The agonised voice of the Warli and Kokna tribes of Thane (Maharashtra) reach out to say, through Pradip Prabhu...
WE are a tribal people from Western India, from a predominantly tribal area, about 125 kilometers north of Bombay. Though barely a 2-hour journey from the suburba prima of India, we are part of a third world within the Third World, so we are really 6 worlds away from you. We don't know whether you will understand us. The fault lies neither with you nor us, but because we are, as others say, perhaps a century behind the times in our thinking. We are made to feel ashamed of our 'backwardness'. We are told ever so often to leave behind our world of backwardness and step into the future with you. But after considering your documents, in many respects we are surprised with what you have to say.
We have been told till today that the white men, and after they went away, the brown men with white masks, always want the correct thing, and when they want our 'development', it is also the correct thing. We fear, however, that their kind of development will destroy our land, our culture, our traditions, history, ethos and ways of life. We are forced to 'desire' their kind development because it is supposed to ensure for us a better future. But we have no future...only a past. Not even a present. We are born old and we die young, and we try to remain awake in other peoples dreams.
Today you are saying that sustainable development is what the earth needs, and we feel it is what mother nature wants...only, we are often unable to hear her. We rub our eyes in disbelief because now, suddenly, we are hearing from you what our elders have always said. We were almost beginning to forget their wisdom, and most of our children, particularly those educated in the schools of the white men, have already forgotten these.
We are happy that you can now dream of sustainable, eco-friendly development. Only, we have forgotten how to dream, because from dream we have to wake up to a reality that is painful.
It is not as if we have just suffered in silence. We have also fought, and we keep on fighting. The central theme of all tribal upsurges, much akin to today's Jungle Bachao, Adivasi Bachao Movement, is the protection of our resource-based survival system, not merely as biological entities but also as social entities in a specific historico-ecological nich.
We are sorry that we sound pessimistic. We don't wish to discourage you, because what you now seek, we have always believed to be right. We share our pain with you because you have hope, and we hope to be able to once again hope with you. We try to communicate in the hope that what we share may make sense to you, even though it is from a different civilisation. And we know you will try to understand. The wealth we have Whether by accident or design of history, we tribal people, living in distant, inhospitable areas, are sitting on the wealth of the nations, the rich loads of natural resources, the jal, jungal, jamin (water, land and jungles), the mines under the earth and the sky above. We are willing to share...we often share the last meal we might see in a long time to come, with anyone who comes to our home as a guest. But the green-eyed 'builders of the nation' feel they can only enjoy the resources if they capture it from us as a matter of right.
So we are also afraid of being robbed of our home and hearth. Our elders say that when the white men came, 6 generations ago, we suddenly became 'thieves' and 'thugs', and unwanted in the forests which were till then our homes, because they said that from now on it was their, and we became their bonded serfs.
We now hear about the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund and how they are eager to lead this country to the future of prosperity of the 'free market'. But we are thinking of what happens to the third world within the Third World: it is the process of internal colonisation...white men come from across the seas to satisfy their greed, and tell us that it is our need.
Anyway, since you have begun to think of the extent to which mother earth can bear with our abuse, we feel it is necessary to share some of our own beliefs about her and her varied offsprings, which you classify as flora, fauna and humans. We believe that we cannot own mother earth, we can only partake of her bounty, which is more plentiful than all the products of our labours. Hence, we celebrate nature and her bounty each time we can begin our own work in the fields. We believe that only one part of her bounty is land, but it cannot belong to us, humans, exclusively. On the contrary, it is we who belong to the land.
We tribals have very little, but we miss nothing, because we desire still less. Others consider this a 'lower' form of life, but we don't know how to accumulate surplus, because we don't know what to do with the surplus. We work to get our very basic needs and to enjoy leisure, which, for us, is singing and dancing.
We don't need a reason to dance. Dance rests our minds and bodies and invites nature to be our partner in the celebration of life. The logic behind the dev and kandi dances is to invite paushya (the spirit of the rain) to visit our fields. Dance is our act of creation, creating rhythm, movement and poetry, our worship and celebration.
Our elders taught us that to worship nature is an act of thanksgiving, whether it be to Kanseri, Mirig, Dhartari, Dongardevi, Hirva or Gaontari (the spirits of corn, the clouds, the earth, the hills, forests, or that of the cattles). Our worship, therefore, is a faith in the bounty of the natural, rather than in the supernatural. Some call it symbiosis, but we don't have to look for a word to make sense of that which is here and now.
Our truths are encased in our parables, because these allow the the superficial mind to be enchanted with the words. Our fables tell us of the rationale behind our beliefs. We believe that all creatures, big and small, have a right to their share, even if it takes a little away from us. If the rat takes a share of our crops, it is because we get the seeds for our crops from his burrow, (Fable of the Rat). The eagle has a right to a chicken from our fields, because she preserved life for us, (Fable of the Eagle), and so forth. So, it is a question of believing in nature.
We are happy with what is happening to you but sad with what is happening to us. We are happy that you have recognized that mother earth cannot be hurt beyond a point. We remember the fable when the gods, inebriated with their supernatural status, abused paushya, the spirit of rain, for going down to earth. And when paushya deserted them, they discovered that their immortality was ephemeral, and their pomp and grandeur evaporated into thin air. So, we are happy for you.
But we are sad for ourselves because we have always believed in what you have now begun to believe, and yet, all around we are being made to look like fools and being taught that our ancestors thought like fools. They thus made no progress. And if we are to make progress then we should walk the way of the world, give up our 'narrow' outlook, stop being frogs in the well and work hard to produce more, accumulate more, consume more, and have the best that your modernity has to offer, that is, things, more things and still more things.
We are sad that our way of life, our ethos, spirituality, morality and simplicity is coming under relentless attack, which only intensifies with each passing hour. We are sad that more and more of us are getting confused and we are losing our battles. Our younger people are moving further and further away with each passing generation. And we are worried that we will have no opportunity to pass on the sceptre to a new generation. So, what you say is like a breath of fresh air. It gives some of us a faint ray of hope. We want you very much to succeed.
Good bye, friends. Please don't stop dreaming. Though your dreams may appear today to be at the far side of the rainbow, we will be happy to be a part of your dream.
Pradip Prabhu is the founder of the Kashtakari Sanghatana, and is the voice of the millions of tribals in Maharashtra
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