The Renewed Boundaries of Being Indigenous : Indigenous Values Vs Modern Values
In India, 705 ethnic groups are recognised as Scheduled Tribes.
In central India, the Scheduled Tribes are usually referred to as Adivasis, which literally means Indigenous Peoples. There are, however, many more ethnic groups that would qualify for ‘Scheduled Tribe’ in the Constitution of India (1950) with over 461 ethnic tribes, and an additional 174 unrecognized tribal groups.
The Census of India reports that ethnographic accounts of “Scheduled Tribe” is often disputed due to its conceptual and practical difficulties in recognizing various communities as Scheduled Tribe. Some question the demarcation between recognized tribes and other caste-groups around them with similar cultures and interests, and raise concerns about its origins in colonial politics and power structures as well as post-colonial dogma.
Still, the central government broadly follows a broad working definition developed by the 1965 Advisory Committee Report on the Revision of the Lists of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, as provided by the Lokur Committee Report. It defines “Scheduled Tribes” as groups of Indigenous people characterized by “primitive traits, distinctive culture, geographical isolation, shyness of contact with the community at large and backwardness,”.
The Constitution of India provides for special protections for the classified Scheduled Tribes using discriminatory language: recognizing their social, educational and economic “backwardness,” and the need to “protect” them from social injustice and various forms of exploitation. (Articles 15(4) and 46, Constitution of India)
India’s recognition of Indigenous Peoples in international and domestic law, policy, and practice is paradoxical. The Government of India has said in the UN floor that “There are no indigenous people in India as India is like a melting pot” (at UNWGIP in 1984 & again in 1985). This has the offshoot of Globalisation that may have sufficed that concocted term of ‘Melting Pot’.
But then the fire persists and snowballing protests in the streets of Assam, Tripura and other North-eastern states as well as in the central India. However, the stand of the Government of India on the rights of the indigenous people has been changed.
In a book titled “The Indigenous World 2021” published in 21st April 2021 by IWGIA, has mentioned that “the Indian Government voted for the UN deceleration on the rights of Ingenious people (UNDRIP) with a condition that “Since independence, all Indians are considered indigenous.“. This is a serious policy stand taken by Government of India (GOI).
However, the struggle of the indigenous people continues in the country and indigenous peoples’ organisation continuously fighting for their rights over their land, language, culture and their threatened identity. The fight for definitions of indigenous people and their rights would continue. While fighting for their rights the indigenous people of Assam must prepare for their inclusiveness and remain competitive in the globalised world.
Being competitive does not mean that the collective character of the community must be abandoned. The collective character of ‘Being Assamese’ must remain and yet be competitive for any eventualities.
John Bamba, an indigenous Dayak from Kalimantan, Indonesia similarly summarizes the underlying principles for living a good life, based on the Dayak’s traditional cultural values. They are the values of sustainability, collectively, neutrality, spirituality, process-orientation, domesticity and locality.
These are contrasted with prevailing modern values — productivity, individualism, technology, rationality, efficiency, commercialism, and globalization — that have become predominant principles in present-day social and economic development that can undermine a balanced human-nature relationship. The ensuing chaos is seen as cultural poverty, defined from a Dayak perspective as arising from the inability to practice customary principles and values, and to live a good life.
Indigenous vales vs Modern values: A Dayak perspective
The following seven principles summarize the way in which the Dayak achieve their ideal of life, based on their cultural values and how they compare with modern values:
- Sustainability (biodiversity) versus productivity (monoculture)
- Collectively (cooperation) versus individuality (competition)
- Neutrality (organic) versus engineered (inorganic)
- Spirituality (rituality) versus rationality (scientific)
- Process (effectiveness) versus result (efficiency)
- Subsistence (domesticity) versus commerciality (market)
- Customary law (locality) versus state law (global)
If one fails to these ideals it is believed to result in barau (Jalai Dayak): a situation when nature fails to function normally, and thus results in chaos. Barau is a result of Adat* (* Adat: set of local and traditional laws transgression—a broken relationship with nature. “Poverty” for the Dayak is linked directly with failure to exercise the Adat that governs the way in which the people should live.
.There has been a long genesis of the people of the region to take solace on ‘Indigenous identity’ or ‘Khilonjiya Identity’ of the Assamese people. There is conscious effort of vicious circles to question the very identity of Assamese people. Even the Assamese people itself is responsible for the fiasco that they are on the verge of being endangered as a community.
The 2000 years of legacy has not been consolidated enough to strengthen the sub-nationalism ethos of the Indigenous people. In the process when their existence has come into question in their own land, the indigenous people united again to fight for their cause.
Wheather there is constitutional safeguards under the umbrella of ‘indigenous’ people or not, they must come as a force to reckon with. Assamese people as a whole are not aware with about their rights. Even they fail to assert their right at appropriate time. People are not loaded with relevant information to counter such propaganda. One of such propaganda is the Assamese people are avert to hard work, which is factually not correct.
Yes , the British has brought Bengali People to facilitate their clerical jobs in office. Moreover, the tea garden labours were brought in to facilitate labour works in Tea gardens. Even in US (United States) people avert to low wages for which technocrats from rest of the regions of world used to migrate for better wages as per their standard of income expectations.
Assamese people as a whole avert to low wages of income, but if provided with right opportunity and environment, they can also participate in any work environment. I like to mention the the example of plying of E-rikshaws by the indigenous people in Sivasagar town. Due to arrival of battery operated e-rikshaws, the indigenous people have started plying the e-rikshaws and the migrants workers had to abandon their filed.
It is the outlook that needs to be changed and not the living style of the indigenous people.
Another age- old practice is the system of ‘Adhiya’, that is to allow the contract farming to another person by taking the half of the produce. The pertinent factor is that the ownership of land is retained while taking benefit of it with no hard work. In the globalised world it is termed as ‘outsourcing’. These days even governments, across the world, strarted selling assets and ownership to the corporate in the name of disinvestment.
The indigenous culture of the age old Assamese has to be cherished, albeit with minor realignment here and there. The spirituality of indigenous Assamese people must be retained and enjoyed in a modern and global perspective. The indigenous values may be rechristened and presented in a platter that has same strength as modern values. To make it happen, the region needs help from academia, independent of inclination to any thought process, to ascertain the true value of being Assamese.
Every community has their own culture based on their age old practices. The Gujarati’s are known for their cut throat competition around the world. The Marwari community are known for their business practices with the principle of ‘jio or jine do’ meaning ‘ you do business and let me also do the same’ as stated by a Marwari friend of mine.
So the Assamese should be allowed to live with their own set of values and mind it is not bad as branded by opportunist people. The people of Assam thrived after 16 Mohammaden invasion, three times brutal Burmese invasion, the colonial invasion by the British and lastly the demographic and cultural invasion by the Bangladeshis.
The culture of Assamese people must retain and may be presented in a platter that has its global standard and acceptance. With or without the tag of being indigenous, the Assamese indigenous values must be ascertained with pride.
Mahabahu.com is an Online Magazine with collection of premium Assamese and English articles and posts with cultural base and modern thinking. You can send your articles to firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com ( For Assamese article, Unicode font is necessary)