This study explores the several factors that go into the representation of tribals in India. Dr. Yadav’s work unveils a series of choices, decisions, goals and relationships, both conscious and unacknowledged, that mark the images of tribals in works by Indian novelists and anthropologists.
Representation and translation are very often touched by deep-rooted imbalances in social relationships. This book examines the writings on Indian tribes for their literature and academic status and also for the impact that they leave on the actual social conditions and social reality within which the tribes exist. It attempts to view these writings against the broader context of related issues: the changing visage of cultural and gender domination, the meaning of knowledge and authenticity, and the moral! Ethical authority to define and represent the marginalized.
Author: Dr Kumkum Yadav teaches English at Khalsa Post Graduate College University of Delhi.
This study explores the several factors that go into the representation
of tribals in India. Dr. Yadav's work unveils a series of choices,
decisions, goals and relationships, both conscious and
unacknowledged, that mark the images of tribals in works by
Indian novelists and anthropologists.
Representation and translation are very often touched by
deeprooted imbalances in social relationships. This book examines
the writings on Indian tribes for their literature and academic status
and also for the impact that they leave on the actual social conditions
and social reality within which the tribes exist. It attempts to view
these writings against the broader context of related issues: the
changing visage of cultural and gender domination, the meaning
of knowledge and authenticity, and the moral! ethical authority
to define and represent the marginalized.
Written during her fellowship-at the Institute, Dr. Yadav's
monograph is a sensitive and involved critique of texts that
sometimes fall into the- trap of a conditioned mind-set even as
they question myths like 'tribal' crime/violence. It is important to
reassess the roles oftribals with relation to the mainstream, specially
the country's freedom struggle and its cultural and environmental
I welcome the publication of the book Tribals in Indian
On that pleasant afternoon in May 1995, life appeared to be wondrous, distant and remote as I walked among a cluster of houses in Rangreech in the tribal belt of Kinnaur. A young boy bathing at the common tap in the village came forward, the soap suds still clinging to his hair and announced brightly that he was Surjan, a second-year undergraduate studying in my college in Delhi University. Suddenly, the world in the rocky terrain seemed to become more familiar or as they say, a much smaller place. As he stood relaxed amid the rugged, bare mountains Surjan spoke about the hard living conditions he had to suffer. No, not in his village but in Delhi with its power failures, water scaracity, the public transport system, college strikes, mosquitoes, poor-quality food in the hostel mess and so on. Later, sipping’ thing’ in a kitchen fitted with modern appliances in Surjan’s low ceiling house, I was told that the village pradhan was a lady who had graduated from Dharamshaia, that the local school children spoke Bhoti but read and wrote in Hindi, that the buses plying on the rough ragged roads were overloaded with passengers wearing the traditional Kinnauri caps and that one could make long distance calls from a booth adjunct to a shrine built for benevolent spirits.
As Surjan waved goodbye, the several manifestations of ‘progress’ clashed at times and at times blended with tribal conventions, rituals and traditions, making it difficult for one to arrive at any definite conclusion about the place and the people. It reminded me of an earlier visit to Kesla in Hoshangabad district in Madhya Pradesh. In Kesla, Bimal, the wife of a fisherman displaced two decades ago from her village for the construction of the Tawa dam, had almost forgotten, if not forgiven, this earlier act of injustice But she spoke with pain about the highhandedness and intimidation employed by outside contractors against the local people. Carrying copies of the reports, papers and clippings related to the problems her people faced everyday, Bimal confessed that she was barely literate but was an active Spooler of the local Advise organists.
A rapid and complicated transformation has touched the many aspects of tribal living, landscape, dwellings, habits, employment and also values. In fact, the very definition as to who, after all, could be termed as a tribal, requires cogitation This study is a humble attempt to explore the several complex stages and processes that go into the perception, understanding and representation of the tribal people within a social reality that is changing constantly. Representation involves a series of choices on the part of the writer. It also involves decisions, Positions and goals that may not be conscious. I have attempted to explore the myriad relationships, which are formed and broken, mutilated and repaired between the writers and the tribal whom they represent. Sensitivity and self questioning are necessary in writings related to other subjects as well but in the context of the tribal theme in particular the need for such caution cannot be over emphasized Primarily for the far reaching and long lasting effect these writings might have upon the actual conditions of tribal life and also its relationship with the non-tribal world in the present and the future.
In this study, writing by social anthropologists and by novelists have been examined in Sections land II respectively but they often overlap and present several points of comparison and contrast. The anthropological writings discussed here are termed as narratives since they belong to a conversational informal category of writing like diaries and travel books instead of the essentially academic. However, the apparently pedagogical and scholastic texts in social anthropology do not necessarily and automatically transform the writer into a cerebral machine Indeed one of the basic concerns of this study is to suggest that the anthropologist’s professionalism and the novelist’s aesthetic agenda are lot entirely without a vulnerable and human imperfection. Generic categories in writings on the tribals do not generate or demolish levels of authenticity. In this context one could say that self-representation, though not entirely indisputable as an option and solution, is expected to offer the truer picture of what it means to be a tribal. The focus here, however, is on the problems inherent only in works by out-group writers. Works by tribal writers that offer self-images do not, therefore, come within the purview of this study.
Several texts discussed here have been translated from the languages in which they were originally written. The process of translation makes a book available to readers not familiar with the source language and it is, in that respect, profitable and welcome. Yet even as it facilitates communication, translation involves another dimension: the alteration factor. Misrepresentation can be caused by careless translation but, more significantly by the varying cultural associations of the translator as an individual. The translation of a work can at times illustrate disturbing instances of cultural domination paralleled by the act of representation itself.
Self-consciousness and a degree of discomfiture is necessary on the part of the out-group writer and also the out-group translator. But self-reflexivity too is no magic potion. It could occasionally slip into a middle class preoccupation with and the glorification of the self. Two friends, Professor D.R. Nagaraj and Professor Jaidev whom I will always miss, helped me immensely in the course of my work. They often spoke about the need to see the non-tribal perspective of the tribal world as biased and power ridden. It was important to view this body of writing as rooted first and foremost in social reality. It was, therefore, important for me to try to dislodge any conscious preference for the purely academic, the solely aesthetic or theoretical considerations in examining all perspectives on the tribals, including my own.
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