2ND June 2008
During my stay at Kothra and Kunda, I got to observe and internalize for the first time extreme forms of discrimination based on caste, religion and gender. I interacted with people who had internalized such forms of discrimination so completely that they thought it was the only way, that it was the right way (dharma) or they were resigned to it and thought it was destiny (karma).
I saw ‘tribal’ people who were staunch believers in and advocates of the hindu dharma, so much so that there were some who were actively involved in the activities of the VHP and were proud of having chased away a muslim family from their village. These believers in Hinduism, known as Bhagats, consider themselves superior to non-bhagats and do not eat or drink in non-bhagat households unless the ritually purify the water and give it to them in copper utensils. It brought to light the fact that casteism is practiced to a great extent in these supposedly ‘tribal’ villages. It destroyed my preconceived notions of ‘tribe’ as harmonious, integrated, egalitarian groups who shared a special relationship with nature.
Perhaps these ‘tribalisms’ are mere colonial constructs as Stuart Corbridge and other scholars suggest. Or perhaps these tribals have been so influenced by mainstream hindu ideology and ways of life, that they have lost much of their ‘tribalism’.
I also got to see man-animal relationships and adult-children relationships, that I didn’t expect. People in these villages did not attribute a very special place to forests, nature and animals as I had expected. They said the forests were too degraded and that they hardly got anything from the forests. The relationship with animals seemed more commercial (for their livelihoods) than emotional. Children were not fussed over and were left to their own devices, to take care of themselves. They also help in household work and other labour.
I learnt of the way in which people need to use a multiplicity of livelihoods in order to sustain themselves atleast to susbsist. I also learnt of the hard physical labour that is an inevitable part of their lives.
My experience in these villages was really amazing. I enjoyed the clean air, the tasty food made from garden fresh vegetables and the experience of sleeping under the stars.