This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Meera Kumar. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Why I Think This Andhra Museum’s Depiction Of Tribals Is Utterly Regressive

More from Meera Kumar

If you’ve been to Santiniketan, you might have noticed how Santhal settlements are scattered around the town. There is a Santhal village located just across the main road from my own neighbourhood as well. Despite the proximity, however, my interactions with Santhals are not on equal ground: my landlady employs a Santhal maid and gardener and I speak to them when necessary. At the weekly market, I might admire the folk dancing and drumming and toss a few coins into the collection pot. And when it’s about to rain, I cycle through the Santhal village when taking the shortcut home.

Though my interactions are superficial, I find that living close to tribal villages does make you more aware of their issues. It is glaringly obvious, even to a passerby, that the majority of Santhals do not enjoy the same type of lifestyle as the Visva-Bharati staff and students. Their roads are not as well paved, there are no streetlights, and the houses are not as large or well endowed as that of the other residents of Santiniketan. Most of the departments do employ Santhals, though in custodial positions. Outside the Santhali department, I doubt if there is even a handful of Santhali faculty.

My uncomfortable realisations in Santiniketan were compounded while visiting Vizag earlier this month. I decided to take a day trip to Araku Valley, located about 110 kilometres from Visakhapatnam. The tour included a visit to Araku Tribal Museum and lunchtime tribal dance performances. I found the museum ‘essentialising’ and was disappointed at the lack of thought given to labelling and explaining different traditions and customs. Creating a life-size diorama might seem like the right aesthetic choice but is a poor way of handling cultural material.

If anything, these portrayals make us believe that tribal people are somehow trapped in the past, yet to find modernity. It would be useful to see contemporary photographs of tribal councils and festivals to give visitors more of a nuanced perspective and understanding of changing tribal lifestyles in India. I always like to think about who is creating these images—and what agency or agenda they might have. Creating an image of a timeless tribal might be good for encouraging more tourism in the area—but unfair in depicting the reality of life in Araku.

Tribal Museum, Araku Valley

This type of presentation is not unique to Araku — even in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, anthropologically questionable dioramas dominate museum spaces devoted to tribal information.

One of my other key discomforts with the tour in Araku was how our tour guide spoke about tribes in the area. He made statements like “80% of families here are women-led households because the husbands are all alcoholics and are unable to provide for their families.” I looked around the bus and everyone seemed to buy the information—when I questioned my grandpa about it later, he didn’t seem to find it distressing the same way that I did. Alcoholism in tribal communities shouldn’t be treated as a vice but as a consequence of a larger problem—unemployment, mental health issues, etc.

Perhaps my unease with this dialogue stems from the fact that my homeland also has an ugly past and present with its native people. Back in Arizona, I grew up a few miles away from a reservation but there too, my personal interactions were few and far between. I realised—just last year—that Native American reservations often don’t have access to fresh food, steady electricity, or even indoor plumbing. It’s no stretch to claim that India’s tribal people have a similar plight to the Native Americans in the United States—few opportunities, minimal community infrastructure—painful relocation has been a reality for natives in both nations. While Native Americans were forced onto reservations, many tribes in India have lost their homes due to the buyouts by multinational companies and government-approved development initiatives.

Unfortunately, in both nations, these groups are marginalised, unable to join the mainstream conversation and stereotyped. If anything, they deserve our attention and support, not callous judgment.

In front of Kala Bhavan, the art department in Santiniketan, are two notable monumental sculptures by Ramkinkar Baij. “Mill Call” depicts two Santhal women and a child en route to work, while “Santhal Family” shows parents, children, and a dog-headed home from the market. Wonderful examples of modernism, the pieces are positive and powerful representations of the Santhal tribe. Realistic and majestic. The pieces give me hope, for how we can shape our conversations and policies to give tribals the respect and opportunities that they deserve.

“Santhal Family” at Kala Bhavan, Santiniketan

_

Images provided by author.
You must be to comment.

More from Meera Kumar

Similar Posts

By Khumtia Debbarma | Adivasi Awaaz Creator

By Varsha Pulast | Adivasi Awaaz Creator

By Varsha Pulast | Adivasi Awaaz Creator

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below