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The Scholar He Was

Updated: Apr 29, 2023

I am not your data, nor am I your vote bank,

I am not your project, or any exotic museum object,

I am not the soul waiting to be harvested,

Nor am I the lab where your theories are tested,

Dr. Abhay Xaxa, Courtesy: Twitter

Sharp, creative, intellect- Abhay Xaxa had them all. He could use salty metaphors to explain the hypocrisies of Indian society. He skillfully demonstrated how policies drafted in high offices and at the behest of special economic interests had devastating effects on India's marginalised.


The Oraon tribe member Abhay Flavian Xaxa, also spelt Khakha, was born and raised in the Jashpur District of Chhattisgarh. Dr Abhay worked on the issue of Adivasi land rights in central India in various capacities with grassroots organizations, campaigns, NGOs, the media, and research institutions. He was trained as an Adivasi rights activist and a sociologist. Bonded labour, Adivasi rights, Dalit rights, budget rights, education justice, and a number of other topics were among his areas of expertise.


In the 1990s, Abhay was forced to withdraw from college due to family financial difficulties. He owned his own business, which involved transporting villagers from Jashpur in a jeep using a government loan for SCs and STs. He later went back to school, highlighting the significance of "educate and agitate." He was an active member of the student union.


Dr Abhay worked in Hindi news media following his sociology degree, but editors were hostile toward his concerns. He started doing research and activism, working with social movements and non-governmental organizations on issues like bonded labour, development-induced displacement, distress migration, and fair wages for forest workers like tendu leaf pluckers, and distress migration.


He was the first Adivasi student from Chhattisgarh to receive a Ford Foundation International Fellowship to study at the University of Sussex for postgraduate work in 2007.


In the beginning, Dr Abhay was a Research Fellow at the Indian Institute of Dalit Studies. From 2012 to 2019, he was a Program Coordinator for the National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR). He believed that Dalit and Adivasi movements could learn from one another on issues like discrimination in public spending and higher education, the poor implementation of the Prevention of Atrocities Act, and programs for forest and land rights. Abhay was a frequent traveller who also became a national anchor for grassroots organizations, activists, student bodies, and academics. He was the Convenor of the National Campaign for Adivasi Rights and a Co-Convenor of the Tribal Intellectual Collective.


I am not your cannon fodder, or the invisible worker,

or your entertainment at India habitat center,

I am not your field, your crowd, your history,

your help, your guilt, medallions of your victory,

Dr. Abhay Xaxa on press conference on Adivasi demands for the upcoming indigenous peoples day

Abhay was involved in a number of movements, including those advocating for Adivasi rights and youth higher education. He returned to India to conduct research after earning a degree in social anthropology at the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom. Abhay has written a lot to make people aware of the things he cared about, like how much the Centre spent on Adivasi upliftment. His articles have been distributed in Firstpost and different distributions. On learning of Abhay Xaxa's passing, a number of his fellow students and activists sent condolence messages, expressing their grief at his sudden death.


This is how Abhay describes himself: A sociologist by training but an indigenous activist by heart! Justice was Abhay's driving force throughout his early years in Chhattisgarh, where he worked as a researcher and activist and was a leader in Adivasi student unions. In Delhi, he worked with Dalit and Adivasi networks and earned a PhD in sociology at Jawaharlal Nehru University. He was concerned with social, economic, environmental, and educational justice, as well as the production of knowledge.


The environment in which Abhay grew up and went to college was one of social discrimination, state violence, and economic exploitation at the hands of upper castes, moneylenders, and contractors. Abhay, for instance, experienced the kind of arbitrary state power that regularly violates the dignity of many Adivasis while he was in secondary school. He was detained in accordance with the Indian Forest Act of 1927, which was in effect during the colonial era. He was caught gathering firewood near the village.


I refuse, reject, resist your labels,

your judgments, documents, definitions,

your models, leaders and patrons,

because they deny me my existence, my vision, my space,

your words, maps, figures, indicators,

they all create illusions and put you on pedestal,

from where you look down upon me,

Proposing amendments in the forest act

He had come to believe in the importance of cross-learning between Dalit and Adivasi movements across issues such as discrimination in public spending and higher education, the poor enforcement of the Prevention of Atrocities Act, and forest and land rights programmes. Travelling extensively, Abhay also became an anchor for grassroots groups, activists, student bodies, and scholars across the country, serving as Convenor for the National Campaign for Adivasi Rights, and a Co-convenor of the Tribal Intellectual Collective.


On 14th March 2020, Dr Abhay Xaxa passed away due to a case of a heart attack. We have a better understanding of the profound impact that his brief life had on scholars, activists, and writers who were influenced by his work by the hundreds of tributes that followed his sudden death. Abhay Xaxa's research was influenced by his own personal experiences as well as the movements and struggles that he was a part of to ensure the continued existence of the Adivasi and Dalit Bahujan communities. By reading, referencing, quoting, and following Xaxa's work, one is committing to unlearning and relearning the world through concepts like Adivasiyat and challenging the status quo. This work requires individuals from over-consumptive classes and dominant castes, who are deemed meritorious by institutions and not poor by data collectors, to examine their complicity, the source of their wealth and privileges, and actively work to reverse this inheritance.


A genuine recognition for Dr Abhay Xaxa from the Bahujan people group is placed his grant in discourse with such standard ideas as legitimacy, infringement and neediness, and to strip them exposed and rethink them. Allow us to perceive how long they can stop us on the off chance that we utilize our own instruments to face our conflicts.


So I draw my own picture, and invent my own grammar,

I make my own tools to fight my own battle,

For me, my people, my world, and my Adivasi self!


About the Author: Abhay Majhi is a postgraduate student studying English Literature at the University of Delhi in New Delhi, India. He loves having discussions on social issues, international politics, history, mythology, science fiction, and fantasy literature. He is also into creative writing and political writing.

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