Why whenever the term Adivasi comes, it is always meant to denote a rural illiterate uncivilized group of people, who live in forests. Have you ever tried to know who they are? The way they are portrayed to us through our books and society or someone contrary to it?
This story starts with a tribe named ‘Pardhi‘. It has its own identity and thriving culture which includes nature as its essential part. The first blow on their identity was given by the British to stigmatise this tribal group which labelled them as “criminal tribes” but after independence, their own country labelled them as “denotified tribes”. This approach destroys the culture and identity of a tribe in this nation which boasts itself to be one of the most diverse nations in the world.
The answer is a big NO. They had a whole system of training children with their own tribal languages and this is how the social and cultural values are instilled in the tribal children.
In 1960, one of the earliest reports on tribal affairs in independent India, the Erwin committee reported that the tribals have their own independent institutions of learning and the policy of integration should be approached instead of forcing them to change their culture which will threaten their identity. It was required to make them comfortable instead of putting them into the obscurity of cultural crisis.
One of the best-known tribal institutions is the Ghotul in Bastar, where older Gond children teach the younger ones. They teach through work plays and follow a tradition that passes their knowledge orally. Children learn while playing dramas, telling stories, playing, singing, and dancing. This system was based on sharing and developing instead of cutthroat competition.
Isn’t it the concept of an interactive learning system that is known as one of the best ways to learn? There are more such kinds of institutions such as Dhumkuria and Dangribasa, located in Jharkhand and Orissa respectively.
Christian missionaries were the first ones to start schools for Adivasis to impart colonial education. Gandhi’s Nai Talim arrived in the early 1940s and decolonised education and emphasised local practical knowledge in their mother tounges. In the 1950s, RK Despandey set up Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram but this school perceived Adivasis as ‘backward Hindus’. This concept of stating Adivasis as backward Hindus were promoted by G.S. Ghuyre.
G.S. Ghuyre is one of the founding fathers of Indian sociology and studied anthropology at Cambridge. He and A.V.Thakkar advocated for “assimilation” of Adivasis in the mainstream instead of “integrating” them. Changing them was the ultimate goal by erasing their culture and society which were perceived as backward.
After the 1960s, there was a whole trend of residential schools for tribals which train the students to provide the industrial workforce to the mineral and iron industries; they are very prominent in these tribal regions. These residential schools tried to dominate every aspect of student lives by distancing them from their community and imposing dominating languages.
In 1961, the Dhebar commission recommended the incorporation of tribal knowledge and languages into the curriculum so that it doesn’t contradict the period of tribal festivals and agricultural seasons which are important ecosystems to learn. Similar recommendations were given by the National Curriculum Framework of 2005 but it was not followed.
After 2005, the tensions between the Naxals and mining companies exacerbated as the companies extended their production in the regions. These tensions brought the day schools to complete closure in many Adivasi villages. Then, the mining and mineral companies started to fund tribal schools. The National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC) started funding for education cities in Chattishgarh. Big companies like Adani, Vedanta, and NALCO partnered with the Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences to open schools in different tribal locations.
In 2014, the XAXA committee on tribal affairs reported that there is a phenomenon of “ashramisation of tribal education” which can be observed. “These schools are covertly imparting Hinduism, yet following Christian missionaries practices such as uniforms, discipline, and the hierarchical system. The students were learning alien knowledge with short haircuts and Adivasi names replaced by Hindu ones.”
This whole approach to change these tribes’ identity shows the cultural racist nature which is followed by forming stereotypes in the backdrop which continues the cycle of humiliation and discrimination of Adivasis. The report indicated the official policy of integration of tribals is covertly assimilation. So, the answer is no one tried to give Adivasis identity and the acceptance they deserved; instead, everyone tried to influence them and change them into someone else.
In the USA, forced assimilation of indigenous people was official till the 1950s but by the 1970s, things changed and the detribalising schools were closed down. In the 1990s, the Prime Ministers of Australia and Canada apologised for the organised cultural genocide of indigenous people by such policies. The world apologised for their wrongs, but India ignored their own people by claiming them “denotified tribes”.
Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences(KISS) claims itself as the world’s largest residential school with all students coming from Schedule tribes. It describes itself as the world’s largest anthropological laboratory and that’s why it was going to host the world congress of anthropology in 2023. The Adivasi activists opposed this world congress because KISS shares its key principles with the USA’s detribalising residential school.
KISS states its motto as “converting tax consumers into taxpayers” which shows that they perceive the Adivasis as primitive and backward. KISS promotes Hindu festivals and Hindu culture on its premises instead of promoting Adivasi culture and their languages for the Adivasi children.
Still, there is hope as a small network of alternative tribal schools is coming up that respects the sociocultural aspects of Adivasi children, giving them wings with their own identity. Parents want their children to be literate and get knowledge with the pride of their culture and native languages. The mega-schools can create a better path for the upcoming tribal children by being sensitive towards children’s cultural background instead of homogenizing it to make only a workforce.
After reading this article, I hope that we will never be racist against any Adivasi and never crush their pride in being Adivasi.