A dialogue in search of the spirit of ‘Adivasiyat (tribalism)’

Facilitation is not just an art but something much more. It’s born out of a deep conviction that you are not the person who knows a lot about the subject that is being discussed. It does not come from the attitude of being an expert but is all about bringing out the expertise in each person. Being an individual facilitator itself is not easy but when an institution wants to embed the philosophy of facilitation into an institutional framework, it becomes that much more challenging. And this is what TATA STEEL set out to do. Tata Steel for the last five years has been quietly communicating its conviction to the cause of mobilizing tribals for the larger good in a very silent, subtle way. They have been running a conclave that is special – a conclave which is dripping with love, respect, dignity and a genuine concern for positive change for indigenous communities. This conclave is driven by Tata Steel’s conviction that indigenous communities must take control of their lives and not merely respond to the narrative that the outside world fashions for them. That takes a lot of doing and SAMVAAD 2018 is just another step forward in what began as an experiment five years ago. An experiment to give the work back to the people; a work that truly belongs to the indigenous communities. We need to keep in mind the fact that the indigenous communities have gone through a lot in the last few decades. Whether is eviction and displacement caused by the state or private entities in the name of development, or the loss of traditional habitats or being crowded out of the mainstream economy – the indigenous communities have borne the brunt of modern existence. To compound the issues, the state and NGOs have seen them as mere recipients of largesse and doles while mainstream development has ensured that their traditional skills are no longer relevant or remunerative in today’s market place. While they struggle to survive and battle the forced acculturation, one wonders whether social & economic empowerment has any meaning or relevance for these communities at a cross road. Amidst this setting, Tata Steel began the work of facilitating change in a quiet but determined manner. To work in communities in such a complex scenario is easier said than done. It is painfully slow and requires discipline, determination and the sensitivity to stay in the background while subsuming the temptation to start shaping and dictating the narrative of change. Watching this process unfold was fascinating for me. Having worked for more than three decades with indigenous communities, I have travelled full circle from having the attitude of a ‘provider’ to evolving into being a ‘facilitator’. Having made the mistake of thinking that we are the doers and the providers, I can appreciate today that work cannot be done for them but one can only work with them. It is invigorating to see thousands of young tribals from all over the country and from eleven countries outside India come together to discuss, to debate, to dialogue and shape what they think should be their future. This process is phenomenally significant and is ushering in a quiet revolution. A revolution that is driven by values, a revolution driven by respect, a revolution driven by dignity and a revolution driven by the true understanding of what the indigenous communities are capable of. Hopefully the system with the amount of social capital that many well-wishers of these indigenous communities possesses, will respond without being patronising. The response needs to demonstrate that the indigenous communities are being taken seriously and that they are getting their legitimate and rightful due. Listening to the indigenous voices is not just in the interest of these tribals alone, but it is in the interest of all life on this earth. For the tribal way of life is not just integral to nature but is an essential pre-requisite for ‘Life’ itself.

“Nagaland Tribal in SAMVAAD 2018”

The four days spent by the tribals were days of joy, days of sharing pain, sharing successes, sharing narratives that brought out the inner strength and the inner resilience that is so deeply embedded in the tribal communities. To watch them talk about their identity and culture helped one understand that tribal identity is much more than what we see on the outside and is something deeper – what one can call ‘Adivasiyat’ – something which is much more difficult to describe but one needs to feel it, one needs to live amongst them and one needs to absorb and soak it into your very existence. It is not just about the song or the dance, the language, food or the dress that we see from the outside but something deeper. The intrinsic tribal values that visibly manifests as love and respect for the land (Jameen), water (Jal) and the forests (Jangal). The sharing’s reflected the deeply seated humanism that is so much a part of their lives.

“Traditional Wrestling” – SAMVAAD Tribal Conclave

In conclusion, the whole SAMVAAD was truly a dialogue. A dialogue where tribal voices got expressed in a space that respected them and was safe. A space that allowed them to speak their hearts and share experiments that several of them were running around the country. A space that gave them their esteem back and made them feel as makers of their own destiny. A space in which they shared the sorrows, the tragedies, the battles, the successes and the good that comes out when you unite. There was so much pride in the air and it resonated with the message that the ‘World is for me as much as I am for the world.’

“Tribal Dance in SAMVAAD”

Samvaad also gave so much hope about the future and about the process of mobilizing for social change. The power and impact of the indigenous communities mobilising themselves was evident in the several experiences that were shared – whether it is the Halma process among the bhil tribals or the work of the tribal women of Gujarat or the enormously successful poultry farming experiment. Beyond all this, what was striking was the power of democracy in its true spirit. The world today is seeing a growing restlessness amidst people and this is impacting how electoral democracies are evolving. For long, the hegemony of experts shaped the debate of democracy and development. Political leaders in several countries have built on the restlessness and anger of people and have shaped the narrative of being disdainful of expertise and disregarding the experts. The pendulum has been swaying from the experts having the solutions for all of the world’s problems to the elite expert and his expertise being the problem. What stood out for people like me in these four days was how meaningfully the tribals demonstrated that expertise is not something that needs to be mystified and exclusive to a set of people and neither does the expert or his expertise disregarded. They demonstrably brought out how social change and mobilisation can be ‘democracy in action’ and how this process belongs to everyone and to no one.

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