Why we exist
645 adivasi communities with unique characteristics live in India.
Tracing a history of over 3500 years, our tribal heritage speaks to the diversity and historical connections of the region. The Indian tribal belt stretches from the Himalayas in the north, to the plateau of central India onwards into the Andaman & Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal. With a population of nearly 85 million (approximately 8% of India’s population), the tribal communities, each with their unique customs, beliefs, cultures and practices of traditions inter-penetrate almost all aspects of Indian culture and civilisation.
Defining an ‘identity’
The tribal people, for centuries, have expressed their cultural identity and distinctness in their social organisation, language, rituals, festivals, dress, ornaments, art and craft. Every facet of their life covering round-the-year activities is intimately connected to their belief in their faiths and practices and given depth and meaning to their very existence – their identity.
Contemporary research has shown that many tribal communities have managed to retain their cultural heritage over centuries because they were isolated from mainstream society. Living on the fringe of society, often in remote and inaccessible areas, these communities have led life in the same fashion as their ancestors. It is our belief that the richness of their culture has therefore been protected. One of the fallouts of this isolation, however, is that the tribal communities have been left on the fringe of the development- marginalized and devoid of the benefits and gains of many advancements in an integrated world- and growth that India has seen in the past 30 years.
There needs to be a greater focus now to ensure that the benefits of development reach every individual and community, however isolated they may have been in the past. The government in conjunction with other agencies is making efforts to reach these facilities and services to ensure integration of all communities, and to reduce the gap between the mainstream and the marginal. In addition, as many of the tribal communities lived at the margins, they have been referred to as ‘backward’, ‘under-developed’ and ‘impoverished’.
With the advent of technology, as borders collapse, access to information increases and efforts in development for social upliftment is enhanced. The tribal communities are now accessing information and development activities in their communities have focused on ‘developing them’. In such a situation, as the communities seek to integrate with mainstream society, they feel the need to ‘give up’ the practices that have isolated them. The cost of this integration, as is being seen now is, often at the cost of their own traditions. Many communities are finding it difficult to keep alive their heritage. In some instances, they are also finding it difficult to find the right balance between accessing development while retaining traditions. In others, they have experienced an unconscious loss of culture and tradition.
More importantly, we must realize that as time passes by, the elder in these communities – storehouses of the knowledge systems; of their arts and crafts, their music, their culture and language – take with them a link to the heritage. With inadequate compilation and documentation, as yet, this information – is lost forever. It is said that “to have no cultural and traditional background to your memories is equal to having no education”. It is imperative we commit ourselves to the documentation and conservation of this way of life.