficient and economically autonomous social organisations by outsiders continued even after the law came into effect.

The missionaries that spread itself throughout the expanse of India did do welfare work that reached deep into the social fabric of the tribal communities. However, their work was not only to provide relief to the downtrodden and the marginalised but was also motivated by a religious agenda.

The rich tribal heritage of this country has therefore only seen deterioration since its first engagement with the outsiders. The economic oppression, political subjugation and the vulnerabilities borne out of the vagaries of nature have only compounded over the years.

Even after India’s paradigmatic shift in its political identity from colonised to independent in the mid-20th century, the conditions of the tribals has improved insufficiently. Their dependence on the endowments of nature is continuously threatened with the growing demands for natural resources from rapidly industrialising India.

This is best exemplified by the decade-long opposition by the tribal communities of Niyamgiri hills, in the state of Odisha, to the mining company Vedanta Resources. They believe that their mountain god, Niyam Raja, is the only source of food, water and their way of life. “We get almost everything from the mountain,” says Kutia Majhi, president of the resistance group Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti (the Save Niyamgiri Foundation). “All we need from the government is salt, kerosene. The government should spare our culture,” he adds.

This is indicative of the friction in modern day India between the tribals and the general masses; which bears uncanny similarities with the relationship, two centuries ago, between the colonizers and the tribals.

India’s burgeoning economic needs cannot be attained at the pyre of its rich tribal heritage for it will be a perversion of its democratic ideals. The much vaunted ‘inclusive growth’ will be mere dry sloganeering if it fails to take under its fold the vulnerable tribal communities.

(Inputs by Rajesh Ghosh)

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‘Tribes of India’ : An Online Database to Document the Lives of Indian Tribes

The database would contain rare and exclusive videos and photographs, above thousands, which have been collected from various Tribal Research Institutes around the country

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Indian Tribes, Tribal culture
Tribal culture. Wikimedia
  • The ‘Tribes of India’ will showcase the lifestyle, culinary culture, conditions of living of the tribes
  • It is going to be amazing to form a database collecting all the information regarding the characteristics of the tribes, as those will be accessible in the distance of a click
  • Experts from the ministry has also stated that the database would be frequently updated with new research inputs from sources and scientists

New Delhi, August 10, 2017: The very first attempt at producing a documentation of the lives of the tribal in India, is ongoing. The ‘Tribes of India’ will showcase the lifestyle, culinary culture, conditions of living, and historical and chronological facts regarding the evolution of their traditions and culture. The ‘repertoire’ is focusing on answering questions such as- the difference between the Gond tribe of Uttar Pradesh and the Gonds of Jharkhand, whether the tribes in Jharkhand possess a secret cure for anemia, and the status of living of the Santhals in the remote forest-zones.

ALSO READ: Lalung Tribe of Northeast India: What Makes them Stand Apart!

A database on the tribes of India is to be created by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs. The project aims to bring into light the art and culture, history of evolution and anthropological facts, lifestyle and eating practices, the rate of mortality, education system, architecture and the contribution of the tribals in India’s struggle for freedom, Economic Times has reported.

It has been planned that the database would contain rare and exclusive videos and photographs, above thousands, which have been collected from various Tribal Research Institutes around the country. It is true that the research institute has always showcased such collections, but this is the first time it is going to be saved in an exclusive database.

It is going to be amazing to form a database collecting all the information regarding the characteristics of the tribes, as those will be accessible in the distance of a click, from now on. Techniques to introduce a feature that would enable a viewer to take a virtual tour of the architecture of a tribal hut is also going to be implemented, a senior ministry official said to Economic Times.

According to the report, about 10 crore scheduled-tribe people form an 8.6% of the entire population of the country. But it has been observed that there has been no sincere attempt to showcase and explore the unique lifestyle of the tribes. The official further stated that the database would pose as an excellent guide for the research-scholars because it will contain the necessary statistics. Experts from the ministry have also stated that the database would be frequently updated with new research inputs from sources and scientists.

The database is to follow the effort of the government to explore and showcase the lifestyle of the Indian tribes and dedicate some museums as well to the tribes. The Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi addressed the nation and asked all to explore and research on the contributions made by the Scheduled Tribes in India’s freedom struggle, Economic Times has reported.

The database will also include links to the museums of various states post their construction.

-prepared by Antara Kumar of NewsGram. Twitter: @ElaanaC

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Ahead of Assembly Polls, Tripura parties step up to empower Tribals

Besides CPI-M, all other opposition political parties have to forge an electoral alliance with either INPT or IPFT to get the tribal reserved seats in the Tripura assembly

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Tribals. Wikimedia

Agartala, Sept 14, 2016: Seventeen months ahead of crucial assembly polls in Left-ruled Tripura, political parties, especially tribal-based parties, have stepped up their actions to push their demands including for a separate state.

Two tribal-based political parties- Indigenous Nationalist Party of Tripura (INPT) and Indigenous People’s Front ofTripura (IPFT)- would organise “Delhi Abhiyan” (march to Delhi) to press their demands to the central government.

“A five-member team of IPFT would leave here for New Delhi on Thursday to meet union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Tribal Affairs minister Jual Oram and others to pursue our long pending demands,” IPFT President Narendra Chandra Debbarma said on Wednesday.

He said: “We would apprise the union Home Minister about the August 23 incident in Agartala. The indigenous tribal people are deprived in Tripura. They need more empowerment.”

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IPFT’s acting general secretary Maybe Kumar Jamatia would lead the team for the “Delhi Abhiyan” and submit a memorandum containing their demands to the union ministers.

In the ethnic trouble, at least 24 people, including five policemen, were injured and 17 vehicles badly damaged on August 23 in Agartala after activists of IPFT took out a rally demanding a separate state.

Both the INPT and IPFT have been demanding more power to Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council (TTAADC), a constitutional elected body, introduction of inner-line permit in Tripura to protect the tribals, recognition of tribal language – Kokborok – in the 8th Schedule of the Constitutions, reservation of 50 per cent seats for the tribals in the 60-member Tripura assembly.

The IPFT has been agitating for the creation of a separate state, carved out by upgrading the TTAADC area. The TTAADC was formed in 1987 under Sixth Schedule of the Constitution to protect and safeguard the political, economic and cultural interests of the tribals.

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The politically important council constitute two-third of Tripura’s 10,491 sq.km area.

The INPT, which opposes the separate state demand, would organise a six-hours sit-in-demonstration in Delhi and meet the central ministers in the first week of December.

“We would highlight our demands during our “New Delhi Abhiyan”. We have taken this decision at our central working committee meeting held here on Tuesday,” INPT spokesman Srota Ranjan Khisa said on Wednesday.

He said that the INPT would organise a mass campaign during the next two months in support of its demands across the state. The INPT would hold a meeting with its four frontal organisation leaders on September 22 to make successful the upcoming party programme.

In Tripura politics, tribals and tribes based political parties play a vital role as 20 seats in the 60-member Tripura assembly are reserved for the tribals, who constitute a third of Tripura’s four million populations.

Political analyst Tapas Dey said that though almost all political parties, including the ruling CPI-M (Communist Party of India-Marxist), CPI (Communist Party of India), opposition Congress, Bharatiya Janata Party and Trinamool Congress strongly opposed the IPFT’s separate state demand, the tribal party has gained base among the tribals spearheading the demand.

“Except the CPI-M, all other opposition political parties have to forge an electoral alliance with either INPT or IPFT to get the tribal reserved seats in the Tripura assembly. That’s why the political parties have maintained a close rapport with them and other tribal parties,” Dey told IANS. (IANS)

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If Gods can be gay, why can’t we? Maori author Witi Ihimaera is a moving force in giving voice to Maoris in New Zealand

Ihimaera's book 'Nights in the Gardens of Spain', a semi-autobiographical work about a married father of two daughters coming out, was turned into a movie

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Witi Ihimaera. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

– by Preetha Nair

Sept 04, 2016: Aboriginal, litterateur, and rebel, Witi Ihimaera is a moving force in giving voice to the Maoris in New Zealand. The first published novelist in Maori literature, the 72-year-old has several novels, short stories and recognitions to his credit.

September Aboriginal, litterateur, and rebel, Witi Ihimaera is a moving force in giving voice to the Maoris in New Zealand. The first published novelist in Maori literature, the 72-year-old has several novels, short stories and recognitions to his credit.

His works were a harbinger of change to the Maoris, says Ihimaera who questioned in his works.

Ihimaera’s book ‘Nights in the Gardens of Spain’, a semi-autobiographical work about a married father of two daughters coming out, was turned into a movie.

The author, who also worked as a diplomat at the New ZealandMinistry of Foreign Affairs, spoke to IANS on the sidelines of Mountain Echoes Literary Festival held in Thimphu, the capital city of Bhutan.

Maori People. Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Maori People. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Excerpts from the interview:

Q) You were the first published novelist in Maori literature. How important is it to tell stories of the marginalised?

A) It is important to tell the story of the Maori in a world of huge voices and political entities. We are a minority, and also one among the many indigenous communities around the world. Our story will help give voice to other indigenous people whether they live in India, or North America or in South East Asia. We all have the same stories of colonisation.

Q) Did you face resistance from the West?

A) My life was always about resistance. We were denied educational opportunities and there was institutional racism. Our land has been taken away and I have seen my grandmothers struggling for land to farm. The consequence of our fight through literature and other means was that our land was returned after 30 years. The government is providing better housing and education for the Maoris now. There is a better understanding of Maori culture now and my work is a part of New Zealand’s curriculum.

Q) You came out of the closet in 1984 and have dealt with sexuality in your writings. How was it received?

A) One has to be brave when dealing with issues like rape and homosexuality. There is authentication of sexual identity in mythology that has been denied by the West. Europeans look towards Gods in Greek mythology who can shapeshift and make love with women, men and animals just like some Hindu gods. Why can’t we accept homosexuality in the way our mythology explains it? I operate in a Maori value system and don’t care what people say.

Witi Ihimaera memorial plaque in Dunedin. Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Witi Ihimaera memorial plaque in Dunedin. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Q) In your memoir, you have written about being abused as a child. How difficult was it to write about it and what was the reaction?

A) I always adopt an organic approach to writing, looking at it culturally and socially. I wanted to address the issue of child abuse. My work has always been a shock to many. The Maori community is now largely Christian and it was difficult for them to acknowledge it. I am accustomed to shift the universe a little. That’s my theory of change. Each one of us has the power to change the system.

Q) Who’s your favourite Indian author?

A) It should be Arundhati Roy. She is an intellectual and erudite woman.

(IANS)