When the old grandpa tells me his childhood stories, it becomes difficult for him to circumvent earthly emotions of inhaling the fragrance of soil by taking a dip into grassland. This project is an attempt to visualise the social trajectory of a fading tribe at an age of globalisation.
Santals are one of the largest and oldest ethnic tribes in India. They did not have any written history before British colonialists and western missionaries came to India in 18th century. These aboriginal people are native to central and eastern India, specially Chotanagpur plateau. Throughout history of India they have only been discriminated, neglected and oppressed starting from the time of Aryan invasion. Human rights violation, malnutrition, lack of education and health care are synonymous to their identity. As a backward tribe they are susceptible to local political parties and has been severely exploited by the christian missionaries. Their existence has been reduced to a source of cheap labour. Low wage, class struggle and caste deprivation have enriched their backwardness. A large section of tribal men and women are victims of state sponsored violence and corporate greed. Incidents like Bastar stand as unresolved issues of social injustice, where fight for land and forest have killed thousands of tribal in past 20 years.
Two santal families came to my ancestral village in the beginning of 20th century to work in my grandfather’s farm. Those families have lived there ever since and now have transformed into a whole community forming the largest section of present population there. Migration always has been an old survival method for santals. But under the heavy burden of social cruelty, their daily existence of humane emotions is often forgotten.
For a santal, historical existence through struggle is incomplete without his or her daily existence. And the latter is a story of evolution through conflictions. They have their own stories to tell through their daily life, which is characteristically different from the stereotype of a bunch of prehistoric people offering fancy entertainment to educated urban class. The images depict plethora of emotions and acts. Some expressions are staged, some are spontaneous. A santal, after thousands of years of denial of acceptance from apparently civilised society, still builds a home for his or her family or, sets out for occasional hunting or, just sits idle. They are indulged in an effortless life. Which is the finest form of resistance against eternal hostility against them.
In this project I am capturing images by a collaborative process. I used to sit with them and have long conversations. They talked about many stories from their childhood and what they felt about themselves in the modern day society. They shared their political views. I listened to them and I tried to recreate their memories and insights. I feel one of the most important part of their identity is their language, which requires more attention from present scholars. I want to incorporate their language into my project as a part.