Report on “Tribes in Transition” Conference in Santiniketan – West Bengal

Report by the Convener Dr. Ivy Imogene Hansdak, Assistant Professor, Department of English, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi – 110025 (ivyihansdak@gmail.com) in consultation with the Co-Convener Dr. Boro Baski, Trustee, Ghosaldanga Bishnubati Adibasi Trust (Regd. under Indian Trust Registration Act, 1982), Ghosaldanga, P.O. Sattore, Dist. Birbhum, West Bengal – 731236 (borobaski@gmail.com)

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I. Introduction to Purpose of the Conference:

It is worth noting that urban middle-class Indians still view the tribal in terms of the primitive/ civilized dichotomy either as a ferocious and uncouth savage or as a childlike primitive unsullied by the vices of civilization. In the post-Independence period, there has been a great deal of “culture contact” between the tribal people and mainstream society, leading to acculturation, displacement and other related changes among the tribes. This is broadly referred to as “transition”. In recent years, the “tribal in transition” has been the subject of many literary and cinematic representations as well as of many studies conducted by scholars of Subaltern Studies and Cultural Studies.

The International Conference on ‘Tribes in Transition: Conflict over Identity, Resources and Development’, held during 12-13 March 2014, at Santiniketan, West Bengal, dealt with the sense of Angst being felt by the tribal people of contemporary India. While this Angst is a direct result of exclusion from their traditional rights over resources, it is aggravated by their extreme deprivation and exploitation at various levels. To examine the Angst of the tribal people and to delve deeper into their collective experience of loss and transition, this Conference brought scholars of various disciplines together with social workers and tribal writers in an enriching polyphonic discourse. Besides panel discussions by scholars, translators and social workers, there was also a Writers’ Meet. Hence, the Conference tried to provide a much-needed balance between the “tribal in transition”, the social workers and the larger world of academia.

The Conference was organized under the aegis of the Department of English, Jamia Millia Islamia Central University (JMI), New Delhi, in collaboration with the Ghosaldanga Bishnubati Adibasi Trust (GBAT), which is a tribal NGO registered under the Indian Trust Registration Act, 1982, and based in Santiniketan, West Bengal. The Conference was funded by the Indian Council of Social Science Research (Ministry of Human Resource Development), Post Box. No. 10528, Aruna Asif Ali Marg, New Delhi-110067, India.

II. List of Participants of the Conference:

Sl. No. Name Designation & Address
1 DR. G. N. DEVY
Keynote Speaker
Director, Bhasha Research & Publication Centre, Vadodara, Gujarat
2 PROF. VIRGINIUS XAXA
Guest of Honour
Director, TISS, Guwahati, Assam
3 PROF. SUSHANTA DATTAGUPTA
Presided over the Inaugural Session
Vice-Chancellor, Viswa Bharati University, Santiniketan, West Bengal
4 DR. MARTIN KAEMPCHEN Germany & Santiniketan, WB
5 MR. LUDWIG PESCH
(Paper presented in absentia)
Secretary, Tribal Cultural Heritage in India Foundation, The Netherlands
6 PROF. RANJIT BHATTACHARYA
(Moderated Session)
Formerly  Director, Anthropological Survey of India, West Bengal, WB
7 PROF. KUMKUM BHATTACHARYA
Delivered Valedictory Speech
Dept of Social Work, Viswa-Bharati University, Santiniketan, WB
8 PROF. SONAJHARIA MINZ Centre for Computer Science, JNU, New Delhi
9 DR. ANAND MAHANAND Dept of Materials Production, EFLU, Hyderabad, AP
10 DR. SHANTIDANI MINZ Dept of Community Medicine, CHTC, CMC, Vellore, TN
11 DR. PRABIR CHATTERJEE Kolkata, West Bengal
12 DR. BORO BASKI Trustee, GBAT, Santiniketan, West Bengal
13 FR. JAMES TOPPO, SJ  Acting Principal, St. Xavier’s College, Maharo, Jharkhand
14 FR. DAVID SOLOMON, SJ Johar HRD Centre, Dumka, Jharkhand
15 MR. TONOL MURMU AISWACS, Kolkata, WB
16 SR. JEMMA TOPPO Ursuline Convent, Ranchi, Jharkhand
17 MS. KIRSTY MILWARD Suchana, Uttor Chandipur Community Society, Bolpur, WB
18 MR. KUMAR RANA Suchana, Uttor Chandipur Community Society, Bolpur, WB
19 MR. A.K. PANKAJ Editor, Jharkhandi Bhasha Sahitya Sanskriti Akhra, Ranchi, Jharkhand
20 MS. RUBY HEMBROM Adivaani Publishers, Kolkata, WB
21 MR. ABHAY XAXA PhD scholar, CSSS, SSS, JNU, New Delhi
22 MR. PRASHANT KUMAR HEMBROM Scholar, IIM, Kolkata,West Bengal
23 MR. PARIMAL HEMBRAM ‘MARSAL’ All India Radio, Eden Garden, Kolkata,West Bengal
24 MR. DURBIN SOREN Bardhaman, West Bengal
25 MR. SUNDER MANOJ HEMBROM Bandel, West Bengal
26 MR. SIBU SAREN Bolpur, West Bengal

P.S – Besides the above, a group of tribal cultural performers were also invited to perform on Day One of the Conference.

Tip: to find a book by or about some of the speakers and authors mentioned in the present report, use the WorldCat search window seen below
(e.g. “Ivy Hansdak”, Boro Baski”, “Kumkum Bhattacharya”, “Nirmala Putul”, “Ranjit  Bhattacharya”, “Ganesh Devy”, “Ruby Hembrom”, “Martin Kämpchen”, “Shantidani Minz”):

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III. Proceedings of the Conference (Programme Schedule):

Day One (12-03-2014) Venue: Visva-Bharati University, Santiniketan

INAUGURAL SESSION: 9.30 AM to 11.00 AM

The Conference will open with a short introduction by the Convener, the Lighting of the Lamp ceremony and a Tribute to Rabindranath Tagore, followed by the Address by the Guest of Honour, Prof. Virginius Xaxa, Chairman of the Xaxa Commission and the Keynote Speech by Dr. G. N. Devy, Director, Bhasha Research & Publication Centre, Vadodara. The session will be presided over by Prof. Sushanta Dattagupta, Vice-Chancellor of Visva-Bharati University.

SESSION 1:  11.15 AM to 1.15 PM

Panel discussion 1 on “Tribal Cultural Heritage and Conflict over Identity”

Panelists: Prof Virginius Xaxa, Xaxa Commission; Mr. Tonol Murmu, AISWACS, Kolkata; Mr. Ludwig Pesch, Amsterdam, The Netherlands; Mr. Kumar Rana, Suchana, Bolpur.

Moderator: Prof. Ranjit Kumar Bhattacharya, formerly Director, Anthropological Survey of India

SESSION 2: 2.15 PM to 4.15 PM

Panel discussion 2 on “Translation and Publication of Tribal Literature”

Panelists: Dr. Anand Mahanand, EFLU, Hyderabad; Dr. Boro Baski, GBAT, Santiniketan; Ms. Ruby Hembrom, Adivaani, Kolkata

Moderator: Prof. M. Asaduddin, Head, Dept of English, JMI, New Delhi

(In the absence of Prof. Asaduddin, this session was chaired by Dr. G.N. Devy)

Visual Presentation and Talk on “Tribal Women and Human Trafficking” by Sister Jemma Toppo, Ursuline Convent, Ranchi, Jharkhand.

4.30 PM – 5.30 PM

Talk on “Tribal Culture and Worldview” by Mr. A.K. Pankaj, Editor, Jharkhandi Bhasha Sahitya Sanstriti Akhra, Ranchi, Jharkhand.

5.30 PM – 6.00 PM

CULTURAL PROGRAMME: 6.00 PM – 8.30 PM

Day Two (13-03-2014) Venue: RSV School, Ghosaldanga Village

SESSION 1: 9.00 AM – 11.00 AM

Panel discussion 3 on “Tribal Healthcare and Community Development”

Panelists:  Dr. Shantidani Minz, CMC, Vellore; Dr. Prabir Chatterjee, Malda; Fr. David Solomon SJ, Johar HRD Centre, Dumka, Ms. Kirsty Milward, Suchana, Bolpur.

Moderator: Mr. Gokul Hansda, GBAT, Santiniketan

SESSION 2:  WRITERS’ MEET: 11.15 AM to 1.15 PM

Mr. Parimal Hembram ‘Marshal’; Mr. Durbin Soren; Mr. Sibu Saren; Mr. Sunder Manoj Hembrom.

Moderator: Dr. Ivy Imogene Hansdak, Dept of English, JMI, New Delhi.

SESSION 3: 2.15 PM to 4.15 PM

Panel discussion 4 on “Tribal Youth: Problems of Employment”

Panelists: Prof. Sonajharia Minz, JNU, New Delhi, Santiniketan;  Fr. James Toppo SJ, St Xavier’s College, Maharo; Mr. Prashant Kumar Hembrom, scholar, IIM, Kolkata; Mr. Abhay Xaxa, PhD scholar, JNU, New Delhi.

Moderator: Fr. David Solomon SJ, Johar HRD Centre, Dumka, Jharkhand

VALEDICTORY SESSION: 4.30 PM to 6.30 PM

The Conference will conclude with a summing-up by the Co-Convener, followed by a speech by Dr. Martin Kaempchen, German writer, the Valedictory Speech by Prof. Kumkum Bhattacharya, Dept of Social Work, Viswa-Bharati University, and the Vote of Thanks by Mr. Sona Murmu, Trustee, GBAT.

PS: The conference will be followed by the Santal Spring Festival celebrations on 14th March 2014. Interested persons may contact Dr. Boro Baski, GBAT, for details

IV. Brief Summary of Each Session with Title and Summary of Each Presentation:

DAY ONE (12-03-2014)

TIT01

INAUGURAL SESSION: 9.30 AM to 11.00 AM

The Conference opened with a short Introduction by the Convener, the Lighting of the Lamp ceremony and a Tribute to Rabindranath Tagore, followed by the Address by the Guest of Honour, Prof. Virginius Xaxa, Chairman of the Xaxa Commission and the Keynote Speech by Dr. G. N. Devy, Director, Bhasha Research & Publication Centre, Vadodara. The session was presided over by Prof. Sushanta Dattagupta, Vice-Chancellor of Visva-Bharati University.

Santal_2014_Conference010

  1. 1. Keynote Speech on “The Tribal Imagination in Literature, Culture and Arts” – Padmashree Dr. G.N. Devy, Director, Bhasha Research & Publication Centre, Vadodara, Gujarat.

In the Keynote Speech, Dr. G.N. Devy focused on the ‘tribal imagination’ which he saw as being distinct from mainstream imagination. According to him, while they were often oral in form, yet their creativity and beauty were par excellence. He pointed to the existence of alternative Ramayana and Mahabharata epics among some Western Indian tribes, such as the Bhili Ramayana among Bhils. The plight of the De-notified Tribes (DNT) also got special mention. He ended by stressing the need to preserve the tribal languages and cultural heritage since they had the capacity to enrich mainstream Indian society.

  1. 2. “The Tribal Identity in a Postcolonial Context” – Prof. Virginius Xaxa, Chairman, Xaxa Commission & Director, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Guwahati, Assam.

In his speech, Prof. Virginius Xaxa traced the emergence of the “tribal” identity during the colonial period through such demographic exercises like census reports and ethnographic research. He spoke of the survey being undertaken by the Xaxa Commission among the tribal communities in different parts of India, focusing on their deprivation and the common problems they shared.

SESSION 1, Day One:  11.15 AM to 1.15 PM

This had a Panel discussion on “Tribal Cultural Heritage and Conflict over Identity”

Panelists: Prof Virginius Xaxa, Chairman, Xaxa Commission & Director, TISS, Guwahati; Mr. Tonol Murmu, AISWACS, Kolkata; Mr. Ludwig Pesch, Amsterdam, The Netherlands (in absentia); Mr. Kumar Rana, Suchana, Bolpur.

Moderator: Prof. Ranjit Kumar Bhattacharya, formerly Director, Anthropological Survey of India.

  1. 3. “From Exclusion to Empowerment: Creating Opportunities for the ‘Tribal’ Youth to Voice Their Own Aspirations and Be Heard” – Mr. Ludwig Pesch, Secretary, Tribal Cultural Heritage in India Foundation, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

This speech began by pointing out the formidable challenges faced by outsiders seeking relevant knowledge of the tribes of India and then raises two basic questions: (1) How to better understand the cultural heritage of tribal communities based on their own aspirations and available facts? (2) How to instill self-confidence and optimism among the youth of these communities, without being misguided by wishful thinking?  The speaker then argued that collaborative efforts had a greater chance of achieving their purpose if “tribal cultural heritage” was understood as being part of one’s own future – something of equal importance as a sense of being rooted in the past and an understanding of the conditions prevailing now.

  1. 4. “Adivasis and their Development: Conflicting Approaches” – Mr. Tonol Murmu, All India Santal Welfare and Cultural Society (AISWACS), Kolkata

The speaker began by pointing out that Adivasis are the first/original settlers of India and had their own distinctive socio-political, economic and cultural identity. The Adivasis still harbour basic human values of equality, caring-sharing, co-operation, consensus and participatory mode of decision-making. Adivasi political institutions of local self-governance are the living, breathing embodiments of this egalitarian value-system and world view. Adivasis still practice subsistence economy.

He then spoke of the major challenges facing Adivasis today. He ended by saying that there can be no programme for people to be developed; they can only develop themselves, provided they have access to professional skills and livelihood facilities. There had to be a synchronized approach i.e. addressing the socio-political, economic and cultural issues simultaneously. All the development interventions were required to be human-value congruent, and should involve the very people for whom these are focused, rather than drawn thousands of miles away in a different ambience by ‘alien’ people.

  1. 5. “Assimilating into the Tribal Way of Life” – Mr. Kumar Rana, Suchana, Bolpur, West Bengal

In this speech, Mr. Kumar Rana spoke of his childhood in a village growing up with tribal friends. His deep love and understanding of the tribal way of life came through, as he spoke of their unique way of life. He spoke against the consumerist culture driving mainstream society and made a plea for return to the pure and innocent world of the tribal people. While this could be interpreted as ‘romantic’, yet the growing fears of ecological devastation and climate change that are being raised throughout the world today increased the power and relevance of his speech.

SESSION 2, Day One: 2.15 PM to 4.15 PM

This had a Panel Discussion on “Translation and Publication of Tribal Literature”

Panelists: Dr. Anand Mahanand, EFLU, Hyderabad; Dr. Boro Baski, GBAT, Santiniketan; Ms. Ruby Hembrom, Adivaani, Kolkata.

Moderator: Padmashree Dr. G. N. Devy, Bhasha Research & Publication Centre, Vadodara, Gujarat.

  1. 6. “Translation and Publication of Tribal Literature” – Ms. Ruby Hembrom, Founder Director, Adivaani Publishers

The speaker pointed out that one of the most obvious features that defined tribal communities was language. However, language itself was constantly evolving – it imbibed new words from dominant regional and global languages, losing more complex and specific native words as a way of leveling the ground of language barriers and comprehensibility. According to her, this was a reality and with the change in language, thought-processes and meanings also changed. She raised some relevant questions like: Have we modified our syntax and expressions in language so that the non-tribal world relates to what we have to say? Have we simplified our language to ensure conformity and acceptability in the academic and literary world? Or have we retained what is unique and exclusive to us as indigenous, unapologetically, and left the task on the world to apply themselves to understand us and our ways? Most importantly, are we handing down and preserving for our next generations through the translation and publication of tribal literature a diluted version of who we are as indigenous peoples?

  1. 7. “From An Unlettered Audience to the Literate Learners: Translating Oral Folktales for the Classroom” – Dr. Anand Mahanand, Dept of Materials Development, EFL University, Hyderabad

The speaker focused on his own experience of translating folktales, which are usually orally told and listened to by the audience. When we translate them into written form they go through a number of changes. Folktales are originally meant for non-literate audience. When we translate and present them before the literate audience, we tend to make certain changes to suit the literature audience, which belongs to another class and category. Although there are such differences occurring in the process of translation, one common element that remains in both the source text and the translated text is the purpose of narration. The purpose of narration is to entertain and educate the audience.  He ended by speaking of his own experience of translating two collections of tribal folktales from Odia into English. The purpose of his translation was to offer these tales to young learners of English. These tales underwent several changes in the process of translation that he discussed in detail.

  1. 8. “The Experience of Translating Rabindranath Tagore into Santali” – Dr. Boro Baski, Ghosaldanga Bishnubati Adibasi Trust, Santiniketan

In this paper, the speaker discussed the various linguistic and conceptual problems that arose while translating Tagore’s work, namely the experience of translating Raktakarabi (Red Oleander), which is one of Tagore’s best-known plays, from the Bangla original into Santali, as part of a translation project at Jadavpur University, Kolkata. Tagore was a prolific writer with poems, short stories, novels, essays, memoirs, travelogues, letters, songs, plays and music dramas to his credit. Since many of his works are poems or clothed in poetic language and are also often set to music, the translation is complicated. The differences in language and terminology which exist between the original language, Bangla, and Santali, were discussed, as well as the affinity of the musical rhythm and the basic idea of the play with Santali traditional melodies and the Santal way of life.

Though Tagore has not written specifically about the Santals, it can be assumed that he was aware of their way of life. He had indirectly referred to their traits of simplicity, their ability to do hard work and to enjoy life in his poem ‘Soantal Meye’ (from the volume Bithika). How much of Raktakarabi could be integrated into the Santali language and into the Santal mind by a translation? This was the question to which this paper wished to give a tentative reply.

Visual Presentation and Talk on “Tribal Women and Human Trafficking” by Sister Jemma Toppo: 4.30 PM – 5. 30 PM

  1. 9. Tribal Women and Human Trafficking” – Sister Jemma Toppo, Ursuline Convent, Ranchi, Jharkhand.

In this presentation, the speaker focused on the problem of human trafficking prevalent in many areas of Chotanagpur and Santal Parganas. She spoke of her own experience of establishing a rehabilitation centre called ‘Asha Kiran’ for minor victims of sexual abuse at Khunti Road, Ranchi, with support from the Rotary Club of Ranchi and Belgium. She made a powerful argument by citing some real cases of abuse and trafficking of tribal women, many of them by non-tribal dalals (agents/touts) who enticed them by promising jobs in big cities. This was accompanied by a PPT presentation with photos and newspaper clippings that held the audience spellbound. Finally, she spoke of her experience of fighting many law cases, as a trained lawyer, in defense of these victims. A truly heroic tale that touched everyone’s heart deeply!

Since then, her efforts have been recognized by the Jharkhand government which conferred the prestigious “Jharkhand Samaan” upon her this year.

A Talk on “Tribal Culture and Worldview” by Mr. A.K. Pankaj, Ranchi, Jharkhand: 5.30 PM – 6.00 PM

  1. 10. “The Tribal Worldview” – Mr. A.K. Pankaj, Editor, Jharkhandi Bhasha Sahitya Sanskriti Akhra, Ranchi, Jharkhand.

In this paper, the speaker began by tracing the history of tribal communities in India, their collective memories that live on through their folklore, even in their contemporary narratives. He said that it was this that made tribal people stay apart from mainstream society. He expressed the mutual sense of fear and suspicious felt by tribal and non-tribal societies towards each other. His voice seemed to that of the real Subaltern who understood the pain and anguish of his people. The angst of the tribal people was felt by all of us as we heard him speak.

DAY TWO (13-03-2014)

SESSION 1, Day Two: 9.00 AM – 11.00 AM

This had a Panel discussion on “Tribal Healthcare and Community Development”

Panelists:  Dr. Shantidani Minz, CMC, Vellore; Dr. Prabir Chatterjee, Malda; Fr. David Solomon SJ, Johar HRD Centre, Dumka, Ms. Kirsty Milward, Suchana, Bolpur.

Moderator: Mr. Gokul Hansda, President, GBAT, Santiniketan

  1. 11. “Tribes in Transition: Some Challenges to Health” – Dr. Shantidani Minz, Dept of Community Medicine, CMC Vellore, Tamil Nadu

The speaker pointed out the effect of transition (social transformation) on the health of the tribal people. According to her, this was not usually in focus as other aspects of ‘development’ took the center stage. However, since tribal lives are interlinked with nature, changes in physical environment and ecosystem due to development projects impacted more on their health. Equity in health care was not adequately addressed in newer health initiatives in India, resulting in the differences in health-related indicators and outcomes between tribal population and others. In addition, loss of cultural identity and traditional systems created new challenges for retaining the tribal concept of holistic health.

This paper used indicators such as Infant Mortality Rate, Maternal Mortality Ratio, Sex Ratio, Malnutrition Rates etc. to understand the differences between the health of tribal people and others. These indicators reflected the effects of health services and policies, the empowerment of the people and the deep-rooted cultural factors. The comparative changes over time helped in understanding these challenges. Experiences and lessons from indigenous populations of other countries were brought in to raise questions on the need for more visibility of health needs and concerns of the tribal people in India.

  1. 12. “Tribal Health in Uttar Dinajpur district of West Bengal” – Dr. Prabir Chatterjee, Health Consultant, Malda, West Bengal.

The speaker referred to three sets of recent data that pointed to the fact that disproportionate numbers of tribals suffered from various infectious diseases, namely, Tuberculosis, Kala Azar and Leprosy.  He asked why it was so. Were they all the result of poverty? Also, was poverty genetic or due to poor education or due to discrimination/ exclusion? Were cultural or language barriers excluding tribals from the benefits that have reached the other sections of society? He attempted to answer these questions by using community breakup of each disease notified. One model of “Reverse Osmosis” of disease was discussed in this context.

  1. 13. “Exploring Multicultural and Multilingual education: Reflections on Activities in Suchana, an Education Resource Centre” – Ms. Kirsty Milward, Suchana, Bolpur, West Bengal.

The speaker began by looking at the implementation of the Right to Education (RTE) in West Bengal. She found that while education was universalized by becoming compulsory with the RTE, virtually nothing was being done in some states to ensure that tribal children had opportunity to learn in their first languages at any point in their education. Hence, almost all tribal/adivasi children and their families continued to face a stark choice between pursuing the potential economic advantages of education or nurturing / retaining their cultural identities.

The presentation concluded by asking how a discursive space could be opened up to take the question of first language education beyond the narrow polarization of English v state language/ ‘mother tongue’. She ended by pointing out that the notion of mother tongue available in this debate was blind to the mother tongues and cultures of those previously excluded groups.

  1. 14. “Health and Community Development of the Tribal Community” – Fr. David Solomon SJ, Director, Johar HRD Centre, Dumka, Jharkhand.

In this paper, the speaker looked at tribal community at the crossroads today, especially in terms of shrinking livelihood resources base, eroding communitarian values, implementation of  schemes that fetch financial and political profits to the leaders rather than ensuring welfare of the people. As a result, a majority of the tribal educated youth is unemployed or treated as labourers , while their culture is ebbing away. Change, according to him, was the only constant element in the dynamics of the society. Manifestation of changes could be analyzed through categories that are experiential and corresponding to identity. The following categories were employed: (1) Owners to labourers: Decline in the benefits from the resources, neglect of traditional livelihood, displacement and migration have led to the tribals becoming mere contract labourer.   (2) Tribe to Citizen:  The nation-state becomes the overarching identity base rather than the community that so far offered justification for social living. (3) From Kinship to religious-political social relationship.

He suggested that cultural tools and mechanisms such as consensual decision-making process, transparency, and participation were important in implementation of the process of community development. The space and pace of the women in the whole process should also be respected. This approach to community development did not root in itself on any ideological base but evolved from dialogue, community needs, people’s perception and experiences. Exclusive approaches only made practitioners very fundamentalist, so they should be avoided. Community development ultimately meant empowering the poor to write their own history on their own terms but within the larger arch of pan-tribal narratives.

SESSION 2, Day Two:  WRITERS’ MEET: 11.15 AM to 1.15 PM

Besides paper presentations and the academic discussions that followed, the Conference also included a Writers’ Meet with four prominent Santali/ Santhali writers: Mr. Marsal Hembrom, Mr. Durbin Soren, Mr. Sibu Soren and Mr. Sunder Manoj Hembrom. (Unfortunately, Ms. Nirmala Putul could not attend due to health reasons.)

Moderator: Dr. Ivy Imogene Hansdak, Dept of English, JMI, New Delhi.

This session sought to connect with the general tenor of the discussions by focusing on writings that spoke of the angst of the tribal people and their attempts of deal with the challenges of transition/ social transformation. They spoke in Santali, Hindi, Bangla and English alternately, without any interpreters to aid them. It is worth noting that their words were understood by everyone in the audience. A brief summary of their life and achievements is given below:

5 TRIBAL WRITERS

Santal_2014_Conference004Nirmala Putul was born in Kurwa village, Dumka, Jharkhand, in 1972. She was married off at a young age but soon separated from her husband. Thereafter, she passed Matriculation from a government school, then got a Diploma in Nursing at Dumka and worked as a nurse in Dumka for two years. During these years, she came in contact with many victims of sexual abuse and human trafficking.  Later, she passed B.A. in distant mode from IGNOU, New Delhi, and worked for four years in the NGO, Badlao Foundation.

She gained recognition as a major tribal poet in the 1990s but shot into literary fame after her two poetry collections were published in Hindi translation in 2004: Nagare Ki Tarah Bajti Shabd (A Voice like the Thundering of Drums) and Apne Ghar Ki Talash Mein (In Search of One’s Own House). Besides Hindi, her poetry has been translated into English, Marathi, Urdu, Russian and Korean. She has been honoured with the Sahitya Samaan in 2001, the Rajya-keeya Samaan in 2006, the Bharat Adivasi Samaan in 2006 and the Vinoba Bhave Samaan in 2006, among others.

At present, she lives in Dumka and is involved in managing her own NGO, Jeevan Rekha. Her third book of poetry is due for publication. She can be contacted through email: nirbirjharkhand@rediffmail.com (Could not attend Conference due to ill-health)

Parimal Hembram ‘Marshal’ was born in Sankaria village of Bankura district, West Bengal, in 1957. He passed Higher Secondary in 1975 and graduated in 1978 from Uluberia College, Howrah, under the University of Calcutta. He obtained MA degree in Bengali from Calcutta University in 1980. He worked as a bank clerk and a school teacher for short periods of time before joining the All India Radio as Programme Executive in 1989.

He started writing in his mother-tongue, Santali, under the pseudonym of ‘Marshal’ (literal meaning: “the light”). He is a prolific and versatile writer, with over twenty books to his credit. Though writing more in Santali, he is equally at ease in Bengali. Among his works are two history books in Bengali, Jharkhander Sankshipto Itihas (2001) and Santali Sahityer Itihas (2007), two Santali novels, Tiri-Sipahi and Kashdungri (published in one book, Jor Jeleng Kahani: 2011) , a collection of one-act plays in Santali, Aakhara (1985), a collection of Santali short stories, Rimil (2007) and several collections of Santali poetry such as Aakaal (1988) and Manowa-Ho-Manowa (1996), Nakosi-Sikende (2002) and Akto Reyak Dalil (2012). He has also translated his own poems into Bengali in collections such as Jion (2002) and Hei Samalo (2009). As a literary critic, he has contributed the Bengali work, Saontali Bhasha Charcha-o-Bikasher Itibritta (2010).

Apart from his literary work, he is a performing artist who recites poems in both Bengali and Santali. He has been attached as an actor to a folk theatre group and has acted in stage dramas and films. He has also produced a radio-play in Santali, Radio-Gayan (2000). Presently, he is the President of the Santali Sahitya Parishad, West Bengal. He can be contacted through email: parimalhembram@yahoo.in

Santal_2014_Conference006Durbin Soren was born at Korompura village in Birbhum district, West Bengal, in 1949. He passed Higher Secondary from Sonar Kunda village in 1967 and graduated from a collage in Rampurhat in 1971. He got his first job as a school teacher while still in college. A few years later, in 1976, he got employment on the Food Corporation of India, Kolkata, from where he retired in 2009.

His literary career began in earnest after 1971, when he published two books: a Santali booklet, Santali Parsi Do Oka Sec (Where is the Santali Language Heading?) and a collection of Santali songs, Dilgaria Seren-Duran (Songs to Delight the Heart). He then went on to publish his prose writings in several Santali journals, such as Jug Sirijol, Pachim Bagla, Tetre and Sili. His most recent books are a collection of short stories, Judasi Kahni Mala, and a novelette, Ekrar. He writes about the exploitation of the Santals by rich landlords and mining syndicates.

He has also delivered talks on Santal society and culture on the All India Radio. In 1980, he and Dilip Soren co-founded an organization called Hor Somaj, which aimed at the social and cultural awakening of Santals residing in West Bengal.  He has edited several Santali magazines, such as Somaj Susar, Marsal Bati and Jagarna.  Presently, he is the President of the Gota Bharot Santali Sahitya Sabha.Sibu Saren, a Santali poet and playwright, was born in Nildanga village of Birbhum, West Bengal, in 1973. He passed Matriculation from Bolpur High School in 1990. He graduated from Visva-Bharati University in 1995 and did MA in English Literature, also from Visva-Bharati University, in 1997. He started writing in Santali from an early age, but published his first work, a Santali drama titled Hul: Mit Kecak Dular Katha, in 2005.

This was followed by other Santali plays such as Disom Bairi, Dhiri Hongor, Cet Cekayana, AidorArufera, Bhurkhok Ipil, Bar Bigha Barge and the award-winning Midun. In 2011, his collection of Santali poems, Birbanta, was published. He has also written many short stories and has one short story collection, Shoresh Kahani (2012), to his credit.

Mr. Saren was selected as the best director and playwright by the West Bengal Government in 2008 for his play, Midun. He also received the Janam Hasa Award for his literary achievements in 2011. Presently he is the Editor of a Santali magazine, Bagjulu, which is published from Santiniketan.

Sunder Manoj Hembrom (b. 1976) is a 37-year old Santali fiction writer who hails from Kendpahari village of Dumka district, Santal Parganas, Jharkhand. He passed Higher Secondary from St. Joseph’s High School, Guhiajori, in 1991 and then passed I. Sc. from Science College, Patna, in 1993. He graduated in Mechanical Engineering from BIT Sindri in 1997. After graduation, he went through a rough patch in life when he kept switching jobs. During this period, he worked at different times as an Engineer in EIL and in Coal India Ltd., also as a Lecturer in the Govt. Polytechnic, Dumka.  Finally, he settled down in his present post as an Engineer in the Eastern Railway.

His literary journey began in 2010 when he started exploring the causes behind his turbulent life. He has written about 40 short stories so far and has one collection, Sengel Buru, to his credit. He writes mainly in his mother tongue, Santali, and also works as an Assistant Editor in the Santali literary journal, Jug Sirijol. One of his short stories titled “Night Bus to Bengal” (“Ado Cedak’…?” in the Santali original) has been recently published in English translation in Sahitya Akademi’s bi-monthly journal, Indian Literature, No. 277, Sept-Oct 2013, pp.112-118. He writes mainly about the transition of the Santal tribe in the context of mainstream Indian society. He has received the Jharkhandi Bhasha Sahitya Sanskriti Akhara Award in Santali for 2013.

He presently resides in Bandel, West Bengal, and can be contacted through email: smanoj0876@gmail.com

SESSION 3, Day Two: 2.15 PM to 4.15 PMThis had a Panel Discussion on “Tribal Youth: Problems of Employment”Panelists: Prof. Sonajharia Minz, JNU, New Delhi, Santiniketan;  Fr. James Toppo SJ, St Xavier’s College, Maharo; Mr. Prashant Kumar Hembrom, scholar, IIM, Kolkata; Mr. Abhay Xaxa, PhD scholar, CSSS/SSS, JNU, New Delhi (former Fulbright scholar)Moderator: Fr. David Solomon SJ, Johar HRD Centre, Dumka, Jharkhand

  1. 15. “Tribal Youth and their Employability” – Prof. Sonajharia Minz, School of Computer & Systems Sciences, JNU, New Delhi.

In this paper, the speaker focussed on the tribal youth. She pointed out that youth ws the time of life when one was between childhood and adulthood – i.e., in terms of the population, those who were between 15 – 24 years of age. It was also a social position, a stage of constructing self-conception with respect to the peer, lifestyle, gender, culture etc. It was the time one started making choices. Such an important component of any society had to be also considered as the predictive indicator for future trends.

She continued that, given the variety of options of employment, employability can never be based on physical criteria alone. Therefore, to each category of employment there are specific, physical and skill-related eligibility criteria. Natural processes are responsible for one to attain the physical qualification, although it may also be dependent on factors such as nutrition and health conditions. However, for a citizen to attain the skill-related qualifications, multiple players are responsible, of which the state is the major stakeholder.  Educational qualification, by far, is the most widely accepted gauge to factorize the skill and suitability of a person. Thus, education has been considered the vital factor in this deliberation to delve upon the question of employability of tribal youth.

The questions that guided the discussion have emanated from the comparison of literacy/educational status of tribal youth with that of the youth in the national literacy/education statistics. In the sixty-six years since Independence, to what extent have the government policies on education and on scheduled tribes been cross-referenced to assess their implementation? Also, what are the objectives and achievements of the various education systems and/or education models in use?

  1. 16. “Tribal Youth and Education” – Fr. James Toppo SJ, St. Xavier’s College, Maharo, Dumka, Jharkhand.

In this paper, the speaker focused on the most appropriate ways of preparing the Tribal youth for employment.” According to him, employability and unemployability are two states separated from each other by a wide and deep chasm. Only education could bridge that gap. Yet, the present education system and methodology, does not recognize the tribal mind and strengths. The tribal mind works, reacts, absorbs and personalizes differently than his counterparts in almost every situation of life.

The difference in learning styles, motivational factors included, have never been taken seriously till today by the educationists, including most of the tribal teachers. Not because of ill will, nor because of intentional exclusivism, but because of its historic contextual emergence in the midst of non-tribal situations, the system of education enlivens, sharpens and perfects the non-tribal mind the most but fails to touch a section of tribal learners. Difference in learning styles, nowadays referred to as right or left brain animation, becomes more apparent when it comes to applying the knowledge acquired in real life. Thus, the education of tribals has often failed to prepare them for employment.

  1. 17. “Tribal Youth: Problems of Employment” – Mr. Prashant Kumar Hembrom, MBA student, Indian Institute of Management, Kolkata

In this paper, the speaker focused on the economically challenged situation of many tribal families, which was the major cause of tribal unemployment. He pointed out ironically that these tribes resided above huge deposits of precious mineral deposits of gold, diamond, coal, iron-ore, uranium etc, yet were unable to utilize their full potential due to various reasons, such as government apathy towards education and employment, casteism, inefficient political leadership, etc. He pointed out that a majority of the tribal populations were still dependent on agriculture for their livelihood and failed to produce world-class agri-products such as found in some parts of the West (that produce agri-products like wine, cheese, whiskey etc). The tribals working in the service sectors in India also faced problems in the form of discrimination during job selection, delayed or no promotion, false charges of corruption, less competitiveness due to lower standard of education, etc.

After analyzing the root problems of employment, he suggested streamlined efforts from the government machinery and a socially united effort from the tribals themselves to ensure better rates in employment.

  1. 18. “The Future of Tribal Studies” – Mr. Abhay Xaxa, PhD scholar, CSSS/SSS, JNU, New Delhi.

In this speech, the speaker examined the academic debates in the area of Tribal Studies.  This broad area range from the works of writers during the colonial period to the more recent writings by scholars from various disciplines like Sociology, Anthropology, Subaltern Studies, Cultural Studies, Myth Studies and Folklore Studies. While the presenter could only provide brief glimpses of the major arguments and debates in Tribal Studies, due to time constrains, the audience got a deeper understanding of the enormous complexity underlying this issue.

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VALEDICTORY SESSION: 4.30 PM to 6.30 PM

The Conference concluded with a summing-up by the Co-Convener, followed by a speech by Dr. Martin Kaempchen, German writer, the Valedictory Speech by Prof. Kumkum Bhattacharya, Dept of Social Work, Viswa-Bharati University, and the Vote of Thanks by Mr. Sona Murmu, Trustee, GBAT.

  1. 19. “Living with the Santals of Bolpur” – Dr. Martin Kaempchen, Germany, Europe.

In this speech, the eminent German writer, Dr. Martin Kaempchen, spoke about his years in India while working on his doctoral dissertation on Rabindranath Tagore’s writings and philosophy at Viswa-Bharati University. His love for Indian culture became part of his life during that time. Later, he discovered the beauty and charm of tribal culture through the Santals of Bolpur. He befriended and encouraged a group of Santals villagers with whom he was involved as an educationist, researcher and guide. He was instrumental in establishing the NGO, Ghosaldanga Bishnubati Adibasi Trust (GBAT), which collaborated in this Conference. He ended by saying that working with the Santals brought meaning into his life and caused him to return to Bolpur every year. His fascination with the Santal people and their culture shone through this speech.

  1. 20. Valedictory Speech by Prof. Kumkum Bhattacharya, Dept of Social Work, Viswa-Bharati University, Santiniketan.

In the Valedictory Speech, Prof. Kumkum Bhattacharya came back to the problematic question of defining the “tribal”. She referred to the many definitions given by colonial anthropologists, Indian scholars and government administrators who have focused on certain traits above others. She pointed out the contradictions in them and finally ended by linking the whole question with culture and language. The Valedictory Speech marked a fitting end to a very stimulating and fruitful Conference.

V. A Note on the Contribution of the Conference to Existing Research:

The ICSSR-sponsored International Conference ‘Tribes in Transition: Conflict over Identity, Resources and Development’, 12-13 March, 2014, may be considered successful since it has fulfilled its primary objectives, as stated in the Concept Note:

“Objectives: This Conference will deal with the sense of Angst being felt by the tribal people of contemporary India. While this Angst is a direct result of exclusion from their traditional rights over resources, it is aggravated by their extreme deprivation and exploitation at various levels. In recent times, the tribal people have been involved in struggles relating to identity, resources and development. These have found expression through multiple voices ranging from the quiet introspection of poetry to the fiery sloganeering of politics. To examine the Angst of the tribal people and to delve deeper into their collective experience of loss and transition, this Conference will bring scholars of various disciplines together with social workers and tribal writers in an enriching polyphonic discourse. Besides panel discussions by scholars, translators and social workers, there will also be a Writers’ Meet. It is hoped that the Conference will provide a much-needed balance between the “tribal in transition”, the social workers and the larger world of academia.”

The Conference may even be termed “path-breaking” since it brought together academics, social workers, medical doctors and creative writers on a common platform. Moreover, on Day Two, its venue was shifted to a rural area (RSV School, Ghosaldanga village), where ordinary tribal people could mingle freely with learned scholars in the midst of greenery. This was in the true spirit of the Gurukul system encouraged by our great poet, Rabindranath Tagore. The polyphonic nature of discourse also reflected the spirit of egalitarianism and free-thinking, unhindered by narrow boundaries, that was eulogized by Tagore:

“Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls…” – Gitanjali

As for its contribution to existing research, it is hoped that the publication to follow will add to existing research through its inclusion of the tribal ‘voice’ – not just of the academic who writes about the tribal as subject but also of the tribal creative writer who gives voice to the collective angst through his narratives.  The wide-ranging issues discussed in the Conference could also give it a place among the pan-tribal writings of India.

VI. Tentative Plan of Publication:

The editing of the papers presented during the Conference is currently underway. At least 10 papers have been submitted so far, while the remaining ones are expected within the next few months. While the Convener is the Chief Editor of this volume, the Foreword will be written by Padmashree Dr. G.N. Devy. As for the publication, Ms. Ruby Hembrom, the Founder Director of Adivaani Publishers, Kolkata, has kindly consented to accept the Manuscript once it is completed.  It is hoped that the volume will be out by next year.

VII. Conclusion:

To sum up, the ‘Tribes in Transition’ Conference has helped in enriching academic knowledge of the Indian tribes, has brought a very diverse group of people together and has encouraged the spirit of egalitarianism, free-thinking and mutual respect.

Finally, I wish to apologize for the delay in submission of this Report and extend my sincere gratitude to all the staff of ICSSR, New Delhi, for making this International Conference possible. I look forward to more interactions with ICSSR, New Delhi, in the near future.

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Research the above issues with the help of Shodhganga: A reservoir of theses from universities all over India, made available under Open Access >>