As a diverse country, we know that people from different religions, cultures, and terrains live here in India. However, we often forget or don’t talk about certain parts of this diversity, one of which is tribal communities. When I used to think of tribes or Adivasis, all that came to my mind was forests, animals, people living in extremely modest set-ups, and lack of resources.
Before I came to India Fellow, my understanding of tribal people was confined to what I had seen on the internet or read in books. I thought that tribal people lived in jungles, and they have a symbiotic relationship with nature. Never in my wildest dreams, I imagined that one day I would be living and working with one such group. And here I am, not only living with them but slowly falling in love with their culture and life.
They are based in forests. However, as our world advances, these forest-based communities struggle to hold onto their relationship with their surroundings. According to the Forest Policy and Tribal Rights in India, around two-thirds of the total tribal population of India is either based in the forest or depends majorly on the forest for their survival and livelihoods. And, after all this time, it’s sad that we, as a society, still don’t know who they are and have our own perceptions about them.
Also read: Dacoity to prosperity in Rajasthan.
So far, while living in Kotra, Rajasthan, a few things changed my perception and stereotypical thoughts about Adivasis.
At the cost of sounding silly, I’d admit that I thought that tribal people everywhere wear animal skin, leaves, and tree bark. They don’t! And no, not all of them wear animal bones, nails as accessories either. There are some tribes in other parts of the country and the world where they do it. For example, a tribe in Assam adds feathers to their waistbands and necklaces, and even uses them as hair accessories.
Here it’s not like that although they have a special touch to their outfit that represents their attachment with natureand their chivalrous past. For example, they sometimes carry a bow and arrow, sometimes a sword. Both men and women wear silver accessories including chains around the neck, rings, earrings, and so on. They prefer silverware as it is supposed to have a cooling effects on our bodies. And as they live with drastic climate changes, silver helps tackle the heat.
In everyday lives, people wear saree and dhoti-kurta. They also wear western clothes similar to urban Indians. Here is a picture to support my statement.
Are They ‘Nomads’?
One belief about the tribal people is that they don’t have permanent residence and they travel as clans, settling temporarily in different parts of a forest. Here, the settlement depends highly on the availability of food and other resources in an area. As of now, the nomadic culture is rarely present in this community. One of my co-fellows works with a nomadic tribal community in Kutch, Gujarat. According to the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, there are about 315 nomadic tribes which is much more than the number of settled tribes.
However, most of the people living here in Kotra have a permanent address. These days, having an identity card is important and one needs a permanent address to get one. So, it is a result of development and urbanization that the Adivasis have to adapt to a new lifestyle. The people here, have lands and they practice agriculture as well as cattle rearing.
Their settlements are quite different from those of a non-tribal village. Most of them build houses quite far from each other due to their land holdings. They also tend to share a strong community spirit and have each others’ back during times of crisis.
From experiencing a life here in the last three months, I’m relatively more informed about the lifestyle and situation of Adivasis but only in this region. I hope I also helped you learn something new and got you thinking. There are many stereotypes that we carry around not just about tribal people’s appearance but several other things.
For example, I always thought that they didn’t know about the scientific reasons behind their customs, but to my surprise, they knew. The people from the local community here told me that they keep seeds in bottles made of gourd by hollowing them from inside to prevent them from decaying. This is high time that we get to know them first and then form a perception.