๐–๐ก๐š๐ญโ€™๐ฌ ๐ข๐ง ๐š ๐ง๐š๐ฆ๐ž: ๐ญ๐ก๐ž ๐ฉ๐ซ๐จ๐›๐ฅ๐ž๐ฆ ๐จ๐Ÿ ๐๐ž๐Ÿ๐ข๐ง๐ข๐ง๐  ๐œ๐จ๐ฆ๐ฆ๐ฎ๐ง๐ข๐ญ๐ข๐ž๐ฌ ๐š๐ฌ โ€˜๐ญ๐ซ๐ข๐›๐š๐ฅ๐ฌโ€™ ๐š๐ง๐ โ€˜๐ง๐จ๐ง-๐ญ๐ซ๐ข๐›๐š๐ฅ๐ฌโ€™.

By Saibal Debbarma

Our identities in society are amorphous and heterogeneous, extremely fluid because we live in complex societies where we adopt various roles to various situations for a proper functioning of society. Names, codes, symbols, appendages are adhered to each role but there is a sacred symbol all groups and communities prefer to identify themselves by as a collectivity and this symbol is a codified assertion that their ways of living and understanding the world varies distinctly or subtly from another group. To call them by any other name is to confuse their identity; it is a gesture which indicates that they are not recognized. Furthermore, to club all the groups or communities, who share in the eyes of a predominant political group some superficial similarities of biology or tradition or language under one generalized name is a gesture that they are not acknowledged as distinct traditions or groups and hence not unique. It is also a part of the age-old narrative of identifying societies as โ€˜civilizedโ€™ and โ€˜primitveโ€. This is one feature shared by colonists: they impose their nomenclature according to their whims and prejudices on every object, living or dead which is an integral part of the identity of the colonized thereby claiming their ownership over them. The African-Americans have been derogatively called โ€œniggersโ€ which originates from the Latin word โ€˜Nigerโ€™ meaning Black although the mass of people brought from the African continent to America through the slave trade belonged from communities who greatly varied from each other in their traditions and language. Imposing a common denotation used to signify their biological commonality is a denial of acknowledging these groups as unique cultures with their own distinct aura. The mass of indigenous communities called โ€˜Red-Indiansโ€™ or as โ€˜Native-Americansโ€™ who were found teeming on America, before the genocide caused upon them by European colonial rule, actually consists of diverse cultural groups, distinctly unique from each other.

The various indigenous communities in Tripura are often addressed by politicians, bureaucrats and govt. officials as โ€œTribalsโ€. The indigenous communities remain the โ€˜otherโ€™ in their own land because of the negative nomenclature used to identify them by a politically and economically pre-dominant populace uneducated about their culture. Although often used naively the word โ€œtribalโ€ holds negative connotations and is derogatory in the sense that it is not only a gesture that the aura and uniqueness of the community called as โ€œtribalโ€ is not acknowledged at all but also that they are perceived as primitives. In the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Anthropology, the word โ€˜tribalโ€™ is absent, what we find is the entry โ€œtribal societyโ€™ which is described in the following terms:

โ€œThe concept of โ€˜tribal societyโ€™ is one of the most prominent and popular โ€˜anthropologicalโ€™ notions of our time, yet within western social and cultural anthropology it has been largely abandoned as a sociological category. Although the origin of the word was rooted in the ancient Roman tribus, the modern concept of tribe emerged in the era of EuroAmerican colonial expansion. It became the standard term for the social units of peoples considered primitive by the colonists, and for those thought to be uncivilized in historical accounts of antiquity.โ€

The word โ€œTribalโ€ is a British-colonist left-over used whimsically to define a large group of people living in India who share some common way of living practiced by hunter-gatherer societies although they bore subtle cultural differences : โ€œIt was only with the sixteenth-century expansion of Europe into the Americas and Africa that the association of tribes with a more primitive order of mankind began, and only with the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century that this was formalized into that concept of progress which set tribal people outside the pale of civil society.โ€ (Sneath, David, The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Anthropology) It was specifically used to demarcate a population scattered across remote regions of India considered as โ€œprimitivesโ€ by the British colonial ruler. Although the said โ€œprimitiveโ€ groups after Independence adopted cultural practices which are considered as โ€œcivilized โ€œ but the name stuck to them because of its widespread use since the days of colonialism. Even the indigenous communities appropriated this name in the course of history to identify themselves, as the discourse of โ€œcivilizationโ€ and โ€œprimitivismโ€ emphatically supported by the predominantly powerful groups of the society seeped into the indigenous psyche. A rare case of cultural appropriation in which the cultural group which appropriated nomenclatures from the dominant group became a victim of their prejudice. A full historical study of this process is very essential to negotiate the problem of naming indigenous societies. The nomenclature of โ€œscheduled-tribeโ€ and โ€œscheduled-casteโ€ is a demarcation which is still in cultural and political usage particularly in India. After the end of colonialism and the widespread democratization of the 1950โ€™s no communities across the globe are demarcated as โ€˜tribalsโ€ or โ€œnon-tribalsโ€ except in India because the Indian Constitution Assembly adopted these nomenclatures and used the appendages โ€œScheduled Tribeโ€ and โ€œScheduled Casteโ€ to identify communities which according to stereotypical notions of civilization were considered as โ€œprimitivesโ€ or โ€œoutcastesโ€. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary entry of the word โ€œtribalโ€ makes it clear:

โ€œ(adjective) tribยทal | \ หˆtrฤซ-bษ™l \

Definition of tribal (Entry 1 of 2)

: of, relating to, or characteristic of a tribe.

Example: tribal customs

tribal (noun)

Definition of tribal (Entry 2 of 2)

: a member of an aboriginal people of India โ€”usually used in plural.โ€

This nomenclature greatly influenced the โ€œotherficationโ€ process of the communities who had to suffer the brunt of European notions of civilization and Indian system of caste prejudice; by creating a binary of identification of societies as โ€˜tribalโ€ and โ€œnon-tribalโ€ one group privileged by the past could consider themselves civilized as compared to the S. Tโ€™s and S. Cโ€™s. The words S.T and S.C adopted by the Constituent Assembly of India was used after all as official appendages, for the sake of easy demarcation of the populace which lived in remote areas and suffered from the prejudice of the Indian caste system and, perhaps to curb excessive official work, not names which the communities chose to call themselves by. These official appendages were made to be used with good intentions by the Government of India for providing the communities who stayed in remote regions of India and suffered the heavy blow of Indian Caste prejudices with equal opportunities in the society. But even as individuals our official appendages are not the true markers of our identity. Attaching one’s selves to the official appendage vested on us result in the reification of identity in the same way the laborers in Britain of the Victorian Era were dehumanized as they were called as โ€˜handsโ€™, a word which reduced the human being to his/her most utilitarian operational body organ. So the use of the words โ€œtribalsโ€ and โ€œnon-tribalsโ€ to identify autonomous cultural groups is not only derogatory as it pits one cultural group as โ€œprimitiveโ€ but it is also a surrender to the British colonial ideas of primitivism and civilization which had caused great damage to societal identities. Addressing indigenous communities by the names they choose to call themselves by is the first step towards safeguarding their identity. But considerable research must be invested to eradicate the festers of colonialism which had rooted itself deep in the consciousness of the collectivity and still continues to prejudice one group of Indians against another. This is the legacy of our colonial rulers they have divided us according to their prejudices and we adopted this division as viable paperwork. Resources must be used to educate groups to acknowledge and respect each otherโ€™s cultures and traditions then only we Indians will stand united in our diversity.

Saibal Debbarma is Assistant Professor, Department of English, Government Degree College, Gondatwisa.

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