It is a delight to go through Ramnika Gupta’s original work
in Hindi. Her concerns, invariably activist and
interventionist in scope, are people oriented. Straddling across genres–poetry, short stories, biography, prose essays, criticism, and journalism – her creative and critical corpus evolves around the socio-political, economic and existential plight of people at the margins–Adivases, dalits, and women. Even among them, she is particularly concerned with yudhrat aam adami, the common people–workers in mines, domestic and industrial labour, dislocated tribals, disadvantaged women–who are consciously and actively engaged in struggles that don’t stop at mere survival but go far beyond to achieve one’s rightful place/space in the socio-economic and political scheme of things.
Ramnika Gupta may not share the same location, but she, as a co-participant in the plight of people and as an involved activist, understands and empathizes with them. Her advocacy of their concerns is genuine, not patronizing. And it shows in her creative and critical writings. There is a kind of hard-hitting frankness and sincerity about whatever she does or writes about. Instead of engaging the readers in the flourish of language, she has the habit of engaging them directly with the topic at hand. This habit of calling a spade a spade and the attendant sincerity of purpose is not a mere posturing, intellectual fad or a political/marketing gimmick with her, it springs from a sense of commitment that is attendant on an excruciating process of negating the self by putting it on public display, not as a self-aggrandizing spectacle but as a text that reflects the mechanization of the colonial-patriarchal society on its subject. Her autobiographical sketches are a testimony to this. Her long career as a trade union activist further reiterates this fact.
This quality of negating the self and being one with the disadvantaged ‘other(s)’ is indeed remarkable, given the reality of Indian context. Within the conservative milieu, with its more often than not hypocritical ethos, an outspoken and an outgoing woman is always faced with derogatory insinuations. In fact, it is one of the hardest challenges a woman activist still faces in India. An average woman may find herself dissipated at this initial stage itself. It is rare, if one doesn’t take up the easier options offered by ‘sponsored’ NGOs now days, for a woman to overcome this initial hurdle dispassionately and tread the un-trodden paths that demand immediate and utmost attention and priority. Ramnika Gupta is aware of this onerous task and commitment that it demands, especially from women, when she says: “From us, who talk of equality and seek job parity, this issue demands a commitment: let us shed our ‘touch-me-not’ image, and as competent women, adapt ourselves for every task and make ourselves capable of taking risks. And I can say this on the basis of my own experiences that this ‘touch-me-not-complex’ is typically middle class syndrome.” Raminka Gupta does not only lead by example, but also, in the process, raises many pertinent questions with regard to our priorities as responsible citizens, and also our methodologies for social intervention. She is not an armchair ‘revolutionary’, neither is activism social luxury for her.
Her activist writings are a treasure trove of information. She believes in extensive documentation of issues, facts and data to delineate and substantiate her concerns. These facts have been gleaned from her first hand experiences and encounters as a trade union leader and a politician, her engagement and involvement as a fellow writer, translator and commentator on dalit and adivasi writing, its texts and contexts, and an extensive study of the published material. Most of the essays in this book are an outcome of her engagement with these issues as an editor of Yudhrat Aam Adami, both as peoples’ movement and a journal (in Hindi) that documents Ambedkrite, Indigenous and Peoples’ literature. These essays also reflect the focus of her eponymous foundation.
A well-known figure in Hindi belt, it is high time her works were also introduced to the wider world. This objective and need informs this translation. The need to shake off the complacency of the English speaking middle class elite – the bedrock of LPG forces that threaten to further marginalize the already marginalized – and to sensitise them to the reality of the marginalized masses and their problems is an express purpose of this translation.
In the essays included in this anthology Ramnika Gupta’s socially oriented reflections are generally underlined by a threefold purpose: construction, critique and conditioning. She critiques the ignorance of the mainstream classes and the indifference of the mainstream power clique to the condition of the margins. She constructs or showcases the world-view, aspirations and inspirations of the margins so as to inform and expand the horizons of her prospective readers. In other words, having jolted them out of their smugness and privileged but narrow locations, Ramnika Gupta’s writings condition her prospective readers to empathizely connect with and enter into the life world and mindset of the margins. That this conditioning is affected for a particular purpose and from a particular ideological location comes across loud and clear in her writings; it is not present in her writing as a hidden agenda. It makes her writings transparent and purposeful, even prophetic. If the plight of the people present in her writings is not heeded to, if the mainstream keeps appropriating or hegemonising their culture and life mores or if it fails to safeguard their political and social interest and aspirations, or if it keeps on exploiting them unabated for its own vested interests; the consequences can be fatal for the multicultural fabric of India as a nation. The repetitive and often rhetorical loudness in Ramnika Gupta’s prose, if seen in this context, comes out as a well thought out strategy on her part to catch hold of the smug reader by the collar and drill into his/her consciousness a worldview he /she is perilously ignorant of.
Her essays have been an eye opener for me and I hope that this translation will go a long way to illuminate the consciousness of many more.
ADIVASIS : THE PRECURSORS OF THE FREEDOM STRUGGLE OF 1857
150th anniversary of 1857 or the First War of India’s
Independence is being celebrated this year. As documented
in history, it was a time when the Indian Raja's, feudal lords and nawabs took upon themselves to drive away the British from India. It is true that the people of the country sided and cooperated with the Raja's in this struggle. The historians have however failed to document one of the most significant facts of this history, viz., the participation and contribution of the indigenous people/Adivasis in this struggle. Adivasis were in fact the precursors or initiators of the armed rebellion against the British, but historians have conveniently ignored this fact. In fact, just a year ago, in 2005, we celebrated the 150th anniversary of Sido Kanhu’s call to Santal Hool, in Jharkhand.
Adivasi-warriors never turned away from the battlefield, they fought to the end. A dead leader would be immediately replaced by another so as to lead one’s contingent. Considering that they were no monarchs but ordinary people, this was a singularly remarkable feat. Their leadership was not hereditary; each one was a potential leader.
Today let’s salute the heroes of that freedom struggle and recall those Adivasi-warriors from north-east to extreme south-west, who either took part in the war of 1857 or who, in their unique ways, continued to resist the British before the war in 1857 or long after it was over, died fighting, accepted the noose without yielding – and did not side with the British out of avarice.
Even before 1857 the Adivasi-communities had, at their own levels, engaged the British in many amazing battles throughout India so as to dissuade them from settling down (in India). For three-quarters of a century, starting at the end of 18th century, Adivasis continued to harass the British. The entire Khandesh, an Adivasi-majority region that nestles in the lap of Satpuras, had turned against the British in 1825. The British could not bring peace to the region despite the power of their money (in the form of wages) or munitions. Adivasi battles continued into the 20th century.
This chain of tribal rebellions has a past that precedes 1857 by many years. It all began in 1766, ninety years before 1857, in Nala, Jamtara and Kundahint in Jharkhand where the rebellion against the British had erupted under the leadership of Ramna Alhari (Paharia). This came to be known as Paharia revolt. It continued till 1778. Tracing the history of tribal revolts, Manmohan Pargi adds: “The Adivasis of Pune-Nasik region in Maharashtra also share the honour of rising in struggle against the British.”
Following Paharia resistance, Rani Shaveshwari raised the banner of revolt in 1781. Baba Tilka Majhi raised a battalion of, soldiers, and raiding Bhagalpur in the first week of 1784, took many adjoining areas under his control. He also fought many battles in the region of Munger and Santal parganas. Baba Tilka had arrowed to death Augustus Cleavland, the Commissioner of Bhagalpur, when he saw him molesting an Adivasi girl. Tightly securing his hands and feet with ropes, the English fastened Tilka Majhi to four horses and dragged him all the way from Sultanpur to Bhagalpur. Even then Tilka Majhi did not die. He was ultimately hanged on a Tree at the Bhagalpur Square.
Vishnu Maanki led the Bundu revolt against the British from 1797 to 1798, and Dhukkhan Maanki kept alive the sparks of this rebellion in Tamar from 1800 to 1808 till it virtually turned into a conflagration. This Munda revolt of Tamar continued unabated during 1819-20. During the same period, Rugdev and Konta Munda triggered the Kol revolt, and Ho revolt also happened the same year; the fire of revolts thus engulfed the British in Jharkhand. In the Kol revolt of 1828-1832, under the leadership of Bindrai and Singhrai, the Kol rebels took control of the king’s palace. The Adivasis had thus succeeded in forming an independent government well before 1857.
In 1854-56, the kettledrums for the great Santal Hool were struck under the leadership of the four Murmu brothers, Sido, Kanho, Chand and Bhairo. It shook the foundations of the foreign empire. The Santal Hool had begun on the night of June 30, 1856 with the slogans – Hool bahar jitkaar, Hool hegal jitkaar. More than ten thousand Adivasis were killed in this uprising. Sido and Kanho were hanged, Chand and Bhairo died fighting. In this uprising masses joined hands with the revolutionaries by contributing clothes, shoes, laathis, pots and pans for drinking water etc., for the cause.
Post 1857, Birsa Munda’s great uprising, Ulgulaan continued unabated from 1895 to 1900. Birsa had envisioned this struggle as an emancipatory class struggle for the destruction of British revenue system and feudal-contractor-moneylender nexus. It's aim was to reclaim tribal rights over forest and land, and to protect Adivasi identity, autonomy and culture. It was, in fact a revolution against the British.
1902 Santal uprising was their last battle. Meanwhile Kharwars, Majhies, Korwas, Kharias, Gonds and Mundas continued with their many rebellions.
While these revolts were unfolding in Jharkhand, various other revolts surfaced elsewhere in the country.
In Bastar, the Bhil revolt against the British was simply amazing. According to Manmohan Paargi in his essay published in Special Issue of Yudhrat Aam Aadmi–Adivasi Swar Aur Nai Shatabdi Part-II–“More than one lac Adivasi-revolutionaries confronted the army of colonel Gamer. The Adivasi heroes were cordoned by deceit, and gunned down. The remaining rebels were rounded up and were hanged from trees at the sadar bazaar of Jagdalpur.” In Madhay Pradesh, the Raja Muria tribals of Angarwara paragna rose in revolt in which the people of Bhatra and Mahra communities had also participated.
India celebrates its Republic Day on 26th January, and its Independence Day on 15th August. But no one celebrates the birth and death anniversaries of brave Sangoli Rayanna whose birth and death incidentally coincides with these dates.
Rani Chinemma, the queen of Kittur, after the death of her husband, had entered into a conflict with the British for safeguarding the rights of her adopted son. She was childless. She was imprisoned. This was the first battle against the British in Karnataka. Rani Chinemma was born 33 years before the famous queen of Jhansi. Rayanna was the revenue-collector of the British. After the queen was taken into custody, he took charge of the revolt and did not let the battle of Kittur slacken. Rayanna organized similarly inclined people throughout the state and carried on with the battle. On 26th January 1933, Rayanna was executed by hanging in Nandgaon. He kissed the noose singing songs of his motherland. The heroic martyrdom of brave Sangoli Rayanna, who was born on 15th August 1794, in the Dhanagar family of Sangoli, in Belgaum district, is unique in the history of Karnataka in India.
From the beginning of 19th century till 1857, for fifty years till the first war of independence, East India Company had to face stiff resistance in the Northeast from Lushai, Singdoh, Jaintia and Kachhari communities under the leadership of Maniram Barua, Tirot Singh, Tikendrajit Singh, U. Kiang Nangbah and Ropuiliani, among others. For forty years, i.e., from 1858 to 1898, the duration that the British administration took to consolidate its hold on the entire Northeast, the people of the region did not let them enjoy peace.
By 1774 the Jaintia king had fought a war with Major Hoenikker that continued till 1821. On 4th April 1829, Tirot Singh attacked the British. He spearheaded a massacre of an entire British post. This started the battle which dragged on for many years. The revolt continued for three years and he was put under house arrest for life. Though many of these people were sacrificed, but they too gave the British a tough fight.
Nangbah, a commoner had closely watched Tirot Singh battling the British. Infact Britisher's prevented Khasis to burry their dead one on the prescribe Shamshan Ghat (Cemetery). They also put a ban on the prevelent custom of bringing weapons in the festivals. This agitated Khasis. They were very much annoyed with these foriegn rulars because of there interfare in their releses matters, custums and life style. Imposition of tax by Britishers on Khasis further deteriorated be setuation and the bar started. Many platoons of the British army were deployed to capture Nangbah. He was caught by deceit and was hanged from a tree in front of a crowd that ran into thousands. Before stepping on to the noose, he is believed to have told his tearful country-folks: ‘If my face turns towards left as they pull the rope, it would mean that you would get independence within 100 years, but if it turns right, you will be slaves forever.’ The freedom came in 1947, well within hundred years. His martyrdom is commemorated even today.
After the death of her husband Vaandula, queen Ropuiliani blew the trumpet of revolt in Mizoram. Though her sons were killed in the battle, she did not yield. She proclaimed that she would drive the English away from Mizoram and would not let her people work like slaves. For the British, she was a born rebel. She was arrested in 1893 and died in jail on January 3, 1895.
Nagaland, Mizoram and Assam in the Northeast are witness to amazing tales of heroism. It is a testimony to their organizational-prowess and skills that the Adivasis of Nagaland managed to attack the British for nineteen years. According to Manmohan Pargi, “282 British officers and soldiers were killed in these attacks. Nagas withstood the might of the British army equipped with modern armaments for five months.”
On the other side in Rajasthan, while the royalty and the elites were busy playing host to the British, Adivasis were challenging the British through their folk songs:–
O white man, why have you
Come to our land;
Go back to your country?
(Yudhrat Aam Admi, Special Issue, Part-1)
The name of Khajya Nayak of Madhya Pradesh would top the list in any discussion on Adivasi-battles against the British in 1857. In Khandesh, Adivasis kept on fighting the English from 1818 to1850. Despite their superior arms and army the British could not decimate these Adivasis. Khajya Nayak was among those heroes who had offered a formidable challenge to the British in 1857. He kept on fighting the English even after 1857. The fact whether he was betrayed or killed by deceit still continues to be debated, but one thing is certain; despite the assurance of clemency, Khajya did not surrender to the British.
Bhima Nayak and Mobasa Nayak were Khajya’s friends. No body knows for certain the antecedents of Bhima Nayak, but he fought the English for ten years. With the death of queen of Jhansi, the revolt of 1857 came to an end in north India. Having reached Narmada, Tantiya Tope too turned back. But both Khajya and Bhima persisted with the battle.
Even when the war of 1857 was over, they continued fighting the British in the region of Nivaad, Khandesh and Nasik till 1867. His country’s independence was the proclaimed aim of Bhima’s exploits. He was arrested in 1867 and exiled from India.
Tantya Bheel comonly known as Tantya Mama was yet another notable revolutionary who was dreaded by the British administration. He was born in Nimad in Madhya Pradesh. The frenzy of the vindictive violence unleashed by the British, in the aftermath of revolution of 1857, had struck terror in the hearts of people. It was at this juncture that Tantya, a Bhil, confronted the English. Two of his associates, Dipya and Bijhnia, were arrested in 1880. Dipya escaped and rejoined Tantya, but Bijhania was hanged to death. There is a famous anecdote about Tantya. The English officer who had come to arrest Tantya happened to be one whom Tantya had escorted home as his luggage carrier. Tantya, a man with steel in his blood, confronted the officer: ‘Sahib, I am Tantya, Won’t you arrest me?’ Hearing this officer was convulsed with terror and he returned to England in fright. Tantya was betrayed by his own dharma bahnoi, the husband of his dharma or rakhee sister on the day he had called on her for rakhee.
It was during the struggle of 1857 when Komurams fought the British for days and nights under the leadership of Ramji. Ramji Gond was arrested and was hanged near Nirmal to death by a tree. The tree is still known as the ‘Ramji Chettu.
The Kuruchia Adivasis of Kerala too fought the British army to the last drop of their blood. Talakkar Chandu was their leader. This brave man kept fighting a British contingent of hundred soldiers till he was fully exhausted. Talakkar Chandu and Nilli, an Adivasi woman were the folk leaders of this movement. Nilli had also raised a separate army of women. Talakkar Chandu was caught and hanged to death.
In the second half of 19th century Govind Guru, besides leading Adivasi movements not only against English rule, but also against native kings and the Begari (forcing village workers to work without wages) practices of jagirdars, had spearheaded social reform movements. Apart from launching anti liquor and pro-female education movements, he also fought against prevalent social evils and violence. He was born in a Banjara family. He established sanmap sabhas among Bhil and Garasia tribes. On the complaint of the native Rajput Raja's, the British raided his dhuni and massacred 1500 Bhils overnight. This massacre was bigger in scale than that of Jallianawala Bagh. This incident took place in Banswara located in Maangarh. Some times in 1880-81. He was imprisoned.
The last armoured battle was probably fought in 1922 under the leadership of Allari Sitaram Raju. His first encounter took place with Trem Nahity. On 25th December 1922 in Damanopalli, Raju and his comrades surrounded the English and killed their officers. Their rebellion is termed as ‘Fituri’ ( a derogatory word) by the English. Sri Ram Raju had avowed that he would drive out the British from the country within a year. He ransacked three thanas (police posts) on August 22-23, 1922 and launched an anti lagan (revenue), anti-liquor and pro-panchayati raj movement that continued for two years.
There are countless tales of revolt and heroism. Today we salute all these Adivasi warriors who participated in the struggle of 1857. We also salute those who ignited the spark of rebellion before 1857, transformed it into a conflagration, and did not let this blaze extinguish even after 1857.
ADIVASI WRITING : AN EMERGING CONSCIOUSNESS
Whereas on the one hand the Adivasi creative
consciousness inheres in the self-articulation of its pains
and in finding its own solutions, on the other it also embeds an awareness of the conspiracy by which the established canon has tried to keep tribal people outside the ambit of civilization. The following extract from Vahru Sonvane’s poem ‘Stage’ provides us with an apt and accurate portrayal of the emerging contours of Adivasi creative consciousness. In this poem the Adivasi poet has etched out those feelings which not only shaped but also helped give vent to his creativity. While defining the emerging-consciousness in Adivasi writing, the poem also underlines the need for such writing, thus:–
We did not go up the stage
That was made in our name
Nor were we invited on to it
We were shown
With pointed finger
And we sat there (obediently)
We were highly appreciated
And ‘they,’ standing on the stage
Kept telling us of our own misery
“But our misery remained ours alone
it was never theirs”
We mumbled – uttered our doubts
“They” listened intently
Pulling us by the ear admonished us
“Say sorry… otherwise…”
Along with a creative re-appropriation and self-presentation of one’s pain, it is a consciousness that, piercing the age old silence, seeks to shatter the conventional canonical enclosures and Luxman Rakhas that have been drawn by the dominant. This consciousness inspired them to know their own culture, language, history, geography. They also became aware and wanted to know and investigate everything so that they can expose themselves and their culture to the outside world and say proudly– “Look! As a society our values have neither decayed nor any deformity has seeped into these–We have been living as a community –as a social group or collectivity–we have also been trying to forget the hardships inflicted on us by you by singing and dancing.You shoved us away from civilization–displaced us. We kept intact the mutual dialogue alive through flute and kettledrums. Now this dialogue has erupted as Naada–and the flute has become a ‘flame’. Transcending the limits of language and race we have united with a resolve to enlighten the whole society. Our languages are now armed with pen. We have begun writing. We have become aware of our Identity also. Don’t mislead us by calling us ‘Banwasi's’ or forest-dwellers! We, the primordial inhabitants of earth, were born with nature, grew up and evolved with it. We are the ones who as co-participants and co-contributors believe in conserving nature. We don’t want to dominate or rule it. We believe in co-existence–not in annihilation. We draw subsistence from nature and return back the same to her. We have begun writing now– against our forced dislocation caused by you. We won’t let our identity, our selfpride and selfrespect be destroyed. Living with our distinctive life-mores we would scale the ladder of change in a manner that would equip us to compete with you as equals – we have accepted the challenge to keep pace with civilization while keeping intact our individuality–our simplicity - and our collective identity – we will have to wrest-back our land–our forests from you–we shall learn in our mother tongue so that we, the native habitants, may unite. We shall discover our history. Haven’t you progressed through our martyrdom and our decimation? We will bring this fact/truth to light and shall prove that we were saviors and protectors, not Rakashas i.e. Damonds. We were benevolent–not monsters. The king Mahabali who donated his whole kingdom to disguised Bawan was our ancestor. We never disguise to deceive.”
Since Adivasi writers have scripted the truth of their lives–and have documented their life problems, theirs is a literature of life and not an imaginary tale for entertainment. The have also written about Birsa’s Ulgullan, Santal-Kol uprising, and the execution of Sido Kanhu. Equipped with the Adivasi-consciousness, Bhujang Mesram, a poet from Maharashtra, wrote:
Birsa! you have to arrive from anywhere
Either on sickle that cuts grass
Or on an Axe that cuts the wood
From here or from there
From East-West or North-South
Turning in to the breez of the farm
Come from any where
O My Birsa! people wait for you.
This consciousness imbued them with a sense of freedom, and made them aware of their might/strength (hidden in the clasp of their fist):–
After years the news has broken in the Jungle
A moment ago came across a baya; (bird)
that told of weaving a nest
Like the one built five thousand years ago
Just keep on singing
The songs of liberation.
Hidden in the fist of Jungle
Is an invaluable story (of struggle)
Infused by the self-confidence inherent in this literary awareness or consciousness Mahadev Toppo exhorted thus:–
He would pick up the bow
To preserve the green of the forest; the poet of the Jungle
Would beat the drum and blow the flute
Mounting his pen on the bowstring
For Grace Kujur the pen is mightier than the gun:–
What would their guns and bullets accomplish?
Crossing the threshold thousand stories are there
Every nerve, is turning into bow
Just wait for the pen turning in to an arrow.
An Adivasi, when mute, used his arrow to fight injustice. Now he is aware of the fatal potency of the pen and is eagerly looking forward to forge his creative prowess into a weapon, an arrow.
Tribal women too did not lag behind. Whenever she rummages through her history, she comes across a brave female soldier Sinagi Dai, holding on her own, alone in the battlefield against the Mughals. And in appreciation Grace Kujur vents forth:–
This time, if your fingers tremble
I’ll once again become ‘Singi Dai’
Recollecting the times when they would march forth at jani-shikar to vanquish the enemy, she exhorts every Adivasi-woman, thus:–
Jharkhand truly needs
A formidable janishikar once again.
A tribal is gradually becoming aware of the conspiracy to dislocate and distance him from the mainstream/civilization, and is quick to alert his community about it. Hariram Meena in his poem includes even the aboriginals of Andaman & Nicobar. He is worried about their fast dwindling race. He protests their expulsion from their land thus:–
How would you prove,
In the court of this civilization
That this ‘bhom’ (land) was yours?
Watching the forcible eviction of his people from their land, the poet is agitated by their helplessness, and interrogates them:–
They are coming
Your nerves are taut
Your muscles are flexing
Your bows and arrows ready
You are united and one
Yet do nothing
You can strike back
But are afraid
Why – but why?
Indigenous writers want to reform their community, so that empowered it can stand eye to eye with the mainstream.
Nirmala Putul strikes hard at the dead traditions and malpractices prevalent in her own community, when she says:–
Oh just stop that
Don’t utter a word, Sajoni Kisku
I remember when you, in your village Baagjori
Had tilled the land
The throne of deotas
That dwell in Majhi Thaan of our hamlet was shaken
The turban of honour of that empty-headed Hadaam
The hereditary chief, tumble down and was defiled
Then, harnessing you to the yolk
They had ploughed the field.
Had made you eat fodder
Tethering you by the peg.
She cautions Chudka Soren:
What quantity of liquor your father had consumed
I am not sure
But the liquor consumed him.
She cautions Chudka about the plain-dwellers, who lure away Adivasi girls:–
What jungle-beast was it Chudka Soren
That fled away with your sister Mungli, who
Had gone to gather fire-wood in the jungle.
In Rajasthan, Adivasi writers, through their research and writing, have been able to resurrect the revolt of Gobind Guru and the martyrdom of Kalibai. Ramesh Chandra Vadera and Khemraj Pargi have traced the history of Gobind Guru and Kalibai through folk songs. Hariram Meena has also explored this theme in his article. Today we know that a massacre bigger in scale than that at Jalianawala had taken place at Maangarh, where the English, in connivance with Rajput chieftains of Rajasthan and Gujarat, had shot dead 1500 Adivasis in a single night in the hills of Maangarh. But this incident remained buried in history. It is only now that it is being documented.
The movement that Gobind Guru, a staunch advocate of education, had spearheaded for establishing of schools for boys and girls, for non payment of taxes to the government and interest to moneylenders, was kept alive by people in their folk songs and folktales; now these are being penned on paper and sculpted in stone by the Adivasi artists.
The following song by Gobind Guru that reverberates through the nooks and corners of Rajasthan turned out to be a prophecy for freedom:–
O Buratia I refuse to acquiesce
My writ runs in Delhi
In Ahmedabad my jajam (seat)
My armies in Jaambu
In Maangarh my dhuni (base)
I recognize him as the chief
The authority of Gobind Guru
White man I won’t acquiesce…
(Buratia stands of British white man)
Adivasi writers have also tried to unearth the sources of their languages. Moraji Devgam has discovered Mundari words in the languages of Zamibia, Mongolia, Nigeria and Germany. He has even prepared a script for Ho language. It is a manifestation of the energy and awareness of Adivasi writers that they have been making utmost efforts to develop their languages. Santali speakers have invented a script called Olchiki. This script is even being taught in West Bengal. They are now trying to demonstrate that the Mundari language and its ‘dupub’ (root) culture has been the harbinger of universal human society. The search is on for Mundari and Kudux words even in Vedas.
Pitching for his mother tongue, Pushp Pushakar suggests links among Mundari, Khadia, Santali and Ho languages; Devgam, is trying to forge a script for Ho that corresponds to the predominantly oral tradition in Adivasi languages.
Critics like Dr Rajender Thakare, Rose Kerketta, Remis Kandulna, and Doman Sahu “Sameer” have undertaken the evaluation of Adivasi literatures. Lataari Kabru Madaavi, who is engaged in the reappraisal of Ravana, is trying to ‘set right’ the deliberate distortion in the representation of tribal life.
Dr. Gobind Gare in Marathi and Chetanya Prasad Majhi in Orriya, by focusing on the issues of Adivasi dislocation, development and change, and Rajender Singh Munda and Ram Dayal Munda by analyzing in Hindi the political and religious contexts of the tribals, are trying to create a blueprint for Adivasi studies. Dayamani, Vasavi, Bitiya Murmu, Nirmala Putul and Rose Kerketta, in trying to pen Adivasi questions, are trying to problematize them from different angles.
They are showcasing their folk-literature – bringing to the fore anecdotes, legends, folk tales, writing plays and, simultaneously searching for the tales of heroism. If in ‘Haykang (a Bori prayer song), a folksong from Arunachal Pradesh, the priest, while narrating the tale of origin talks about the crime perpetrated on human race by the Creator, then in the ‘dirge of the departed souls’ the soul of the dead lying in the tomb, instead of craving for heaven, desires to return to the land of the living.
Adivasi writers have also made forays in editing and publication. Their papers and magazines are being published in almost all major languages. In Jharkhand alone about 146 magazines in Santali language are being published. The Aravali Udghosh, published from Rajasthan–and that has already inspired two special issues of Yudhtrat Aam Aadmi on Adivasi writing–is an important magazine that showcases most of the Hindi speaking Adivasi writers.
The Adivasi creative ascendance is multifaceted, realistic and has a wide reach or scope. It is a committed writing that aims at social and human well being premised on democratic and egalitarian bonding and equality. While realizing the importance of education this literature is moving ahead with a mission that seeks to educate and create mass awareness, that can ultimately bring an attitudinal change amongs non Adivasis and Adivasis.
Language Identity in Tribal Areas : A Movement
While on the one hand the issue of language identity in tribal
areas has erupted as a movement for sustenance and
claiming Adivasi rights a due place from/within the mainstream, on the other hand within the Hindi society and literature, language identity has always remained an controversial issue. The plight of Tulsidas, though in the context of the dominance of Sanskrit, is well known. Rummaging through history in the present context, we are reminded of Ram Vilas Sharma, who on his reflections on language, had put the concept of Hindi jatiyata or identity before us, and in the course of time, had expanded on it in the three books that he wrote, to present the notion of Hindi belt.
There are thirty-seven dialects in all within the Hindi belt. Ram Vilas Sharma’s notion has posed a great danger to the existence of these dialects and has dealt a blow to ‘language claim’ of dialects such as Braj, Avadhi, Maithali, Bhojpuri, Magadhi, Kanauji, Bagri, Kurmali, Nagpuria, Khorta etc. Because of the pervasiveness of this notion of Hindi (as advanced by Sharma), the claim of these dialects for inclusion in the Eighth Schedule was sidestepped or pushed to the margins. Of late, Maithali has been accepted as ‘scheduled language’ but Braj, Avadhi, Bhojpuri and Rajasthani and all other languages of Hindi belt have lagged behind, despite an abundance of significant literature that has been written in these languages.
Though there were 146 registered magazines in Santali in Jharhkand alone, in 2002, yet this language was not included in the Eighth Schedule. Since then the number of Santali publications has increased manifold. They have used these little magazines to develop their contemporary ‘written’ literature as an activist strategy/struggle for the inclusion of their language in the Eighth Schedule.(1)
Similarly, besides Assamese, there are Bodo, Karbi, Rabha, Garo languages in Assam that are exclusively spoken by tribals and in which literature is being created. This literature has mainly come to the fore through little magazines. Having no separate scripts of their own, the speakers of these languages began writing borrowing Assamese or Roman scripts; now they have even modified and adapted Devnagari for the purpose of writing. They have kept their languages not only alive but have also enriched them through the medium of little magazines and newspapers. Apart from Bodo, all other tribal languages of Northeastern states are non-scheduled. Bodos had put up an unprecedented fight for Bodo language. Bodo-speakers not only wrote their stories, poems, myths, folk songs, travelogues, biographies and plays in hundreds but they have also translated the classics from Hindi, Sanskrit and English into Bodo. Most of their literature was published in little magazines, dailies and fortnightly newspapers. Through their struggle, Bodo people compelled the state government to make provision for their education in their mother tongue. They directed their intellectual movement through little magazines; or in other words, this intellectual movement was possible because of little magazines and newspapers. Bodo language too has been included in the Eighth Schedule recently. State administration and Government did not support the growth of Bodo literature. Primarily co-coordinated by Bodo Sahitya Sabha, its success has been the result of the collective effort of Bodo society, intellectuals, public, workers and little magazines.
If people in Arunachal Pradesh write in Assamese, Devnagari and Roman script; people in Meghalaya use Roman script for Khasi language. All the languages of Northeastern states, in which literature is being written, are growing either with the help of several little magazines or because of state patronage to their efforts – the Center is still ignoring them. As all other languages among eight Northeastern states, except Bodo, are non-scheduled, the intellectuals of these states are worried about their getting extinct, despite recognition by the respective states.
M.R. Lahary traces the reason for this crisis of non-scheduled languages, barring a few, in their not being the media of education by which they could have been conserved or nurtured.(2) The government is utterly indifferent to their conservation or their being the media of education. There is also something else to this ‘demise’ of these languages. It inheres in the adoption, by the native speakers, of other languages at the cost of their own language. Bilingualism prevails in fifty percent of the tribals. Two contradictory forces are at work within one language/linguistic community–the forces of continuity (holding on to) and that of change. Both of these forces work together. If on the one hand the force of custody conserves the language, the force of change, on the other hand, destroys it. There has been a mushrooming of new contact languages at many places in tribal areas. Actually, whenever a language becomes the medium of education or the medium of literature, it enriches itself by borrowing words from other languages, and never dies.
If non-scheduled languages fulfill any of the following conditions, the possibility of it subjugation by another language is nullified:–
1. Language as medium of education, in other words existence of enough avenues for education and development in mother tongue
2. Language as medium of written literature and medium of compilation of folk literature
3. Validation of the usefulness of the language and its constant use in practice by its native speakers
The fulfillment of first condition normally rests with the government, especially with the Central government. Personal efforts at social level can also be fruitful in achieving it. Speakers of Bodo and Santali, by creating literature in these languages and by adopting methods of agitation, succeeded in getting these languages as media of education, and also got them enlisted in the eighth schedule. In Bengal, it was the state government that took initiative in making Santali the medium of education. Santali people have even evolved their own script. Following them, scripts have also been developed for Kudux and Ho languages in Jharkhand, and a large amount of literature is being written in these languages. However, all these efforts are being carried out at social and literary front exclusively. Little magazines are making a significant contribution in this.
R. P. Lama, a Lepcha expert and speaker, quoting from Sir George Grierson’s book Linguistic Survey of India, opines, “India has 179 major languages and 544 dialects spoken by different groups and subgroups. Out of the 18 Indian languages constitutionally recognized by the Govt. of India as National languages, no tribal language has found a place.”3 Though Bodo and Santali have since been listed in the Eighth Schedule, yet this is not enough.
According to Ganesh N. Devy, “9 crore tribals, 6 crore nomads – that is approximately14-15 crore tribal people are being displaced in the name of development. One or two percent of the people that form the ‘creamy layer’ have hijacked everything out of them. The government doesn’t have any concrete plan to conserve these languages. Nevertheless, several important magazines of tribal languages are being published in nine or ten languages. A new interrogative articulation is taking shape in the literature of the entire northeast, and southeast, and also in Munda and Gond literature. It is important for us to understand that tribal literature is emerging as a big challenge to Indian literature. This is not complementary but a complete literature. It straddles at least 90 languages whereas English literature is limited to only one language and European literature to 25 languages. What we have been designating as Indian literature for the past fifty years constitutes only 26 languages, including Pali and Sanskrit.”4
A literature that encapsulates at least three to four thousand years old history and a wonderful diversity and abundance of communities, and is composed in 90 languages doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world – neither in American Black literature, nor Australian nor Negroid. It is a unique chapter in the history of world literature. This is an altogether different phenomenon in world history. Located within such a context, it is a big challenge, not only for the tribals, but also for literature and little magazines, to affect transformation. A challenge that is much bigger in scope than the one that was faced by Black literature. ‘Yudhrat Aam Aadmi,’ as peoples’ magazine and as a movement has taken up this challenge. By publishing their works in original and in translation, the journal has brought this subaltern literature into national limelight with the view to sustain it and transform it into an empowering tool to pressurize the government into changing the policies.
Since the whole of this literature is being written in non-scheduled–and not in scheduled or recognized – languages, it enjoys no facility for the conservation or custody of these languages. The threat that these languages may either become extinct or may be assimilated is very real. All tribal languages in South have already been absorbed or assimilated in the state or regional languages; they no more exist as written languages. Now they either exist as ‘oral’ languages or have been confined to certain places and tribes only. ‘Goreboli’ is a language of nomadic tribes such as Banjara, Lambari etc., and people of these communities speak this language all over the world. They also tend to imbibe the language of the place they go to as a medium of contact. But, despite being the language of 8 crore people, Goreboli is neither accepted as the medium of education nor has it been able to draw the attention of little magazines. However, now they have started writing in their own language and are also bringing out their magazines. The other folk/tribal//local languages of South have, nevertheless, become extinct. At best they only survive as the medium of intra community dialogue here and there.
Jawaharlal Nehru had said, “Language should not be a dividing factor but it should bring us together and each language can help the other languages of India grow through contact and exchange of ideas.”5 Despite Nehru’s lofty thoughts, his government did not pay heed to these languages. Some of the prominent writers, philosophers, intellectuals and linguists of these non-scheduled languages have expressed their dissatisfaction as to this indifference towards these languages.
Nand Dev Verma, a Kokborok speaker and tribal writer from Tripura laments that ‘Rajani Kok’ (the language of the kings) language that Halam tribes have been speaking, along with many other languages of Tripura, has now been reduced to a minority status within its own state.
In a tone of self-criticism in the context of English domination, Desmond Kharmawphlang, a poet from Meghalya says:
My burdensome English learning
Assails me, and the tomb it has become
Laughs and cackles without end6
A poet from Meghalya, who writes poetry in English, says that he can’t recite a poem before an audience comprising his own people nor can he enjoy their applause because they do not know English. So he feels guilty.
Nitai Rabha, a poet from Rabha community alerts his people to speak their own language:–
Trying to speak Lema (Assamese)
You have lost your tongue–your own dialect
Our dialect is deficient in no way
Then why mimic others?
Praban Bargoyari, a Boro writer and an eminent educationist from Assam believes that:–
Except Manipuri, all languages of Indo-monogoloids and Austric groups have been squarely neglected and deprived of their due priority and protection under the provisions of the Constitution of India. I am afraid, such discrimination has encroached upon the fundamental rights of the tribal people of India. In this case, even the fundamental rights of Indian Constitution are found self-contradictory. Whereas the Constitution itself guarantees the rights of preservation, adoption and promotion of their language, culture, and religion etc. to its each and every citizen; on the other hand, it squarely discriminated and except Manipuri, included the highly developed Aryan and Dravidian languages only in the 8th schedule of the Constitution of India.7
The threat to non-scheduled languages has, in fact, agitated the entire intellectual class of the Northeast. They believe this danger is the outcome of those government policies that, in conjunction with the processes of globalization, have always tended to profane the local. Religion is yet another factor that at times endangers the existence of these languages in this region. Sometimes regionalism too hinders the development of these tribal languages.
U. G. Brahma (former M.P.) sees privatization of education as a tool of linguistic imperialism in the Indian context. As a result, he opines, “in a dramatic development, there is a mushroom growth of private educational institutes having non-tribal language as the medium of instruction in tribal area and they have threatened seriously the existence of tribal languages as medium of instruction.”8
As to the question of threat to tribal languages, M. R. Lahary thinks that:–
‘Each of these languages which could not flourish beyond their speaker’s areas due to lack of scope for wider use on national level, is endowed with vital potential to add something to national integration just like drops of water, however small, augment the surface of rivers and streams. Linguistic compartmentalization, chauvinism and snobbery weaken the fabric of national integration. It begets not only misgivings but also dislikes among speakers of different languages.’9
That is why Brahma expects from the government that it “envisage minimum common national programme for the preservation and development of the non-scheduled languages. Terms and conditions should be relaxed to accommodate some more languages in the 8th schedule.” (10)
It is, thus, not only government policies but also cultural assault from outside that endangers these languages. Tribal communities fear that their original languages or their very linguistic core will be sidelined or destroyed in the name of national educational policy. More than five hundred tribes live in India. Of these, 75 tribal groups that live in different states outside Northeast, barring a few, most of them have either lost their language or are on the verge of losing them; in most cases these have been subsumed within the language of the majority.
Casting doubts on the present education policy, U.G. Brahma says:–
‘In one sense the present education policy is technology based job oriented education, where technical education has been given much prominence. It is often said as need based education also. Sometimes, it is feared that something is hiding behind the new education policy of this government. What is being hidden, I am not aware of that. But if it is again to marginalize the tribal languages by way of forceful interaction or silent means of assimilation, then this is not to be considered a part of the education policy. Because, if any policy is adopted that is not in conformity with the basic principle, it never yields a good result… In the last  years of our independence, equal and proportionate development could not be possible and large disparities in development level in various aspects between the weaker and stronger sections have been crystallized more.’ (11)
Anil Boro questions, “If a small minority of few thousands enjoy constitutional right to safeguard their language, why not these indigenous languages enjoy the right to safeguard their languages?”(12)
If Jharkhandi Magazines could survive today despite the well orchestrated assault of market economy, the credit for it goes to the linguistic pride of its people and their sustained struggle for it. From the time of undivided Bihar to the creation of present day Jharkhand, all successive governments at the Centre and in the state have been shying away from granting due respect to Jharkhandi languages.
By nurturing a consciousness for mother tongues, the language movement, through little magazines and newspapers, can turn into an enabling resistance towards indifference of the government towards tribal and those languages that are on the verge of extinction. Since it is deep rooted, it can stop any linguistic imperialism – native or foreign; be it internal or external colonialism. This consciousness trickles down to the last unit, at least to the literates. Its benefits also reach those illiterate groups of people whose children and relatives have become educated. These little magazines and newspapers and little booklets have contributed a lot in the development and sustenance of indigenous/tribal languages, in their respective areas. The articles and issues that appear in their own language in these magazines, keep alive their faith even when these people move out of their states. These language magazines thus keep inspiring them to keep their speech and script alive even in the pardes or the alien land. These people continue to publish their language magazine from big cities like Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkatta, and Gawhati etc. A large number of such little magazines of distant and far-flung languages are also printed in Delhi and other big cities; these keep intact their touch with their own language even after moving to Delhi or Bombay or any other big city. They earn their livelihood through Hindi or English; they even converse in these languages but think, plan, protest and resolve in their own language. And it is this that keeps their languages alive. Consequently, our priority should be the encouragement of their ‘language’ literature, whether in original or in translation, through the medium of little magazines and string them – the non-scheduled, unlisted or listed, indigenous languages – together symbiotically and relationally, so that they can enrich major languages and get enriched in turn through them. Linguistic democracy is only possible if the major language works with the intention of enriching, and in turn getting enriched by other language, and not with the intention of swamping or killing it.
Once upon a time, realizing Bangla’s hegemony, Assamese speakers rose in protest against it. It was only because of this struggle for language pride in the wake of the awakening of language consciousness, that underdeveloped/backward languages could remain alive. Assamese also got its due place. Kokborok in Tripura and Mizo in Mizoram could become state-languages because of the affirmative polices of the respective governments. In Arunachal Pradesh, Hindi or Assamese are used as official languages. There is no place for indigenous languages despite they being a dozen in number. The Apatani and Aadi-Sherdukpen speaking tribes have started writing in Hindi, Assamese or English out of shear compulsion, for their languages neither enjoy any patronage, nor do they have any script. But why is it so?
One can enumerate many reasons for this state of affairs. One of the major reason among these is the non-existence of scripts in these languages. People in northeast have, nevertheless, begun scripting the literature in their own language by adopting the Roman or Devnagari script or of some of other major regional languages. As a result their languages and dialects are still safe. By using diacritical marks in consonance with their own sounds and symbols on the available scripts, they have improvised a language that is grammatically and phonetically viable – and have started writing their literature in it. This is how they have inked their literature. All these however are individual initiatives. There has been no help, whatsoever, from the government. This love for their language has not only made them conscious about it, but has also taught them to oppose linguistic authoritarianism. They have turned rebels. The protest against Hindi in South, Bengali in Assam, and revolt against Assamese by tribal people are signs of emerging language consciousness/identity.
Tribal communities are not opportunistic like the mainstream communities. It is free from casteism or middle class mentality. Though weak economically and politically, it is nevertheless equipped with the feeling of equality and co-operation. It is this awareness of one’s identity and self-respect that has forced the Dalits to struggle. Dalits didn’t have any identity on the language plane; for them the issue of freedom, which could get them identity and self-respect, was more important than the issue of language identity. Nevertheless, on literary front they are engaged in struggle on ‘art-for-art’ and ‘art-for-life’ sake issues, or in other words, on the issues of form and content versus reality and authenticity.
The middle class of Hindi belt possesses the resources of Hindi and English to earn its livelihood and to improve its life-style, but the tribals – located on the lowest rung of the ladder–have no option other than limited reservation. It is therefore imperative to create opportunities for them in their own language.
Imperial thinking is authoritarian; it not only usurps the languages but also creates animosity among them. Translation is a necessary condition for the growth of languages and to crash language imperialism. Translation has the potential to link and acquaint languages with each other in ways that they can stand together against the domination of any one language.
Even in other countries the middle class remains an opportunistic class. Poor or rich, high caste or low, majority people of Hindi belt are the custodians and propagators of middle class mentality. And it is this middle class that ironically revolts as well as leads too. In the process of fine-tuning Hindi into an administrative/state language, the intellectuals and writers of Hindi have made it lean heavily on Sanskrit. Consequently, it is no more a language of the common people. On the other hand, genuine Hindi, a combination of Khariboli and Urdu, and tampered with by the local dialects, which was known as Hindustani – has become Janbhasa, or the language of the masses. It is this Hindustani that is in fact used as link language throughout the country. The so called stalwarts of Hindi belt, in their maneuvers to prove Urdu as the language of the Muslims, have wittingly or unwittingly, turned Hindi into the language of Hindus. To our great surprise this very Hindi became our national or administrative language. It also became the self proclaimed language of great literature, and common man’s language, i.e., Hindustani, was reduced into the language of folk or inferior literature. The priority should have been the development of people’s language. It was this language that originating in dakhini dialect had joined hand with Urdu to evolve into khariboli. The original khariboli had words from all the dialects which are either used/spoken in various pronunciations in different languages including Panjabi or are still intact/present in their original form even today. The words of khariboli are present in Marathi and Gujarati too. But after donning the robe of Sanskrit it has attained the status of bhasa or language and has attained status as national language, but, in the process, has got severed from the jan or the people.
The new generation of the present is busy acquiring employment friendly language or languages and it is in these languages that literature is being written. Having been accepted by government job and global market it has also become the language of media, and is once again changing its contours.
If we want to save/conserve these languages/dialects then it calls for ushering in of language democracy and creation of opportunities for non-scheduled languages. Though it can be achieved easily and swiftly with the help of the concerned state, if and only if the state can provide for need based education in the medium of these languages and it also encourages literature created in these languages, yet even without government support a desire to protect their language identity and culture has kindled the consciousness of tribals and has led them to produce realistic and issue oriented literature incorporating new cultural values. The spread of education and availability of scripts in a few languages, coupled with an awareness of impending danger to their identity, has whetted their consciousness with a hunger for writing and publication in these languages. They have effectively employed little magazines and newspapers as media to raise these issues.
If every magazine dedicates a few pages to any one of these non-scheduled languages for translation, language sisterhood could be created. The authoritarian, imperialistic language bias creates animosity among languages because by imposing itself on other it tends to usurp the other; the language sisterhood, on the other hand, promotes the tendency to reciprocate, or mutual give and take among languages. It believes in democracy where every one has the right to live and let live and grow together. Through translation, little magazines can create an atmosphere of linguistic sisterhood and unity among them.
1 Since the writing of this work, Santali has been included in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution.
2 For details see M.R. Lahary, “Future of Unscheduled Tribal Languages,” Sannidhi, 34-44.
3 George Grierson quoted in R. P. Lama,”The Role of Tribal Linguistic Groups in Implementation of Education Policy,” Sannidhi, 51
4 G.N.Devy, “Adivasi Samaj Aur Sahitya Ki Chunautiyan” Yudharat Aam Aadmi: Akhil Bhartiya Adivasi Sahitya Sammelan - Special Issue No 80: .23-24.
5 Jawaharla Nehru quoted in Lama, 49.
6 New Frontiers 2.1 (Winter 2000) 103
7 Praban Bargoyari, “Future of Tribal Languages in 21st Century and Their Role in Strengthening National Integration,” Sanniddi, 46.
8 U. G. Brahma, “Tribal and Their Education: An Overview,” Sannidhi, 10.
9 For details see M.R. Lahary, “Future of Unscheduled Tribal Languages,” Sannidhi, 38-39.
10 U. G. Brahma, “Tribal and Their Education: An Overview,” Sannidh, 10
11 U. G. Brahma, “Tribal and Their Education: An Overview,” Sannidhi, 8.
12 Anil Boro, “Indigenous Languages of North East India: Threats to Their Survival,” Sannidhi, 32.