Tip | How to address misconceptions on tribal customs and culture in the classroom?

Boro Baski

Tribals do not exploit other people’s labour for the sake of their own avarice, nor do they destroy nature to build monuments to the human ego.Ivy Hansdak in her Inaugural Speech for the National Conference “Tribes In Transition-II: Reaffirming Indigenous Identity Through Narrative”

The goal is to prepare some model students in our villages, so that others will be inspired to follow them. – Boro Baski in his article “Long-term success of non-formal Adivasi school in West Bengal”

For us it’s not so much about having a room of one’s own, as a roof over our head [but] affirmation and agency – Ruby Hembrom at the Jaipur literature festival

It is almost impossible to characterize all of India’s tribals in a single ethnographic or historic framework. – Ganesh Devy in his Introduction to Painted Words: An Anthology of Tribal Literature

It is wrong and does not help the tribal cause either to reduce the image of the Indian tribal society to that of destitute remnants, on the verge of dying out. – Voices from the Periphery, a multidisciplinary book on “reversing the gaze”

Adivasi people have an alternative world view, which has rarely been acknowledged or recognized. Their existence was never based on accumulation or consumerism. […] All of us can learn from them. And it’s about time we started. – Mari Marcel Thekaekara

Gandhi believed that giving more importance, value and relevance to practical skills, and applying traditional knowledge to solving day-to-day problems were essential for the development of rural India. – Bunker Roy, the founder of Barefoot College, which helps rural communities becomes self-sufficient

Enabling people to learn from each other opens up the possibility of creating learning organisations – where people are learning from each other every day at every level. […] It seems like going back to the way things were done in the past – learning by telling stories, learning by hearing how other people did things. – Scene magazine

As India’s tribal communities are among the most diverse anywhere in the world, teachers and students will benefit from the success stories told by indigenous educators like Dr. Boro Baski and Dr. Ivy Hansdak or publisher Ruby Hembrom: from them we may learn more about new opportunities just as the need for a better understanding of “cultural heritage” while rectifying past mistakes just as present-day misconceptions:

  • customs like the maintenance of sacred groves that benefit modern society: medicinal plants preserved in “biodiversity hotspots” for scientific research (ethnobotany, food security in the face of global warming)
  • aspirations of tribal youth within and beyond their own communities
  • constitutional rights and efforts to avoid “adverse inclusion”
  • modern history: how Nehru, Gandhi and Tagore envisioned rural development
  • colonial policies: stigmatisation and discrimination (“criminal tribes”) yet to be overcome in educational and other institutions
  • linguistic heritage and the value of endangered languages
  • proper nutrition and education for young children and women
  • rapid changes affect entire communities (modernity)
  • mass media (dignified portrayal of tribal communities)

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