By S. Nivedya:
As we sat in the beach to see the rolling waves come and go, a lady clad in a red saree a part of which she wore over her head and carrying a flower basket crouched down beside us and offered to read our future. We politely declined. She persuaded us repeatedly telling us how wonderful it would be to peep into the future and know what is coming for us. Not the least bit interested, we refused. She sighed loudly gathered herself and her flower basket and walked away complaining under her breath. I wondered if she could read her own future or the future of her children and grandchildren and tell them the truth or would she have to lie? Is she making a living that way? This woman is no beggar, she belonged to a family she was proud of, she is not the only one either, she is a tribal woman, she is an ‘adivasi’.
India has always been proud of itself for the wide diversity, of the land, of the culture, of religions, languages and cuisine. But this sort of diversity is something we cannot be proud of- diversity in communities. There is a part of the human race in India we have shun away and still accept as part of our population, giving them a name in the constitution and promising them privileges. But on deeper investigation there is no specific criterion for identification of tribes except for their geographical isolation, backwardness, shyness and their distinctive culture, language and religion. That is no way to identify our fellow countrymen.
Some of them dress differently, they have a strange dance to celebrate, they draw marks on their face, they have a strange dialect and most of all they like to stay in the confines of the forest, living in co-existence with nature when we wait to tear it down. We want to drive them out of their homes and into the city, force rights upon them and levy taxes.
During the Zamindar age, the tribals were labourers forced to buy land from them and cultivate crops. They were bound to fall hugely in debt. Eventually they become bonded labourers, working under the zamindars to pay off their debt. When the father dies, the son stays bonded by default.
A tribal child wanted to study in a school and egged his parents to put him there. In school however he couldn’t communicate with his fellow classmates because he spoke a different dialect. He was laughed at. He was asked to learn the medium of instruction to be able to understand the lessons taught. It took him time, he fell behind, he failed. He was framed illiterate. His community heard these stories and shied away from formal education. Statistically they may come under the ‘illiterate’ category but these forest dwellers know more than any learned scientist how much our earth is in danger of annhilation.
But they could hunt, they could climb trees, the oldest in the tribe were the wisest who knew every rock, tree and creature. The rising population and the pollution interfered with their lives, they began acquiring diseases they’ve never had before, those that the herbs they found in their forest couldn’t cure. They became weak and yet they lived.
Many of the tribals have left their forest abode to come to the towns. They try to find work for themselves, build homes and become part of the population. They ask for their rights to vote, to be part of the parliament, to get into schools and seek education. If not for the name we gave them, they look, work, breathe and live like us. If we don’t see the distinction with our own two eyes then why make them? Its the same blood that runs through all our veins.
A helicopter flying above the Andaman and Nicobar islands after the fateful December tsunami caught footage of tribals in an area that was once thought to be uninhabited. However, the violent tribals did not allow the helicopter to land and the life of the tribal community remains a mystery to this day, so does the secret of how they survived the tsunami.
Researches say that the aborigines were the first humans to colonize India. Ironic how their own children are shunning them now. Analysis of adivasi DNA has concluded that they contain genes which could enhance immunity on cloning into human genes. Come the days of danger to human life, these people would be the survivors, rising to the top.
It is the duty of every citizen of our nation to accept these people as our own brothers and sisters like we promised in the pledge we take every single day and give them a hand in standing up to what they truly are-heroes.
Not only do they open our eyes to the reality of the world but hundreds of them contributed to achieve what we cherish most today, the very thing that brought about a Constitution that tries to define them – our freedom.