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Tribal Literature of Gujarat

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Item Code: NAX330
Author: Nishaant Choksi
Publisher: Central Institute Of Indian Languages, Mysore
Language: Gujarati and English
Edition: 2009
ISBN: 9788173421822
Pages: 188
Other Details 9.00 X 6.00 inch
Weight 260 gm
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Book Description

During the last academic year, the Central Institute of Indian Languages (CIIL) had offered a substantial grant to Bhasha Research Centre for a set of four books, which are now ready to be published. These are -

  1. Tribal Literature of Gujarat by Nishaant Choksi

  2. Manda Oral Literature by B. Ramakrishna Reddy

  3. Manda-English Dictionary by B. Ramakrishna Reddy

  4. Indigenous Peoples: Responding to Human Ecology by Lachman M. Khubchandani

Although the Government of India and especially the Ministry of HRD can create an academic environment conducive to application-oriented research, it cannot force its agenda on the research academies and bodies, sincere and dedicated professionals. Many of them want to help the smaller communities solve their problems in the sectors of health, education, preservation and promotion of cultural heritage and related social problems. The materials produced have to be sensitive to the legitimate needs of the individuals and communities with which they work. This is exactly what is being done by Bhasha, Baroda. Earlier, CIIL collaborated with them in bringing out pictorial glossaries and other materials in a large number of Bhili dialects.

Among the books being published, the importance of a dictionary is undeniable. With the advent of literature, words acquired new meanings as well as usage. To help readers to have an entry into the world of unknown words, the publication of dictionaries is essential. Since many tribal regional languages have started producing literature these days, an introduction to all of them from Gujarat is very useful. Similarly, orality keeps the debate on in literary circles, and to that extent the work on Manda oral literature is particularly welcome. The last of these is a treatise by Professor Khubchandani, who has been at the forefront of tribal studies for the last fifty years, and is an untiring crusader for the tribal cause. In that respect, his work on Human Ecology is extremely important.

What are the challenges for a Tribal Languages researcher in India? In many cases, the tribal habitats are inaccessible and almost one-third of them still live below the poverty line. Consequently, hunger and prolonged fight with day-to-day adversities take precedence over education as effects of development are either lacking or are sub-standard. Abject poverty of these people compounds the problem. And yet, they are creative and culturally sensitive, and may even turn out to be more civilised than the so-called civil society. The situation has vastly improved after "Tribal Affairs’ received a special focus and a special ministry was set up and the sectoral programmes, such as health, education, poverty alleviation, women & child development etc., are looked after by the concerned Central Ministry that continues to administer its programmes.

CIIL has always been active in the field of tribal and border languages, and is engaged in endangered languages research these days. This is not something that can be achieved by one institution alone, no matter what its funding for such activities would be. The main dearth is in the human resource that is in plenty with organisations such as Bhasha. This is what makes the collaboration worthwhile. I am sure that research scholars, faculty, government officials as well as common readers would like these books, and will send us their feedback to improve upon these texts in later editions. More importantly, these books are going to be acceptable by all those who are members of these communities. That will give us all a great satisfaction.


Originally, I came to Gujarat to study the political assertion and the emerging civil society among its adivasi communities. India’s adivasis, both the one’s concentrated in the central tribal belt stretching from eastern Gujarat to West Bengal as well as those in the country’s north-east, have had a long history of political movements, both violent and non-violent. Many of these movements have had to do with the increasing alienation of adivasis from their land and other natural resources.

However, together with an alienation from land and culture, India’s adivasi societies are experiencing a cultural estrangement. While displacement, migration, forest rights and dwindling resources may be more urgent issues for adivasi communities, in my own field experience I have consistently seen political activists raise the question of adivasi identity. As adivasis in states such as Gujarat increasingly become educated and literate, many among them have become conscious of the "backwardness" of their culture and language. The adivasi languages, many of which are unwritten, were not included in the Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution. In addition, the continued dominance of upper-caste values in social life ensures that in schools, government offices, as well as in communication with caste Hindus, adivasi languages are consistently degraded and criticised as "bad speech." Thus, policies of the state as well of the dominant communities place adivasis not only on the economic margins but on the cultural margins as well.

Identity and Language: the Akshar Andolan

Linguists and philosophers agree that no language lacks in subtlety and sophistication from other languages while expressing emotional complexity. The issue of language, therefore, is as political as the issue of livelihood. How can adivasis then stake a claim as a "legitimate" linguistic community? One way to do so is to destroy the binaries brought about by unequal social conditions - binaries between good speech and bad speech, between orality and literacy and between "high" and "folk" literatures. In doing so we may begin to develop a way of understanding communities in their "own words" and through their own aesthetic and via acts of translation, we may even begin to bring the margins closer to the centre. This is, in essense, the purpose of this study - an attempt to understand adivasi life through language, literature and translation.

One of the larger aims of my study was to look at how adivasis themselves and adivasi political organisations, in addition to state and non-governmental organisations, were involved in the creation (or suppression) of what could be called the "adivasi voice". Arjun Appadurai states, "one of [the poor’s] gravest lacks is the lack of resources with which to give ‘voice,’ that is to express their views and get results skewed to their own welfare in the debates surrounding wealth and welfare in all societies" (Appadurai 2004, 63). Appadurai emphasises that resourcing voice is one of the most critical tools for communities to participate in their own well-being. This "voice" is both political and cultural and allows groups a distinct articulation of their own aspirations in a democratic civil society.

However, I found that the marginalisation of adivasi languages in India has consistently served to deny the adivasis their own voice in debates surrounding their future. Pierre Bourdieu in his study of the production of "legitimate language," describes how an upper class, metropolitan variety of a language is imposed as a "normal" language and other varieties are seen as "corrupt" or "bad speech." The mastery of the language, Bourdieu says, conditions one’s "capacity to speak" (Bourdieu 2001, 84), and puts the speakers of the non-standard variety such as the urban lower-classes and the rural population, which form the majority of the population at an expressive disadvantage. The linguistic situation thus compels the speakers "to collaborate in the destruction of their instruments of expression" (Bourdieu 2001, 15).

Lachman Khubchandani offers a similar argument in the Indian context, describing how as an extension of colonialism, the politics of language in India has sought to impose numerous "language standards" on a linguistically diverse society. Rather than focusing on "mutual accommodation" (or what Bourdieu calls "intercomprehension"), the language standards seek to impose a "high-brow" and "literary" variety of language, whose values are antipathetic to much of the population. Thus the speech learnt in school by non-standard speakers as one’s "mother tongue" does not reflect the dominant linguistic values of one’s actual linguistic environment. Traditional literature such as the rich adivasi literary tradition is completely ignored as the upper caste and upper class literature forms the language standard (Khubchandani, 1981). Thus the invisibility of adivasi languages in the economic and cultural sphere can be viewed as one of the major barriers to the creation of a unique adivasi voice which has the ability to engage in authoritative debates on its own terms.

**Contents and Sample Pages**

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