Zubin Khetani- Mid-Course Reflection

Today we begin the 6th week of our Indigenous Knowledge and Communities course. We’ve completed two field visits and visited a total of four Kathkari Hamlets. Each community completely unique, the only common element amongst all four is their tribal identity.

In between our visits, we’ve discussed and learnt a vast amount on the lives of such indigenous people. We’ve learnt of the laws that apply to them, the loss of cultural identity and the major elements that impact their lives.

I still remember our first class. The first instruction was that this is a course that requires 100% dedication, in short, if ma’am asked us to “Jump”, you jump; and thats exactly what we did.

Never before this course had I plunged myself into the deep end of a community. We learnt in our classes of how all the tribal communities have their origins in the regions of Africa. All these tribes have wandered over thousands of years across the world and found themselves to be Aboriginals in Australia or Kathkaris in Maharashtra.

Over these years they have been abused, isolated and discriminated against. These tribal groups have submitted, revolted and fled. However, while the times have changed their situation still remains the same. Through our research and classes we traced historical events in which the tribal groups have played a major part. Some of these were the Siddu Kanhu revolt and the Birsa Munda revolt. We also studied of the various laws that have been imposed and revised by the government, their history as Denotified Tribes and their states of livelihood.

Since I’ve joined this course my interest has often swayed. At first I was curious about their social situation, keen on observing the social hierarchies and the problems they may face from their surrounding communities. Later it moved towards understanding their rituals, their stories. However, after the first visit we found that it would be a task to simply get comfortable with the community. Our first visit centred to simply participatory observation, where we let ourselves be guided by our senses; just understand the place, the people and get a feel of what really lies there. The basics that we practiced in a class activity where each of us when to various locations of the campus and observed the people who worked or lived there.

This course has taught me how to be comfortable and deal with the fact of not being welcome in a certain place. The moment we walked into a community everything would change. People would stop working; they would peek from behind doors and windows and observe us. A number of them would be shy, even nervous when we would say hello or ask them a question. They would bring out chairs and would be surprised when we rejected them and sat on mats placed on the floor.

However, it was these methods that have somewhat opened a path for us to tread between the community, especially Khanau- the Hamlet that is situated near an industrialist’s property. We learnt to use our skill to get people to open up and become comfortable. Music proved to be highly valuable in situations where people seemed very inhibited. We also began to approach first the children or the elderly as they were always willing to talk.

We learnt most about the happenings through these people. They gave us an understanding of the situation of these communities, of their identity and their problems.

It was after the first visit that we began to really reflect on our objectives of going into field. We realized how the communities closely guarded their traditions and their unwillingness to open up. Hence, all of us came to a common ground. Our goal now was to simply realize and restore the cultural identities of these people. Their cultural identities being- their language, stories, rituals, songs and folklore. We wanted to learn this and through application of a certain media create a platform through which they can be known by the rest of the world.

This is because wherever we looked we always found someone else’s stories on the Kathkaris. By the creation of a blog we would create a platform for the community to voice themselves. We would upload their photographs, their own stories and their voices; making them accessible to the world.

We have decided to go forth with this idea because it is the only way to ensure that even while we are away from the communities, we can still be in touch with them remotely. Last year we worked with another community, however, after hearing their stories and creating a performance, we never found the chance to go back. Thus, it felt to me like we had abandoned them and left the work unfinished. Thus, this should not be the case with the Kathkari. This method ensures that we would be in touch with them. We would be helping them, not monetarily or action wise. But our steps ensure documentation and storing of their identity, it will popularize this group.

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