Updated: Sep 2, 2021
The parameters of being an Adivasi was decided through the Anthropologist's and the Non-Adivasi's gaze. But, I make my own identity from my own epistemology, my ancestor’s wisdom, and my roots from jal-jungle-jameen.
"Are you Adivasi Enough?"
This is a question that follows us relentlessly. This is one question that I have been asking myself and has always been asked about. Identity? What is identity, identity is a fact of being who you are, means of recognizing a person or thing. The concept of self is a micro unit of identity. The concept of self is an epistemology (the theory of knowledge) of who we are. In his speech on democracy, fundamental rights and liberty, Marang Gomke Jaipal Singh Munda said:
"I rise to speak on behalf of millions of unknown hordes - yet very important - of unrecognised warriors of freedom, the original people of India who have variously been known as backward tribes, primitive tribes, criminal tribes and everything else, Sir, I am proud to be a Jungli, that is the name by which we are known in my part of the country. As a jungli, as an Adibasi, I am not expected to understand the legal intricacies of the Resolution. You cannot teach democracy to the tribal people; you have to learn democratic ways from them. They are the most democratic people on earth."
Marang Gomke talked about his identity as an ‘adibasi’ and how he owns the word. Adivasis has always been looked at from a colonial lens. The anthropological gaze has ‘studied’ us and concluded that we are barbaric, savage, uncivilised, and primitive. But, can ‘researchers’ and anthropologists who have not lived our lives, be the authority that decides who we are? It's very important to acknowledge where we draw our epistemologies from, understand who we are, and be conscious of the fact that what they drew is really different from the empirical knowledge we have and how we define ourselves. Colonial anthropologists have said that we don't have a history, that we are ‘ahistorical community’ but we asserted that we have a history.
Our History may not be in the written form like the mainstream civilisation but we have it in a scribbled form in the form of tattoos on our body, in the form of songs in our breath and in the form of ulgulan in our blood.
Being looked at from under colonial lenses we are seen as unfit to be a part of the mainstream civilisation, like an outcast. Marang Gomke further in his argument states that :
The whole history of my people is one of continuous exploitation and dispossession by the non-aboriginals of India punctuated by rebellions and disorder, and yet I take Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru at his word. I take you all at your word that now we are going to start a new chapter, a new chapter of Independent India where there is equality of opportunity, where no one would be neglected."
He talks about the history of our people, the exploitation, the oppression which is a major aspect of our identity. As a young Adivasi individual, I have carried the cross of exploitation as my identity. My identity does consist of the epistemic violence, cultural genocide that my ancestors have faced, the conditioning which has estranged us from our roots. On the other hand, I wear a crown because of the glorious history of the Kurukh women from Rohtasgarh, because of Bhagwan Birsa, Siddu and Kannu, Fullo and Jhano, the land that shelters me, the forest that feeds me and the waters that quenches my thirst. With this identity, I come forward, forward with the struggles I had and the struggles faced by my fellow Adivasis.
Even after 75 years of Indian independence, I am still an outcast. Independence has paved a path for inclusion, a new chapter, where there are equal opportunities. Back then you built walls because you perceived us as junglees, now the walls are still up because you perceive me as an imposter who does not meet the parameters you have set for us as an Adivasi.
Just like Jaipal Singh Munda I own the branding that you gave me, I am proud to be a junglee, an Adivasi.
Yes, I am junglee because I am self-sustainable,
I am junglee because I coexist with nature,
I am junglee because I believe in akhra,
I am junglee because I am the protector of jal, jungle and jameen,
I am junglee because I believe in equal opportunity and justice,
I am junglee because I have my own language,
I am junglee because I believe in our governance,
I am junglee because I have my own history,
I am junglee because I have a diverse culture,
I am junglee because I have my own identity.
The epistemic violence, and the cultural and historical genocide that we have faced is a huge marker for why we are not the same, why I don’t look Adivasi enough, why I don’t know my language, how I have access to the mainstream education? And you ask me, are you Adivasi enough? You didn't accept us because of what we were before and now you still don't accept us because we have changed as a result of your actions and decisions.
I was a junglee because I didn't speak your language. Now I do and you ask me, are you Adivasi enough?
To be accepted and because of the social conditioning I learned your language and got estranged from my own language. Yet you ask me, are you Adivasi enough?
I was junglee because I didn't dress up like you. Now I do and you question my Adivasiness
I was junglee because I didn't have a representation, now that I am creating the space for me and my people. You ask me, are you adivasi enough to represent ?
Yes, I am Adivasi enough and no I am not an imposter.
I am junglee, an Adivasi and I not only live in the forest but I live amongst you.
I am junglee and I am a student in the top mainstream institutes,
I am junglee and I have a mainstream job
I am junglee and I am out there
I am junglee, an Adivasi and I have my own identity
I don't draw my identity on the basis of your epistemology. In words of Abhay Xaxa-
“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,
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! “
I make my own identity from my own epistemology, my ancestor’s wisdom and my roots from jal-jungle-jameen. You took away my language, culture and history. I lost it for a generation, now I have learned your language, your culture and your history and have rediscovered and relearned my language, my culture and my history. I have made my own identity in your world. I am not a scheduled tribe, we aren't socially and educationally backward, we gave birth to the concept of democracy, justice and equality. We are the aboriginal, indigenous, Adivasi and we have existed since time immemorial.
I was born an Adivasi and my children will be Adivasi. You might try to redefine us again from your epistemology, you might take my culture, language, history, land, forest, river. But remember I was born an Adivasi, I will fight for my identity and so will my children.
My Adivasi brothers and sisters, I ask you to stand for our identity, rediscover, relearn your history, language and culture. Remember you were born an Adivasi, you have Birsa’s ulgulan in your blood, they can't redefine or label you. You have the power to make your own identity, their oppression and violence and its impact doesn't make you less of an Adivasi, you are an Adivasi by birth, by blood.
Now I leave you with the words of Bob Marley & The Wailers, to reflect on
“If you know your history.
then you would know where you are coming from.
Then you wouldn't have to ask me.
Who the heck do you think I am “ - Buffalo Soldier.
Bordia, R. (2017, January 26). A 'Jungli' In The Constituent Assembly: Jaipal Singh Munda. NDTV. https://www.ndtv.com/people/a-jungli-in-the-constituent-assembly-jaipal-singh-munda-1652949
Xaxa, A. (2016, January 13). I am not your data. adivasi resurgence. http://adivasiresurgence.com/2016/01/13/i-am-not-your-data/
About the Author: Akriti Karishma Lakra is a student of Criminology at TISS, Mumbai.
She is an activist, academic writer, and protector of jal-jungle-jameen. She is a Kurukh, an Adivasi.
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