• Gadadhar Parida & Charudutta Panigrahi

Why are we scared of Tribals?

source: FIDR

We (you, I and them) are all tribals by origin. Over the years we have lied to ourselves and conveniently believed that we are not tribals and that we were never tribals. A repeated lie becomes the truth. In the last seven decades and more, after many ‘convenient’ map makings, we are trying our best to destroy tribals and their lives. Still they hold the key to our rental economy, specifically for Odisha, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, parts of AP, Maharashtra, and the North East. The platitudes related to trillion USD economy is majorly based on the mines and minerals under the custody of our indigenous families. The tribals, whom we left behind and set out in pursuit of creature comforts, remain the guardian of flora and fauna, below which lie the sparkle of billions of dollars. In our interest, we have ensured that they get relegated to be defined as ‘backward communities’ so that we can intervene the paradise with our largesse, which we think they need but they know they don’t. This is quite akin to our rushing back to our village paternal property, for an emergency bailout, when we are chocked in debt-ridden city existence. Déjà vu.

It is growingly becoming chaotic in tribal communities in the mineral haven, Koraput. The haven has attracted ravens. We (you and I) have been successful in finally ‘breaking’ them. If we do not make cohesive communities fritter away, we will be rendered jobless, penniless, and worthless. For example, the NGO sector has to play the tribal story, year after year, for their donors to keep them alive. Jargons like ‘capacity building’ and ‘community empowerment’ are their lifeline. Sporadic cases of tribal ‘development’ or tribal youth making big are media-hyped so much that it is like being euphoric, taking a selfie with a chimpanzee.

There has always been a disciplined and organised leadership style in the community, till we tampered and wrecked the indigenous society. A new village was typically established as Ektaguda – which literally means a village discovered by one person. The word ‘Ekta’ here does not signify unity but ‘singular’. When there is any calamity in a village, people tend to shift to a new place because they believe that they have incurred the wrath of their deity. Any community adversity like an epidemic or village fire or ill health of children is a bad omen and the elders in the community are convinced that the deity wants them to abandon the village. Accordingly, the enterprising of the lot, the Columbus, ventures out to find a new place. He explores, discovers, starts the settlement and becomes the obvious choice for the village Headman. He becomes the Nayak and the system becomes hereditary. This system of village administration needs not fit into our description of governance but it always provided the three crucial elements –

  1. Unbridled independence to villagers including exemplary gender equality

  2. Community living with no individual asset holding

  3. Collective livelihood mechanisms like community farming.

The indigenous communities thus are much more united and bonded than we are. We should envy, obviously. With technologies, we have further divided ourselves and all our algorithms are aimed at profiling, dividing and creating a new world of fakes. Our divisibility exposes our hypothetical ‘mainstream’ -where there is hardly any stream and there is nothing called a ‘main’ because there is unruly wrangling for freedom. USA to Belarus, about 25% of our time is spent on streets protesting and still we bracket indigenous people as PVTG –Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups. Who is vulnerable? You know the truth.

ଚେଇଁ ଶୋଇବ ଯିଏ ତାକୁ ଉଠେଇବ କିଏ – this is an Odia saying whose literal translation could be something like..

“who can nudge to wake up someone who pretends to be sleeping while awake?”.

source: FIDR

Our machinations have brought in complications in their lives. Gender based violence was never known in the indigenous communities because there was never any segregation – because there was no individual property or family entitlements or self-imposed, hypocritical rituals of fidelity. It was a simple commune living. Many of our Gurus, later on, replicated commune living in western countries which has been hailed as ‘magic’. But we, with the help of statutes, are bent on obliterating pristine life in its most original form. We were always meant to be like this. Crime against women, burglary, cheating was never known in the communities. They did not use money and did not have any need for lust. All their needs were met by their Supreme, their forests—perennial streams, an abundance of fruits, spices, mushrooms, wild tubers, roots. The mix of native millets, pulses, legumes, and oil-seeds grown on small shift-and-burn patches on hill slopes, locally known as Dongar (the clear patches) made their diets super healthy. Non-communicable, lifestyle diseases were not known, as recent as a few years ago. They depended on the valley – the outside market for cloth, salt, kerosene, and the delicacy of dried fish, intermittently. They had everything and so did not ever need money. We are jealous, quite naturally. We are poverty-stricken but we run programs to eradicate their poverty. Hopeless sadism and nauseous guile. I and my civil society are squarely responsible.

With our public schemes and the lure of money, the community became political. Today the community leaders are trained to engage in bitter, schismatic, and corrupt governance. We need them and so we penetrated their self-sustained system, created artificial needs, peddled “development’, and finally got them addicted to our tokenism.

Tokenism is the new opiate of life. We have successfully spiked credulous lives with the poison of deceitful politics. If development was well meaning, then there was no place for politics. Why do we have tribal youths going out as migrant labour? In the last seven decades and more how many community livelihoods programs have provided sustainability to the indigenous communities? Where is the mainstream/ Do you see that animal anywhere?

source: Rajesh Patnaik

Is holding a smartphone, riding a bike, or getting glued to porn in the name of OTT, development? The ward member in a village has all the whereabouts of girls being trafficked out of the village or youths getting into organised crimes. How do we sensitise the ward member that due to his or her complicity, a whole generation is getting wiped out? Do our civil society organisations go and spend time with the community leaders? Do our Harvard heading ‘smart fellows in public policy and governance’ care to work with them? Do we discuss threadbare the issues of the communities in our endless, wisdom spewing Zoom meetings? Talking and talking and talking we achieve nirvana. While post-retirement wisdom is flowing unchecked, the extraction industry has already extracted our native lives from us, natives.

Some day we will realise, if we are left alive and soon the forest Lord will seek abode in another planet. Mythologies are no more myths –I am the asura and am scared of tribals because I am lowly.

(This article is co-authored by Gadadhar Parida, Director Tribal Museum, & CharuduttaPanigrahi, Author. Taking up cudgels on behalf of the indigenous communities, both the activists urge the civil society to protect their indigenous families facing the onslaught of inhuman greed and extreme apathy. Our own indigenous families are staring at extinction.)

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Gadadhar Parida, Director Tribal Museum, Koraput (Left)

Charudutta Panigrahi, Author, Koraput (Right)

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