I’ve known Jyoti for more than a year — the first time we met, I had to wait for 15 minutes to reply to her, because she didn’t stop talking!! She has always been this bubbly and jolly woman who loves making people ROFL with her jokes.
Being from a Santhal family and an Adivasi tribe, she realized how the majority across the nation fails to recognize the indigenous tribes of the country. On the occasion of ‘International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples’ aka ‘World Tribal Day’, here’s a quick anecdote from Jyoti’s life telling who and what Adivasis/ indigenous people are, their tribe and this day is all about!
“Adivasi ho? Haan lagti bhi ho!”
“Adivasi? Matlab jungle se?”
“Do you guys also do hula-lala?”
These were a few of the common yet idiotic questions that people often asked while stumbling upon Jyoti. “Initially, I felt bad upon hearing such questions and refrained from answering them but eventually, I looked at them as an opportunity to teach people about my tribe, religion and to bust the myths that they carried,” Jyoti said.
Jyoti did her initial schooling from Daltonganj. “I only knew Santhali as a language, and I had no idea about Hindi. I remember my teacher scolded me because I couldn’t understand her words,” Jyoti recalled an incident from kindergarten. “That’s when my parents decided to talk to us in Hindi at home so that we can understand and learn and communicate with others. It was difficult, but I did it,” she continued.
Jyoti did her graduation from National Institute of Fashion Technology. She was a quiet fellow throughout her college life, “I never really indulged in conversations much — whether it was about the religion or caste or festivals or home — or about my examinations ranks. I couldn’t tell them that I was a scheduled tribe and got admissions through ST quota. One of my good friends in college suggested that I must not tell others about my caste/ religion or tribe. I might be judged as someone from the lower class, and people may stop talking to me!”
But it was until she didn’t shift to Mumbai after her graduation. Her professional life in Mumbai taught her a lot, and accepting one’s identity was one of them. “Sometimes, I found their questions offending, but it was a great opportunity to teach them about the vivid culture we carry. So when they bantered about our food or dance, I jokingly said, “arre nahi yaar! This is what we eat, and this is how we dance/ wear clothes.” There was so much to tell and teach them — there still is. And gradually, people started taking an interest in my tribe, other tribes and such conversations,” Jyoti laughs.
Jyoti originally belongs to a small rural village in Jharkhand — Bankati. Her father was the only man who completed his education and took up a job at that time. Unlike several members of his tribe, he understood the value of education and pushed his kids to the same. People back in the village are still not very aware of the city lives and the value of education and other skills development. They mostly rely on farming and making ‘handia’ for livelihood.
What’s more fascinating are her festivals, food and religion, and I bet there would be so many people who wouldn’t be aware of these!
Jyoti belongs to the Santhal tribe, and her religion is Sarna, but since they have not been recognized by the government yet, she writes ‘Hindu’ in the religion column. Like other religions, they also have separate traditions and have different ways of worshipping. They don’t have temples but ‘Jaaher Grah’, but unfortunately, you won’t find any recognized Jaaher in Jharkhand. All the tribes following Sarna religion worship in Jaaher. “We also recently celebrated ‘Gomha Parab’. Our food is different, there is no caste as such, the way we drape sarees is different, our customs in marriages are different — and no, we don’t eat snakes or wear leaves!! People do farming, and we do eat rice,” Jyoti says further.
Jyoti and several other people like her have been judged and misunderstood because of the incomplete knowledge about the Adivasis we carry. “Adivasis are left only for entertainment I feel! They are deprived of so many rights and resources,” she says. How easy it is for us to hide our own shortcomings of not knowing about the people of our country and covering it with lame jokes!
According to IWGIA, India comprises an estimated population of 104 million Indigenous people and 705 officially recognized ethnic groups; however, there are many more groups that are yet to be recognized and given the scheduled tribe status by the government.
August 9 is celebrated as International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples to ‘raise awareness and protect the rights of the world’s indigenous population’. Being from Jharkhand, I’ve also known some of these tribes, but thanks to Jyoti, I’m more aware and trying to learn more.
How many of you are aware of such tribes and traditions?