It was during the winter of 2016 that I had the opportunity to visit Jadugoda, a small town located near India’s first industrial city, Tata Nagar, in the state of Jharkhand. Although my primary aim was to study the effects of radiation due to uranium mining by the Uranium Corporation of India (UCIL), there were a few things which I couldn’t help but notice.
Jadugoda is endowed with rich deposits of uranium. It was in the early 70s that UCIL began mining for Uranium in and around the place. Over the decades, UCIL eventually established a uranium mill and the UCIL quarters. UCIL’s mining activities attracted many to this place, transforming it into a town. People from different places migrated to Jadugoda in search of jobs and business opportunities over the years, and a major proportion of these migrants began settling down in this area.
These migrant settlers were predominantly Hindu. As a result, a Hindu temple was constructed next to the tribal shrine located near the old HCL quarters. Although this temple started off as a small construction with a single idol, as the settlers – and thus the funds – kept rising, the temple construction expanded to include a greater number of idols of gods and goddesses. Their ideology grew to be Hindutva, and as the years progressed, Hindutva organizations began to problematize the tribal shrine standing next to the Hindu temple.
The temple authorities eventually began claiming that the land surrounding the Hindu temple belongs to the temple. With this claim, they warned the tribe to vacate the area by shifting the shrine away. This was strongly opposed by the local tribal population. This opposition angered the temple authorities and they vandalized the tribal shrine on the 17th of December, 2016.
This incident shook the local tribal leaders in this region, and on 18th December they (local tribal leaders) started arriving at the spot. After taking note of the situation, they got together in order to discuss and prepare their action plan for hosting a statewide protest against attacks on tribals by Hindutva forces. As I followed the issue, I found that the tribal leaders only warned these vandalizers. They were not interested in escalating this issue and solved the problem among themselves.
Another incident of a similar kind is that of the Rankani Mandir.
Rankani Mandir is a tribal temple which is situated on the way from Tata Nagar to Jadugoda. The tribe believes that if someone leaves a stone at this temple while travelling to other places, the goddess will protect them on their journey – which is of paramount importance, considering that this is a forest area.
The massive industrialization around this place has slowly turned this tribal temple into a Hindu temple with Hindu rituals. There was also an attempt to appoint a Brahman priest by the Hindutva forces, which was strongly opposed by the local tribal population. Now we can see new Hindu temples of gods and goddesses around this tribal shrine. It has been transformed to such an extent that a first-time visitor to the shrine would be unable to tell the difference. This place has turned into a picnic or a weekend spot for the people of Tata Nagar and the nearby areas. They come here to perform the Hindu rituals. As per the tribal rites and rituals, animal sacrifices, usually a hen or a goat, are made whenever they offer their prayers. The local tribe feels that there is a serious attempt to convert this place into a traditional vegetarian Hindu temple. Hardly any tribal rituals can be seen now.
The increase in the number Hindu festivals (with the propagation of Hindutva) in this area over the last few years is another cause of worry. Ramu* says, “there is a sudden increase in Hindu festivals in this area in the two years since BJP won the elections. We can see big idols of Ganapathy during Vinayaka Chavithi, and other festivals are also increasing. But the main cause of concern is that they are occupying public spaces and attacking tribal culture and temples.”
This drew my attention towards the problems that the tribals were facing with the outsiders. In the holy texts of the Hindu religion, tribal people and Dalits are depicted as devils and evil forces who consume animal meat. Because this is registered unconsciously in the Hindus, any Hindu outsider coming to the tribal area is very enthusiastic about civilizing the tribal population. Many did not even attempt to understand the tribal culture and what the tribe’s beliefs, views, and customs about themselves were. For example, using languages like English and Hindi is deemed superior in the region. Most of the schools here are English medium. Many of the tribal people felt that learning English would empower them, but this is now showing negative results. The present generation is not interested in speaking their own tribal language even with their parents or fellow villagers, as they perceive their language to be inferior and uncivilized.
Interacting with UCIL employees and their families, who mostly speak English or Hindi and wear ‘modern clothes’, also makes them feel inferior. These impositions have now left the tribals feeling diminished, leaving them in a hurry to climb the social ladder. In this process, the tribals are losing their language and culture altogether. Local leaders are demanding the inclusion of Santali, the language of the tribe, and tribal customs in the school curriculum till the 5th standard, so that everyone who studies in this area, irrespective of school, would at least have some idea about their culture, language, and way of life.
Another such aspect which is slowly destroying the tribal culture is television shows. Murli* says “televisions programs on the Mahabharata, the Ramayana, and Lord Shiva have become a part of life for most tribals such that people do not miss even a single episode. This is slowly destroying the tribal culture. People in the tribe have slowly begun getting attracted and praying to Hindu gods without consciously realizing it. Nowadays our people even go to temples. Our people who migrate to cities are hesitating to practice our culture in cities. Moreover, I can’t even find one channel or a single movie which shows the tribal culture or history.”
We outsiders should stop perceiving tribals through our museum and tourist lenses. We should stop destroying these cultures and instead start learning about the way of life of these indigenous people – and try to accommodate them and their culture as individuals as well as a collective in our society.
*Some names have been changed for purposes of anonymity.