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Tribal Communities Are Way More Progressive Than The Rest Of Indian Society. Here’s Why

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We are living in the 21st century but a majority of people’s minds are parochial. They date back to a million years! Some are, on the face of it, conservative, and some are hidden conservatives, i.e. they seem liberal from the outside, but from the inside, they are next level conservatives. It feels bad, that even after so many years our society doesn’t have progressive thinking. But, it is a blessing to have a community who are progressive, and yes! I’m talking about the very same community who are tagged as backward, junglee, untouchables, पिछड़े जाति and what not – the tribals! They were progressive from the very beginning.

And before we proceed further, I want to make it clear that I’m not saying that only tribals are liberal, others might also be, but I’m saying this with reference to quintessential Indian standards. I also agree that there are some regressive practices amongst tribals like – superstitious beliefs, harmful customs etc. but this is the case with almost every community, isn’t it? Why only count tribals in this? Let us appreciate tribals who have attained and maintained the impossible; let’s discuss them one by one. I’ve written this article specifically with reference to the Gond tribals, but almost all the tribes are like this. Also, there might be exceptions.

Progressive Marriages

During tribal marriage ceremonies, the girl’s family are dominant, unlike other cultures, where the groom’s family is dominant.

There are various kinds of marriages, but I want to discuss only those which are clearly in contrast with Indian Standards:

1) Lamsena (लमसेना) Marriage – Lamsena means to make the groom “Ghar Jamai(The son-in-law who lives at his wife’s place). In India, they usually face stigma from society, but in tribal culture, it is perfectly fine. Earlier, before marriage, the boy used to live at his in-law’s place, do hard work and serve his wife’s parents. After he was successful in winning their hearts, the couple were allowed to marry, and the groom continued to live in their house.

2) Paithu (पैठू) Marriage – In this marriage, if a girl liked a boy, she started living in his house. At first, the boy’s family informed this to the girl’s family and respectfully sent her back to her house, so that they could be convinced of a marriage of her own choice.

But, even after that, if her parents didn’t agree, she again started living at the boy’s place, and they accepted her as the daughter-in-law of their house. This type of marriage still happens, but it is not widely prevalent. We can see how much they attach importance to the dominance of a girl and a couple’s choice to marry each other.

3) Daapa (दापा) Marriage – In this marriage, if a girl after her marriage, wishes to marry someone else, she is free to do so. But her paramour is required to pay a sum, which is called “Daapa”, and after that, they get recognition from the community and can live happily. Hence, a girl is not forced to live with someone who she doesn’t love, be it even her husband; she is free to remarry.

Some more information regarding their marriages:

(a) They give a lot of importance to consent. Neither a girl nor a boy is forced to marry someone out of societal or family pressure. Love marriage is also common.

(b) A widow is allowed to remarry. And, she isn’t stigmatised for that.

But, due to cultural exchanges, these things are fading. Still, core tribals are very advanced.

Status of Girls

Girls enjoy equal status as boys in almost everything, including a job, education, ceremonies etc. In most of the families, women are the breadwinners and househusbands are not stigmatised. In my family also, members have more expectations from females than males.

Sometimes, girls hold the dominant position; we have already discussed some instances of this. One can also see the matrilineal system amongst the Khasi Tribes of Meghalaya.
In tribal communities, women are taught not to become soft but fierce and independent.

Sati was never practised by them, and female foeticide is negligible. This is evident from the extraordinary sex ratio of tribal areas in Bastar. As per the 2011 census, the sex ratio of 3 out 5 districts, (now there are 7 districts) was above 1000, and the remaining 2 had sex ratios of 984 and 998. These numbers are amazing. Also, Bastar district of Bastar division ranked 1st in the state in terms of sex ratio!

Additionally, liquor consumption by girls is not a taboo, even in front of everyone. Liquor may be considered bad because of its effects on health, but, it is equally bad for girls, as well as boys. But, in India, only women are subjected to moral policing. Tribals are not like the rest of Indian society in this regard.

Also, there’s no rule that the male members will consume food before females. Anyone can eat whenever they want, or they can eat together. There’s no concept of not sitting between male members either. Everyone takes part in discussions. Daughters-in-law are treated as daughters; they can dance, sing and do whatever they want at their in-laws’ house. Girls are not stopped from talking to boys, but in fact, encouraged to do so. They believe in solidarity and unity. Hence, they never prohibit them from interacting with the opposite sex. Isn’t it great!

Godna (गोदना)

They consider Godna as their ornament. They believe that it can’t be stolen and remains with them even after their death.

This is also known as a tribal tattoo.

We all know that tattoo represents modern culture. In India, forget about girls, even boys are not allowed to get tattooed easily. And if a girl gets tattooed, she faces character assassination! But, in the Gond tribe, this is not so. In fact, earlier, it was mandatory for girls to get Godna before her marriage, failing which she would attract penal provisions. Now, it is not mandatory because it is wrong to force someone. They consider Godna as their ornament. They believe that it can’t be stolen and remains with them even after their death. That’s so cool!

Ghotul (गोटुल)

Ghotul is a unique arrangement amongst tribals. But, unfortunately, this amazing arrangement is on the verge of extinction. It is called – Ghotul by Gond tribals, Gorung (गोरूंग़) in Nagaland, Gitiora (गितिओरा) by Mundas, Rang-Bang (रंगबंग) by Bhedia tribals of Himachal Pradhesh and Ghumkuriya (घुमकुरिया) in Orissa.

Tribals also have an educational institution; earlier, only the upper castes had access to education. Its objective was to train youth for leadership, to educate them, to prepare them for community life, to imbibe moral values in them, and cooperation, arts, sports etc. And the best part was, it was a co-educational institution. Imagine, having a co-educational institution hundreds of years ago! This again shows their commitment towards women empowerment.

Now comes the best part – boys and girls get along with each other in Ghotul. They are expected to observe each other so that they’ll be sure of their partner before marrying them. In Ghotul, there are no separate dormitories for boys and girls. They live together. They even engage in premarital sex with the different people of Ghotul. This tribe must be given credit for normalising premarital sex.

In Ghotul, the male partner of a girl is called “Chelik (चेलिक)” and female partner of a boy is called “Motiyaarin (मोटियारिन)”.

Chelik and Motiyaarins

They dance together, hang out with each other, have fun and drink liquor. As already mentioned, girls are free to drink, even in social gatherings, and even with boys.

Youth dancing together in Ghotul

-Have a look at this video to understand Ghotul more:

Few colleges, which are considered very advanced, allow girls and boys to meet each other in hostel rooms but tribals have been following this practice since ages. In the end, if a person is not a minor, they must be allowed to do anything they want. We, as a society, need to stop moral policing.

I’m sure there are a lot of other examples of their progressive mindset. In the end, I just want to say that I feel fortunate to have been born into a tribal family.

P.S – A lot of facts, like kinds of marriage, Ghotul system etc. have been taken from my mother’s (Dr Sarita Uike) PhD Thesis. So, credit must be given to her also.

Featured image source.


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