Jharkhand: Influence of Arayans and British over Tribal Culture

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The kingship system was resisted by the Adivasis. The Hos resisted the malgujari. and so too did the Santhals and the Mundas. This resistance became more prominent during the British rule in India which resulted in the Chotanagpur Tenancy Act, the Santhal Parganas Tenancy Act, and the Wilkinson Rule. These rules and Acts recognised the distinctiveness of the social-cultural and political institutions of the Adivasi people. They also provided the British government with a better way of collecting tax from a people who refused to part with the lands that had been cleared and cultivated for several generations. It is clear that the customary system of self-governance of the Adivasis has existed and evolved in the course of the history as far back as we can trace it Their customary practices have been one of the  main strengths of the Adivasis people. This is how they have been able, in the past, to resist outside forces encroaching into their freedom.

        The economic effects of forcible incorporation of Adivasis into a stratified market economy have been well recorded. However, as well as the economic exploitation and land alienation, the incorporation and subordination of the  Adivasi society in to the market economy, has led to the destruction of the community  as a whole. This disempowerment was done through a very conscious destruction of the Adivasi institutions of governance.

        In the case of  Jharkhand, with the establishment of British rule we find a conscious effort to destroy the traditional Adivasis institution of self- governance, self-regulation, such as Munda Manki system  and the Parha system. These representative institutions were supplanted by a new set of institutions to enable the British not only to appropriate the economic and labour resources of the Adivasis communities in the form of land revenue and indentured labour, but also to make these new institutions independent of the control of the Adivasis community.

 It is no accident that unlike the Munda Manki system. which was communitarian and not necessarily hereditary, the new system was always based in an individual authority and in several cases hereditary. These offices of revenue extraction were vested with authorities of a feudatory chief or raja.

A part from the system of revenue and labour extractions a new and bureaucratic civil and criminal administration  was also set up.

Bureaucracy, police and courts were encountered by the Adivasi communities for the first time. These institutions not only destroyed the Adivasi communities, since they were completely out of the control of the society, they also eroded the communitarian principles that permeated the self- regulatory mechanism of the Adivasi society. The impact of this ethos was evident in    mechanism of dispute settlement in the traditional Adivasi institutions.

In the case of disputes, such as inter-clan clashes, murders or debts.the emphasis of the community panchayat was on justice, ratherer then judgment or punishment. All this changed with the advent of the modern bureaucracy that was based on individualism and impersonality. The Adivasis notion of justice was replaced by the modern binary of crime and punishment. The inability of the Adivasi people to grasp this subtle but deadly shift often led to tragic consequences. In the initial year of the establishment of police stations there are several recorded instances of the Adivasi warrior’s reporting to the police station with the body of their victims.

What has been patronizingly recorded by the police officials as the “innocence and simplicity of the savage tribal’s” was in fact the result of the  failure of the Adivasi communities to understand the full import of the modem judicial principle   crime and punishment. Rather than endeavoring to resolve

the  cause of acrimony between the Adivasi individuals or groups so that harmony could once again be restored,  as was the traditional custom of the Adivasi panchayat the modern institutions resorted to punitive action, since for them an individual was solely responsible for its acts of omission and commission.

The Adivasi mechanism of grievance redress was therefore trespassed and violated. Furthermore, in its dealings with modern bureaucracy,  judiciary and police the Adivasi notion of self-respect was violated. The elitist attitude of the colonial and Indian mindset was largely responsible for this. It either treated the Adivasi as a barbarian or as a simple or genial savage who was incapable of taking care of himself.

 Apart from the attitude of the officials, the mystifying processes and functions of these new institutions made it impossible for the Adivasis to engage with these institutions on an equal footing. Official work during the colonial period was done entirely in English and in the post independence era in Hindi. Given the preponderance of these non Adivasis languages, the Adivasis were either compelled to learn the language of their conquerors and the attached cultural baggage or depend on the non-Adivasis in their efforts to seek justice from the modern institutions.

Either way, the Adivasis lost their autonomy, self sufficiency and self respect. It is not an accident therefore that in every Adivasi institution; of police, judiciary and bureaucracy were made targets of attack. It is noting here the curious case of the shooting of an arrow by Birsa Munda on a seminary in Sarvada to mark the beginning of his protest. This act has been interpreted  by certain communal minded people as an attack on the religious  beliefs of the inmates of the seminary however, if the intention of   Birsa was to destroy the seminary rather than shooting a single arrow from a great distance he would have organised a full fledged raid on the institution.

However, what a western anglophile failed to recognise is that the problem of Adivasis is not only the inability to successfully represent their case in the modern institutions, but the very act of incorporation of the Adivasi society within the modern institutions. The arrow shot on the pastor by Birsa was not

aimed at his religious belief, but was intended to draw a line of demarcation between the Adivasis desire to retain their traditional autonomy and the desire of an anglophile to facilitate an easy and civilized way of coopting the tribal community into the modern system.

                                       Oral tradition as a basis of customary practices The Adivasi customary practices evolve from the praxis of oral traditional. In other words, the culture defines the customary practices. It is reflected in what people give value to and what they value. The event is important rather than the time in which it took place. It is not important that it is published but that it is remembered and recounted through the generations. The past is not a catalogue of facts but an encoding of events as the marker of Adivasi valor, justice, dignity, etc. Oral traditions are expressions of communality and community unlike the written  script which becomes individual and personal.

The manner in which the Adivasi oral traditions were weakened was through the imposition of the written script by the ruling class. So today any and everything has to be written down in order to have validity. Whatever is unwritten and oral has been put in the category of myths and superstition. Once the commonality of the material resources gets privatised there will be an adverse impact on social relationships among the members of the society and a very negative influence on the cultural values and attitudes of the people. This is precisely what the British did by introducing the individual patta system.

This is exactly what happened to the Adivasi in India and in Jharkhand. As a result communalism is replaced by individualism. Common property becomes private property. Co-operation becomes competition. Consensus in decision making  becomes majority decision. Equality among the members of the community becomes inequality.  When India became independent the local ruling class, which was largely non  Adivasi and which hailed from north Bihar, and whose language was Hindi, systematically imposed  Hindi on the Adivasi people of Jharkhand.

Thus Hindi was made a necessary language both at the level of administration as well as in the formal education system. As a consequence, the children who started to go primary school had to learn Hindi. The Adivasi school-going children did not fare well in Hindi because: they did not speak it   home, where as non-adivasi children, whose mother tongue was Hindi, much better at school .

 Hindi was also propagated to lessen the importance given to English. In this effort however the independence government largely failed because English continued to hold its sway in college and university education. The net consequence of this language policy was that Adivasi languages suffered

from  a double assault from government patronized Hindi and elite patronized English. National development leading to underdevelopment of the Indigenous people India has one of the largest indigenous populations in the world Adivasis in India form nearly 8 percent of India’s total population  In the slate of Jharkhand. as SC Bhatt in the District Gazetteer of Jharkhand puts it. “during fifty years since independence, the Jharkhand land and the Jharkhandi people have been in a process of being reduced to shameles in several respects. The region consists of 79.714 sq kms of land with population of whom 30 percent are indigenous Adivasis. Where as they were 60 percent at the sun of the last century.

Due to displacement process the indigenous people of Jharkhand are perhaps the worst hit. otherwise this region is the richest region in the  whole country in terms of natural resources,  viz   timber and several kinds of minerals drawn from far flung areas.” The planners of India’s 5 year plans adopted a

policy of “positive discrimination” towards Adivasis by providing them with certain extra facilities.

 In the beginning  of the 1990s. the Adivasi members of Parliament  brought the attention of the government both inside and outside parliament to the  continued  deprivation  of their people. In 1992  the central government appointed a special commission under the leadership of Shri Delip Singh Bhuriua to make specific recommendations towards self-rule and self-development the Adivasi people.

The Aryan people were more dominant and aggressive. They had a monarchical system of governance based on the vama system and a standing army with fighting skills. Egalitarian Adivasi communities did    not  have a kingship system,  since it was based on hierarchy — a concept alien to the tribal ethos. Instead of Kingship the Adivasis had clan groups among the Kily system — the clan system. This later developed into the Khutkati system. Nor did they have a standing army, since the self-sufficient  Adivasis communities did not have a division of labour based on workers and non-workers.

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