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Social Transformation and Indegenous Communities

Sanjukta Dasgupta

By Prosenjit Das Gupta
Chronicle Books, New Delhi, 2007, pp. 175, Rs. 425.00

Edited by Pariyaram M. Chacko
Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2007, pp. 258, £35.00


One of the features of contemporary India is the increasing visibility and articulation of hitherto marginalized and silenced groups such as adivasis and dalits, testified, for instance, by the recent creation of the state of Jharkhand as the homeland of the tribals of Middle India. Implicit in this is the development of the concept of a tribal or adivasi as given and unproblematic, leading to the formation of a new, unified and distinct identity for the tribals of a region, concentrating on their perceived similarities. For long, scholars tended to view individual tribal groups as undifferentiated, united and geographically concentrated and it is only recently that research has begun to highlight the differentiations and tensions existing within particular groups. The two books under review, the first, a ‘travelogue with a difference’ and the second an academic volume, a collection of research papers highlighting the process of social transformation among different indigenous communities admirably complement one another.   The first of the two books is a reminiscence of trips the author makes in central India tracing Verrier Elwin’s footsteps. A chance reading of the works of Verrier Elwin inspired him to undertake journeys into tribal central India and Orissa between the1970s and 2006 and thereafter began his life-long fascination with both Elwin the man and his tribal India. The book therefore is not merely a record of the observations of the authors. Rather it represents an attempt to view Central India through the eyes of Verrier Elwin. The author shares certain romanticised notions of tribal life, identity and ecology. The book is replete with accounts of the beating drums, the flute and dancing maidens. Despite this there are vivid descriptions of the quotidian lives of the Gharwas, the Murias and Marias of Bastar, the Baigas and the Saoras of Orissa. Indeed he successfully depicts the separate reality that he witnessed in central India, a reality of lives so very different from the ‘mainstream’. Particularly fascinating are his accounts of weddings and tribal festivals like the marhai, practises such as the ghotuls (the dormitories for tribal adolescents) and the descriptions of aspects of their socio-economic life, such as those of the bazaars.   In The Muria and their Ghotul, Elwin had described life in the ghotuls at great length. The ghotul was a dormitory system for young unmarried boys (chelik) and girls (motiari), where these adolescents spent their nights away from their families ...

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