My learnings so far
A college like FLAME can teach one many things (if you pick your courses well). Unfortunately, most educational experiences remain in the classroom or at best, extend to the nearby lake. There is great merit in the reading material recommended and provided to the students, however, ten volumes cannot teach as student as much as a single day of fieldwork can. Much like the concept of telepresence, there is only so much that case studies and theoretical frameworks can provide us with. One can only claim to understand something when one is able to adjust their modalities to the contextual surrounding. Fortunately, that is an opportunity provided by this course and for once, I was able to meet real people rather than reading a description and I was able to give ear to real problems rather than case studies considered conducive for understanding by admittedly well-meaning authors.
Growing up in Pune, one cannot help but face Marathi communalism at some point. Over the past two decades, it has succeeded in penetrating almost every facet of life in Maharashtra. This seems to have been further compounded by the new right wing government and its saffronisation agenda which immediately began attempting to create a single Hindu narrative foe everyone. Depending on which side of the Saffron flag one is on, that can be a good or a bad thing. One can view the single narrative approach as something that fosters unity, equality and peace among people since they all belong to one camp, but in that case, any semblance of uniqueness and individuality is lost to its victims. Communalist leaders claim to speak for everyone that speaks a particular language, look a particular way and live in a particular region. By their rationale, if you speak language x or live in region y, the political leader that glorifies language x and region y speaks on your behalf. Why then does one feel left out and unheard despite this supposedly solid approach? Subjected to a similar rationale are the Kathkari communities visited by us in Raigad district.
Foucault’s concept of Governmentality proposes that in order to govern a particular sample of people, the government has to influence their culture and society in order to make them governable. At a micro level, a very similar concept is applied by the Marathas surrounding the Kathkaris. The most important learning I took away from my one visit so far is the extent to which cultural assimilation changes a community. The signs of cultural assimilation were apparent in each community we visited. While the fist community we knew and understood the difference between Kathkari and Maratha cultures, we were still welcomed with a traditional Marathi song by some schoolchildren. While it is a good thing that the school does not segregate between the two communities, the classroom as well as its surroundings felt devoid of any Kathkari influence or heritage.
The second community we visited seemed to be the most assimilated. Their location near the highway as well as their affiliation with tribal unions has granted them more exposure to their surrounding world that the first community. While they were empowered, the deep penetration of Maratha culture into their lives was immediately apparent. It wasdifficult to determine however, whether the Marathaness that they attempted to show us was genuine or a mask used to protect themselves from those who would take issue with anything deviating from the single narrative. Either ways, the visit had strong implications, both for our understanding of the shift from a non-monetary subsistence based society to the mainstream money based and ration aided society. The confiscation of their lands resulted in many Kathkari’s working in the emerging factories nearby. This resulted in them buying food rather than growing or foraging it. This eventually led to their dependence on the government ration system and the factories for their livelihoods.
The third community displayed a far more elusive penetration. A local Maratha politician, backed by a wealthy landowner uses this community as a vote bank. To post-independence India, an SC, ST vote counts for more qualitatively than an open caste vote. Essentially, overwhelming support from a marginalised community for a particular politician is interpreted to be the result of his support for the community. Even if one attempts to verify this by visiting the community, one is greeted with cobbled roads, ‘pakka’ brick houses, electricity and schools, everything one needs for to fulfil the inherited western criteria for development. There are even schools and other facilities provided by landowner. However, while the by-product of his expansion has done some good for the community, what it has resulted in is its people being in his debt and subject to his unquestionable conditions such as being banned from the nearby lake.
One thing noticeable in each community is the apparent lack of cultural identity among its people. Stories, songs and old knowledge are hidden if not forgotten. Younger generations do not have the opportunity to learn from their elders due to their work as labourers, which results in a lack of proximal learning. The children then turn to the closest transmitter of culture and influence, that being the surrounding Marathas. Without the understanding and documentation of their cultural identity, it will be impossible to present Kathkari culture as equally important as any other culture. It is thus important to format it in a way accessible to the community so that they can pick up their narrative where outside forces are trying to impose their own.