Victims of progress

TRIBAL IDENTITY AND THE MODERN WORLD Suresh Sharma Sage Publications Rs 225

By Anand Prakash
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

What is wrong with progress and development? Can they be the culprits in a process that has wrought gradual marginalisation of the tribal people? Suresh Sharma asserts that the modern world with science and technology as its strong supporters has dealt most cruelly with a race that took nature as its sole guide and inspiration. Today, he rightly fears, tribals race extinction. Sharma's avowed aim is to alter some basic perceptions about tribal life. He sets much store by the poetry and music, the "grandeur and aesthetic vigour" of these children of nature. Was there ever a link between tribals and the societies -communities that prospered on the plains with planned agriculture as their chief source of livelihood? Sharma looks at changes in our history during pre-Mughal and Mughal periods with the firm conviction that tribal people were an integral part of human existence. These spontaneous changes were disturbed according to him by what he calls "the new colonial order of things."

Sharma's critique of the modern progressive and scientific world has its focus on the ever-conflicting entities of the regional and imperial, and finally the pre-modern and modern, which leads to a kind of mythification of the tribal mode. Sharma is not critically aware of the tricky nature oi- thought-categories such as pre-modern an "modern." To that extent, his positions reflect an abstract utopian-romantic mode of thought not knowing what to realistically do with a given world. Sharma's concerns are truly and essentially anthropological not merely in the sense that he takes an anthropological view of old modes of organised life but also that he believes in the desirability of their survival and continuance in today's world.

At the same time, one does not know what to do with a view for which scientific is pseudoscientific and progressive is pseudopro- gressive. The name of the game under this perspec- tive is suspicion, rejection and a persistence that the world -imperialistic-colo- nial, modern, socialist, democratic, all -through its movement (or pseudo- movement) is going to dogs. Sharma does not seem to care much for fine distinc- tions between colonialism- imperialism and other social formations in today's world. Particularly when it comes to taking a position on nature and natural people. That is not how an old "beautiful world" can be saved or retrieved. Complexities of our actual world have to be recognised and understood. Whatever path we suggest has to be through them, not away from or outside of them.

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