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Adivasi Women Writers: Challenging Exclusion And Creating Spaces

Updated: Jun 15, 2022

the globe have ensured the historical exclusion of women from education, rights and various socio-political, economic, psychological and cultural spaces. The Feminist Movements are to be credited for improving the socio-political and economic status of women over the years. From voting rights to entering educational institutions and other public spaces, all have been possible due to the ongoing feminist struggles. These struggles become more challenging when other oppressive structures come into the picture. In the Indian context, challenges for Dalit, Adivasi and Muslim women, including women from other marginalized backgrounds, in fighting for their rights and spaces, have been more daunting, as they have been doubly or triply oppressed through other structures like caste, religion and class apart from patriarchy. As such their battles to access minimum requirements like education have been long, laborious and inspiring. Hence, it becomes crucial to know and understand the struggles of women belonging to the margins. Therefore, the following is an endeavour on the summation of the works of a few Adivasi women writers who have not only contributed to education but also fought against structural injustices through their works.

Sushila Samad

Samad was born in 1906. She was a poet, journalist, editor and publisher, who belonged to the Munda tribe and hailed from Laujoda, Jharkhand. Her works are in the Hindi language. With Adivasis entering into mainstream education, their cultures and languages started taking a backseat as structural oppressions in terms of gender, caste, class, etc are manifested also through the hierarchy of languages. Adivasi languages were looked down upon and discouraged, due to which many Adivasi writers chose to write in the Hindi language. Samad was also actively involved in the Indian Freedom Movement.

Samad earned the title of ‘Vidushee’ in 1934. She is acknowledged for being the first Adivasi ‘Hindi Vidushee’. She was also the only Adivasi woman participating in the freedom struggle led by Gandhi. She was the editor and publisher of the Chandni, a literary-social magazine, from 1925-1930. Prallap (1935) and Sapne Ka Sansar (1948), were her two poetry collections. One of her major works was Delirium, a collection of 43 poems, talking about psychological trauma and emotional expressions of women. While the subject is dark and painful, her work is skilfully crafted with tones of strength and liberation. Dream World (1948), is another of Samad’s works.

Alice Ekka

Source: Photograph taken by the author

Ekka was born in 1917, in Ranchi, Jharkhand. She is known as the first Adivasi woman storyteller. She belonged to the Munda tribe. She held a Bachelor’s Degree in English from the Scottish Church College. Ekka was the first Adivasi woman from Jharkhand to hold a Bachelor’s Degree in English. Nonetheless, she wrote stories in the Hindi language.

Ekka wrote and published extensively during the 1950s, 1960s and the 1970s. A collection of her most famous works titled Alice Ekka Ki Kahaniyan, edited by Vandna Tete, was published posthumously in 2015. In the 1960s, she wrote her stories for the weekly magazine, Adivasi Patrika. In 2017, during the centenary of her birth, "The All India Tribal Women Writers’ Meet" was held at Ranchi, to celebrate Adivasi women writers and to deliberate upon the challenges they face. Ekka’s stories give center stage to women and their relationship with nature. Although, not much is known about Ekka’s early works and research in this field is still ongoing, the stories that we do know of are powerful representations of women belonging to marginalized backgrounds. Vankaniya, Durgi k Bacche aur Elma ki Kalpanayen, Koyal ki Ladli Sumri, Dharti Lehrayegi…Jhalo Nachegi..Gayegi, are some of the most beautiful creations of Alice Ekka. Apart from this, she has also translated some of the works of Khalil Gibran.

Grace Kujur

Source: Google Images

Grace Kujur was born in 1949. Hailing from Ranchi, she is an Oraon poet, who was also the Directorate General of All India Radio, New Delhi in 2008. Her writing career began in 1966. She has contributed poems in multiple magazines and newspapers like, 'Hindustan', 'Aaj', 'Yudhrat Aam Admi', 'Aryavrat', 'Jharkhandi Bhasha Sahitya Sanskriti Akhra' etc. Her poems can be found in collections like Kalam Ugalti Aag and Lokpriya Adivasi Kavitayen. She has also written radio dramas, comedies and plays. One of her renowned plays is Mahua Gira Aadhi Raat. Her works centered around socio-political oppressions and justice. She was a firm believer in the idea of ‘pen is mightier than sword’, and her works manifest this. In her works, she argued that Adivasis should make pens, their new arrows, in the struggle for justice and equality. In many Adivasi cultures, arrows are symbolic and often associated with their identities. Identifying pen with arrows, was a bold idea floated by Grace Kujur, in order to emphasize on education and writing as a powerful tool in the struggle against brahmanical patriarchy. In 2020, her work Ek Aur Jani Shikar was published, which became one of the most cherished works of Grace Kujur.

Jacinta Kerketta

Source: Google Images

Born in 1983, in a Oraon family, Jacinta is a poet and journalist who writes in the Hindi language. Her works depict the struggles of Adivasis and women. She has a unique way of expressing protests and struggles of the Adivasi community in a lyrical form through her works. Born in a village located in the Paschimi Singhbhum district, at the borders of Jharkhand and Odisha, she writes passionately about the Saranda forests.

Her poems can be found in Hindi literary journals like Naya Gyanoday and Parichay. Published in 2016, her collected works under the title Angor, became very popular. In 2018, Jadon ki Zameen was published, which too was a huge success. She deals with the question of Adivasi identity and more specifically with her identification as an Adivasi person, in her work My Adivasi Being. Another cherished work of Kerketta is Time for Adivasis to Ask Some Question, which is available with German translation. Her works have also been translated into English, Italian and French.

Nirmala Putul

Source: Google Images

Nirmala Putul was born in 1972, in the Kurwa village of Dumka. She is a well known poet, writer and social activist. She writes in the Santhali language. Her journey as a writer began in the 1990s. Prior to this she was working at the NGO called Badlao Foundation. She gained recognition after her translated works were published under the titles Apne Ghar Ki Talash Mein (In Search of One’s Own House, 2004) and Nagare Ki Tarah Bajti Shabd (A Voice like the Thundering of Drums, 2005). Another of her renowned works, is Beghar Sapne (Homeless Dreams, 2014). Her works have been translated into Hindi, English, Marathi, Urdu, Kannada, Nepali, Russian and Korean.

Vandana Tete

Source: Google Images

Vandana Tete was born in 1969 in Simdega, Jharkhand, in a Kharia Adivasi family. A writer, poet, journalist, publisher and cultural activist, her works surround the question of ‘Adivasiyat’ or the tribal worldview. Some of her major works include Purkha Ladake (2005), Kiska Raj Hai (2009), Jharkhand: Ek Antheen Samargatha (2010) and Adivasi Sahitya: Parampara aur Prayojan (2013), Konjoga (2015) and Lokpriya Adivasi Kahaniyan (2016). Another acclaimed work of hers is Vachikta.

Mamang Dai

Source: Google Images

Mamang Dai was born in 1957. She is a poet, novelist and journalist based in Itanagar, Arunachal Pradesh. Her major works include Arunachal Pradesh: The Hidden Land (2003), Dairy Farming : The Food of Arunachal (2004), The Sky Queen and Once Upon a Moontime (2003). In 2006, she published her first novel The Legends of Penasam. Stupid Cupid (2008), The Black Hill (2014), River Poems (2004), The Balm of Time (2008), Hambreelmai's Loom (2014), Midsummer Survival Lyrics (2014) are some of her other popular works. Her initial works focused on romanticism, however, she then moved to the idea of ‘self’ as a focal point, which allowed her to work on themes of close knit community living.

Temsüla Ao

Source: Google Images

Ao was born in 1945 at Jorhat, Assam, in the Ao Naga community. An ethnographer by profession, she is also a poet and a short story writer. She was employed at the North Eastern Hill University as a professor of the English language. Her works have been translated into German, French, Assamese, Bengali and Hindi. Her poetic works include Songs that Tell (1988), Songs that Try to Say (1992), Songs of Many Moods (1995), Songs from Here and There (2003) and Songs From The Other Life (2007). She worked on the oral traditions and history of the Ao naga community for twelve years, collecting folklores, tales, rituals, law, customs and belief systems. In 1999, this ethnographic work got published. She has also written a number of short stories. One of the most renowned collection of short stories, authored by her is These Hills Called Home: Stories from the War Zone. It deals with the insurgency and the self determination assertion of Nagaland. In 1989, she had published a literary criticism titled Henry James' Quest for an Ideal Heroine. One of her famous works is an essay called When in Doubt. She has also authored books like Laburnum for My Head (2009) and Ao-Naga Oral Tradition (2000)

Dayamani Barla

Source: Google Images

Dayamani Barla was born in a Munda family, in Jharkhand. Today, she is famously known as the 'Iron Lady' of jharkhand. She writes in both the Hindi and the Ho languages. Her major works include Singhbhum ke Shaheed Buntakta Ho, Ho Durang Hisir, Ho Bhasha ke Litterateur, Ho hindi dictionary, Ho grammar, Ho Tribe mein Ba-geet, etc. She is also credited for translating the play 'Marang Gomke Jaipal Singh Munda' into the 'Ho' language.

Vasvi Kiro

Source: Internet

Vasvi Kiro is another prominent Adivasi writer who works on varied issues. Her popular works include Ulgulan ki Auratein, Concept and Development of Displacement in India, Glory of Mahua, Jharkhand ki Beti aur Roop ki Mandi,etc. Her areas of interest include Adivasi women, indigenous medicine, uses of Mahua and environment.

There are many other Adivasi women writers like Vishwasi Ekka, Rose Kerketta, Shanti Khalkho, Francesca Kujur, Damayanti Besra, Ujjawala Jyoti Tigga, Jamuna Bini Tadar and the list continues. Although many writers and their works could not be included here, we recognize and acknowledge their contribution in literature and in society as a whole. This piece was written with the intent to familiarize the readers with the works of Adivasi women writers, in order to build an understanding of the Adivasi community, their way of living and the position of women within the community. Recognizing and acknowledging the works of Adivasi women writers have been long overdue and hence it is important to discuss and deliberate upon their works.


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