The Puroiks’ experiences with bonded labour made them a compelling subject for research: Prem Taba

Down To Earth speaks to Prem Taba, research scholar at Rajiv Gandhi University, Itanagar, on his forthcoming paper concerning a unique Arunachal tribe

By Rajat Ghai
Published: Saturday 09 September 2023

Prem Taba. Photo: @ChownaMeinBJP/X, formerly Twitter

Prem Taba, a research scholar from Rajiv Gandhi University, Itanagar, Arunachal Pradesh, will be presenting a paper at the 5th International Conference on the Future of Social Sciences and Humanities (FSHCONF) in Rome, Italy this October.

The paper, titled Bonded Labour and the Puroiks of Arunachal Pradesh, India: A Historical, Socio-Economic, and Policy Analysis, offers fresh insights about bonded labour in Northeast India. It does so by studying the Puroik tribe of Arunachal Pradesh. 

Down To Earth caught up with Taba and put forth questions about the subject matter of his paper, the Puroik community. Edited excerpts:

Rajat Ghai (RG): For the benefit of our readers, please explain about who the Puroiks are.

Prem Taba (PT): The Puroiks, also historically known as the “Sulung”, are an indigenous ethnic community residing in Arunachal Pradesh. They are an integral part of the broader Tani ethnic group and have a distinct cultural identity deeply rooted in their historical lineage.

The Puroik people primarily inhabit the East Kameng and Kurung Kumey districts of Arunachal Pradesh, with smaller populations found in Papum Pare, Upper Subansiri, and Lower Subansiri districts.

Their traditional livelihood revolves around activities such as hunting, gathering forest resources, and the production of flour from sago palm trees. The community has historically faced issues related to bonded labor and social subjugation, but efforts have been made to address these challenges and empower the Puroik people.

RG: Why did you select this community for your research?

PT: I selected the Puroik community for my research due to the community’s historical experiences with bonded labour and their transition from the derogatory term “Sulung” to the official designation of “Puroik”.

This transition signifies a significant shift in identity and nomenclature and reflects broader socio-political developments in Arunachal Pradesh. The Puroik community’s unique cultural practices, linguistic diversity, and their experiences with bonded labour make them a compelling subject for research.

RG: How did you conduct research on this topic?

PT: The research on the Puroik community and their experiences with bonded labour was conducted using a qualitative research approach. Ethnographic methods were employed to collect primary data, including participant observation in Puroik settlement areas and semi-structured interviews with community members, including elders, youth, women, and key informants from the Nyishi and Miji communities.

Secondary data was gathered through a literature review of scholarly articles, reports, books, and historical documents related to bonded labour and tribal history in the region. Archival research was also conducted to access colonial records and anthropological studies.

RG: Bonded labour and modern-day slavery are a big problem in today’s world. What will your paper add to the existing corpus of knowledge on this topic, especially in the context of bonded labour and indigenous communities?

PT: Bonded labour and modern-day slavery are indeed pressing global issues. The research on the Puroik community contributes to the existing body of knowledge on bonded labour, particularly in the context of indigenous communities in Arunachal Pradesh.

This research sheds light on the historical transformation of bonded labour among the Puroiks, policy challenges, and government initiatives aimed at upholding their rights and improving their socio-economic conditions.

By documenting the experiences of the Puroik community and the measures taken to address bonded labour, the paper adds valuable insights to the ongoing discourse on bonded labour and highlights the need for continued efforts to combat this issue, especially within indigenous communities.

It also underscores the importance of understanding the cultural and historical contexts that shape the experiences of bonded labourers in different regions.

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