Limbu community temples as “visible markers of the ethnic community”: Emergence of a new ethnic identity – Sikkim


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Emergence of a new ethnic identity

When the kingdom of Sikkim was integrated into the Indian Union in 1975, the old order was disbanded and Sikkim became a state of the Indian Union. These political changes created the conditions for Limbu identity assertion. Mélanie Vandenhelsken explores the emergence of a separate Limbu identity, distancing itself from ‘Nepaliness’ since the Limbu settlement straddled the border between Nepal and Sikkim. She discusses the part taken by the Sikkimese Limbu in the trans-border Kiranti movement, and shows how Limbu activism developed through literature and script. Then, from the late 1980s, as a response to state policy, the emphasis of Limbu activism moved to rituals and religion. Activists succeeded in reforming ‘Limbu religion’ by referring to the teachings of the ascetic Phalgunanda Lingden (1885–1949), and to redefine their religious practice as ‘Yumaism.’ Later, the writer J. R. Subbha furnished Yumaism with a philosophical base, reminiscent of Christianity and Neo- Hinduism. When the Indian government declared all Sikkim ethnic groups to be Scheduled Tribes in 1994, Limbu religious activity shifted from house and village to community temples which became visible markers of the ethnic community..

Source: Irish Journal of Anthropology, Vol. 19(2) 2016 Autumn/Winter
Accessed: 17-12-17

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Video | Ekalavya discussed in an interview with noted Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o

Writers Talk Politics | Ngugi wa Thiong’o in conversation with Sudhanva Deshpande

Commenting on Ekalavya “who ends up being disabled despite that Dhrona never really taught him – he taught himself – but even with that he is disabled so he cannot compete with the sons and daughters of the powerful. So that theme of disabling the regular guy, the working person or whatever, was very important to me” […] They do the work, they produce, and yet do not always get the fruits of what they produce, or even get punished for actually producing or losing their language which contains information, history, technology, skills […] (from 4:00 onwards)

Discusssing his more recent book “Secure the Base” about imperialism and colonialism, language, inequitable distribution of the world’s resources (from 5:20 onwards): “I believe that it is good that people of different cultures and histories make contact with each other […] but that contact must not be that of the rider and the horse.”

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o: “I want to revive the connections between Africa and Asia”

The writer in conversation with Sudhanva Deshpande
April 16, 2018

This is the first part of a conversation between Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o and Sudhanva Deshpande. The writer was in Delhi for the ILF Samanvay Translations Series-2018, organised in collaboration with Seagull Books, at the Indian Habitat Centre. In this conversation with Deshpande, actor and publisher, he talks of the presence of India in his novels; the need to fight against imperialism; and the necessity to secure one’s base in order to resist the coloniser.

Date Accessed: 17 April 2018

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Residential schools: Government plans for preserving art and culture in regions with tribals majority – Budget speech 2018 >>


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Residential schools: Government plans for preserving art and culture in regions with tribals majority – Budget speech 2018

The name of legendary tribal archer Ekalavya will soon become synonymous with residential schools in each block of the country where tribals constitute a majority of the population. This was announced by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in his Budget speech | Read the full report in The Hindu 1 February 2018 >>

Eklavya, the ‘other’ guru: Why Bheel and Bhilala archers don’t use right thumbs

Anuraag Singh, Hindustan Times 25 June 2016 | Read the full story >>

Dronacharya and Arjun, the ‘guru-shishya’ duo from the Indian epic Mahabharata, occupy a special place in the hearts of the masses. But not for Bheels and Bhilalas who revere Eklavya — the archer prodigy immortalised for cutting off his right hand’s thumb as ‘guru dakshina’ to Dronacharya. […]


Alirajpur [Madhya Pradesh] is predominantly a tribal district with more than 91% of the 7.28-plus lakh population (as per the 2011 Census) comprising tribals. Bhilalas and Bheels add up to around 95% of the tribal population in the district. […]

Every Bhilala is a born archer who starts wielding bow and arrows at a tender age of 6-7 to guard flocks of goats from predators,” said Mahesh, also the officiating district Congress party chief of Alirajpur.

“Even on a funeral pyre, ‘Teer-Kamthi’ accompanies every Bhilala. The ‘Bilki’ (burnt metallic edge of the arrows) is kept in the house as a good omen,” he said. Weapons of trouble? […]

Source: Eklavya, the ‘other’ guru: Why Bheel and Bhilala archers don’t use right thumbs | Hindustan Times
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Date Visited: Thu Feb 01 2018 17:08:43 GMT+0100 (CET)

Drona-Ekalavya: How mythology has ruined teaching in India

Prachur Goel, Medium, Dec 4, 2016 | Read the whole story >>

Culture and mythology drive our instinctive beliefs and if you ask anyone about a teacher-student story from our mythology, chances are that they will think of Drona and Ekalavya. The narrative shapes our collective expectations from a teacher and a student and I think has played a major role in poor education in our country.

Ekalavya was a tribal, not an upper caste like Drona’s students, the Pandavas and the Kauravas. Drona rejected Ekalavya, an aspirational student, because he didn’t have the right family background. He later did the same thing to Karna. However, Ekalavya clings to Drona’s image. He makes his statue and practices by himself. His motivation and ability is so high that becomes a serious archery stud. When Drona finds out about his brilliance, Ekalavya tells him that he considers Drona as his guru. Drona has no qualms in accepting himself as the guru. Even worse, he demands Ekalavya’s thumb as Guru Dakshina which he readily cuts and hands over. […]

The story represents hierarchy at its most oppressive. Hierarchy between teacher and student. The teacher can be selfish, prejudiced and arrogant and teach nothing, yet the student must respect the teacher and credit him/her for all learning. There is no dialogue, just obedience. Whatever the teacher asks of the student, no matter how ridiculous, the student is duty-bound to comply. It is expected that the compliance is done joyfully.[…]

Our government runs Ekalavya branded residential schools in tribal areas. Do they view themselves as Drona?

Source: Drona-Ekalavya: How mythology has ruined teaching in India
Accessed: 20 April 2018

Ekalavya: a Classic Allegory

By Atiya Amjad, The New Express, Hyderabad, 24th October 2017 | Read the full story and view the images discussed >>

Re-Visiting Ekalavya’s Story’ by Subodh Singh Tirupati is a potent and loaded montage of drawings, paintings, and sculptures, aligning the episode of Ekalavya in the Mahabharata, to the Santal Revolt of 1855 and, the contemporary issue of Soni Sori, the Adivasi activist. Through, this exhibition he brings to the fore the subaltern communities systematic and consistent marginalizing of the tribes. Therefore, documented history cannot be relayed upon as it has been researched and reviewed that such documentation is biased.

Based on the narrative of Ranajit Guha’s book, titled, ‘Dominance without Hegemony: History and power in colonial India’ the exhibition’s premise is power struggle. As Guha’s narrative is at the crux of ‘Re-Visiting Ekalavya’s Story’, the show is embedded with social, political and cultural overtones. And, ultimately it is about attempting to create an unbiased Indian historiography. […]

The medium used by the artist also becomes the message of his work. The artist, in this case, used the parchment leather to drive his point home. For example, the Santhal revolt of 1855 A.D., which was suppressed by the colonial rulers in the first stage and further suppressed by colonial writers and later marginalized by the national elite historiography.

Finding a parallel in history and the parchment leather the artist expresses unuttered realities of a different period. […]

Date visited: 17 April 2018

[Bold typeface added above for emphasis]

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The Future of Tribal Oral Culture in the Age of Globalization/ Digitalization: Papers presented for “Tribes In Transition-II: Reaffirming Indigenous Identity Through Narrative” (National Conference) – New Delhi

Plenary Session 3: Panel Discussion on “The Future of Tribal Oral Culture in the Age of Globalization/ Digitalization”

Chaired by: Prof. Virginius Xaxa, Professor of Eminence, Tezpur University, Assam & Chairman of Xaxa Planning Committee

Panellists: Prof. Joseph Bara (IGNTU, Amarkantak), Prof. Bipin Jojo (TISS, Mumbai), Prof. Anand Mahanand (EFL University, Hyderabad), Dr. Shreya Bhattacharji (CUJ, Ranchi) and Dr. Ganga Sahay Meena (JNU, Delhi).

Joseph Bara began by indicating how the twentieth century had been a landmark period in the history of tribal literature. He gave reference of several colonial writers, historians and anthropologists who compiled data about the various tribes of India. Such colonial documentation included Encyclopaedia Britannica of Tribes in general, several volumes on Santhal folklore, and other writings that were inspired by: i) a strong wave of humanitarianism; ii) the spurt in anthropological and ethnological work. Before colonial and administrative documentation, there had been writings by missionaries, who even took the effort of learning the language of the tribes. But all these writings saw the tribes as the ‘others’ who needed ‘reform’. In some cases, the tribals themselves were closely involved in providing details to the compilers of these works, as in the case of Verrier Elwin and G.S. Ghurye. The whole body of writings on the tribes has been marked by i) Orientalist stereotyping ii) nationalism, because of which they were largely misrepresentations. The speaker concluded by emphasizing on the need to critique the existing narratives and knowledge systems about the tribals in India.

Bipin Jojo’s talk focused on the Tribal/ Adivasi epistemology with a perspective from within. European epistemology was based on ‘othering’ and the binaries of superior/ inferior and core/periphery. To counter the European epistemologies, indigenous epistemologies have arisen from different non-European regions of the world. In the Indian context, the tribal epistemology should take care of four aspects: i) the paradigm of analysis, i.e., there is no postcolonial in the context of Adivasis in India, as they are still experiencing internal colonization; ii) the notion of protection; iii) the notion of modernity; iv) the degree of authenticity, as tribal narratives and forms of knowledge cannot be generalized owing to their located-ness and relativity. They are not universal and absolute, but dynamic, temporal, and based on time, space and person. Further, Western epistemology has considered oral societies as being devoid of histories, while they do appropriate these histories in different ways. The binaries on which these studies are premised are unfair – such as those of oral/written, civilized/ uncivilized, subjective/ objective. They consider documentation as authentic and deride the authenticity of oral cultures. They are unmindful of the fact that the documentation is also not free from subjective ideological interventions. They ignore the fact that oral tradition has the possibility of dialogue which is absent in written. Therefore, it is necessary for tribal studies to counter the epistemologies from outside and develop an epistemology with a perspective from within.

Anand Mahanand spoke about orality and writing, and issues of translation when oral culture is transcribed into written narratives (with reference to Oriya folk tales). Folktales are orally narrated and performed with the speaker’s gestures, voice modulations, imitation of characters, and improvisations. They are also participated by the audience. When oral tales take the form of written narratives, they undergo several changes at the level of language, culture, genre and audience; from tribal language to standardized Oriya language, which in turn involves appropriation of cultures. In terms of genre, they change from oral performances of songs and stories to written narratives. The audience changes from participant performers – both literate or illiterate – to passive readers of a text, often from another community. Tribal folktales reflect the culture, rituals and practices of a people, which get uprooted, alienated and frozen in written narratives in an alien language. From public performances, they become reduced to a private activity. Gestures such as jumping and dancing are lost in the written form. The paper concluded by posing some pertinent questions such as the following: If there are these many losses and issues in translating oral cultures to written ones, then should such endeavours be taken up? If yes, what are the aspects of translation to be taken care of, so that the vivacity of a living culture is not lost in translation?

Shreya Bhattacharji presented on the “Unique Cultural Mosaic of the Lepcha Community of Kalingpong [West Bengal]. This community has been reduced from being a rich and vibrant culture to a dying tribe. Across history they have been prone to attacks and invasions such as the Tibetan influx of the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries, the Bhutanese invasion in the 1700s, religious invasions and conversions. Today, they are spread across three countries – India, Nepal and Bhutan. They are thrice marginalized, and today their culture is almost extinct or deeply threatened. They have displayed a tremendous history of tolerance, despite the several forms of onslaughts on them. Their governance pattern was remarkable by virtue of being casteless, creedless, and having a communal ownership of land. They were a community that gave immense respect to women. They had traditional judicial system by which conflicts were easily resolved. Because of the politics of exclusion and distortion, there is a threat of erosion of this indigenous, socio-cultural, gender-friendly tradition and its institutions.

Ganga Sahay Meena expressed the concern whether Adivasi philosophy can be preserved in the age of globalization and free market economy. To preserve the Adivasi philosophy, the language should be preserved. This is borne out by the survey conducted by G. N. Devy, while compiling details about most of the extinct and endangered languages of the Adivasis in his voluminous work, People’s Linguistic Survey of India.

(Student Rapporteur: Mr. Niyas Ahamad)

[Bold typeface added above for emphasis]

Source: Report for the ICSSR-sponsored Two-Day National Conference Tribes In Transition-II: Reaffirming Indigenous Identity Through Narrative organised by The Department of English & Outreach Programme Jamia Millia Islamia (New Delhi, 27-28 February 2017)

Courtesy Dr. Ivy Hansdak, Assistant Professor, Department of English, Jamia Millia Islamia University New Delhi (email 4 October 2017)

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Natural beauty and sustainability through people-centric forest management: A strong Adivasi movement that keeps the momentum going – Maharashtra

From ever green forests of western ghats to deciduous forest of Vidarbha, each region is bestowed with unique natural beauty. Jewels in the crown are the tiger reserves like Tadoba, Melghat, Pench and Sahyandri. Mowgli Land is inviting you, on the backwaters of Totladoh lake, in Pench National Park

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Welcome to Maharashtra Forest

Globally as well as nationally, Forest Conservation is increasingly being viewed as a powerful instrument in sequestering carbon and thereby offset adverse climate change. Maharashtra Forest Department, being custodian of the State’s rich and diverse bio-diversity, is committed to a conservation-centric management and protection strategy. Wild-life focused eco-tourism management hinges on sustainability. Production-be it timber or non-timber forest produce is managed with sustainability at its core. Joint Forestry Management to secure natural resources as well as livelihood security remains the major people-centric activity. Attempts are on to hone local artisans’ skill in making value-added articles out of non-timber forest produce like bamboo and cane. Augmenting green cover on non-forest areas to achieve national targets of 33% of land area under green cover remains a forefront agenda. Intensive use of Information and Communication Technology supplemented by e-governance is under effective use to monitor ongoing forestry activities. Extensive use of digital platform to project a true picture of forest conservation forms the central theme.


Ten years of Forest Rights Act: Maharashtra tops in implementation – but credit goes to one district

Mridula Chari,, July 09, 2017 | Read the full report >>

Gadchiroli has recognised community forest rights in 66% of eligible land, compared to the state’s figure of 15%.

A new report by Community Forest Rights Learning and Advocacy – a collective that brings together community members and their organisations, civil society groups, researchers and academics – showed that Maharashtra’s success came on the back of record recognition of community forest rights in Gadchiroli, an eastern district of the state. “If Gadchiroli is taken out of the picture, Maharashtra’s average performance of CFR [community forest resource rights] implementation as compared to the minimum potential [of forest land eligible for these rights] would be approximately 10%,” the report noted.

It went on to say that Maharashtra had granted villages community forest resource rights in 15% of land with the potential for these rights to be recognised. However, this was only because it had recognised these rights in 66% of the potential land in Gadchiroli. In the rest of the state, there was no implementation at all in 21 districts, between 0% and 33% implementation in nine districts, and between 33% and 66% in two districts. […]

A strong Adivasi movement in Gadchiroli is an important reason for the district’s impressive performance. Adivasi groups here had pushed for the Forest Rights Act to be passed and pressure from the movement ensured that in May 2008, the state notified rules for the Act and directed gram panchayats to begin holding meetings to file community forest rights claims. […]

Yet, even as Maharashtra is foremost in implementing community forest rights, it is also slowly attempting to reverse this with new forms of forest management. […]

“Maharashtra has definitely done better than all other states,” said Sahu. “We just have to keep a watch to keep the momentum going.”


[Bold typeface added above for emphasis]

Date accessed: 11 December 2017


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