|Photo credit HERE|
Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar ‘s book The Adivasi Will Not Dance, is a collection of articles that make a compelling story of the lives of the Santhals in Jharkhand. It deals with exploitation of the tribe, without getting political and boring in its content.
The book reads like a continuous engagement with different families. Carefully woven into the fabric of these stories are the tales of exploitation by men in power, whether they belong to other so called upper caste, politicians, business tycoons, who will do anything to reap in profits, even if it means displacing the original inhabitants of that place, stealing from them their right to livelihood and not taking responsibility for the displacement or the loss of livelihood. In a way, it is a common story arising out of many parts of India, but with a difference - the story finally leaves the reader with a lot to think about – why must we invade the lives of people in the name of development? Whose development is it anyway? Do we really need to access people’s lives and livelihood, and rob them of all human dignity to satisfy our greed? Do we need to then, put labels on them, for acting in ways that we find objectionable?
When we take away from people or a tribe their right to self respect, we have no right then to pronounce judgment on what they wish to do to make ends meet and to survive.
"Come November, Santhal men, women and children walk down from their villages in the hills and the far-flung corners of the Santhal Pargana to the railway station in the district headquarters. These Santhals—villages, entire clans—make up long, snaking processions as they abandon their lands and farms to take the train to Namal, the Bardhaman district of West Bengal and the paddy fields there. In the month that these Santhal families will spend in Bardhaman, they will plant rice and other crops in farms owned by the zamindars of Bardhaman."
The picturesque description above is like a poem in prose, flowing through the pen of an author whose veins pulsate with Santhal blood, music, dance and condition. The highly academic, but shy of saying so, professional medical doctor and avid reader and writer, Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar, writes with passion on a subject close to his heart. He has seen the injustice and is disturbed by it. He must speak it out and write about it.
Sexually violated at most times, the Santhal women have learnt to fend for themselves too. They know what to get out of men in power. Recently, the Jharkhand Government burnt an effigy of the author and threatened to burn and ban the book, on grounds that it contained content that were unacceptable for Santhal women. They did not speak of their own hand in the conspiracy to keep the Santhal community forever hungry, exploited and sexually used. They did not speak of the way the public and private partnership has caused huge portions of Santhal land to be sold to corporate for coal mining. But the para below, from the last lines of the book are self evident.
"‘Johar, Rashtrapati-babu. We are very proud and happy that you have come to our Santhal Pargana and we are also very proud that we have been asked to sing and dance before you and welcome you to our place. We will sing and dance before you but tell us, do we have a reason to sing and dance? Do we have a reason to be happy? You will now start building the power plant, but this plant will be the end of us all, the end of all the Adivasi. These men sitting beside you have told you that this power plant will change our fortunes, but these same men have forced us out of our homes and villages. We have nowhere to go, nowhere to grow our crops. How can this power plant be good for us? And how can we Adivasis dance and be happy? Unless we are given back our homes and land, we will not sing and dance. We Adivasis will not dance. The Adivasi will not—’"
The last words could not be finished, because, when you stand against the men in power, your voice is shot down.
How long, will it take for man to realize, that finally you can’t eat money to ease your greed and the hungry Santhal community cannot live on your power over their bodies, their livelihood and their dignity?
The Adivasi Will Not Dance, is available in English, Hindi, Marathi, where it has been serialized and inTamil in print and eBook format.
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You can read more of Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar’s writings HERE