Adivasi Must Dance

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The Adivasi Will Not Dance represents a collection of little histories that are contributing to the character of India as a developing, diverse and evolving nation…Shekhar’s work in this volume is a tribute to lives of struggle and marginalisation, carefully avoiding the exotic or self-pitying tone. His craft is suffused by love for his people that reminds readers of Baba Nagarjuna’s poetry—familiar and distant, angry and lyrical.’—Himal Southasian

In one of the stories that appears in Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar’s The Adivasi Will Not Dance (2015) there is a troupe master Mangal Murmu, who wants to stop being a “toy” and refuses to dance for the visiting President.

But every Santhal cannot be a Mangal Murmu. Shekhar may be angry; he may be outraged at the sight of his people dancing for entertainment and, of course, for some money, for some earning, during Bengal’s most fantastic festival, Durga Puja. But nothing can be done!

Yesterday, I met three groups of Adivasi people in our town. They have come from our neighbouring state, Jharkhand (Pakur). Their drums beat, their bodies bend with the rhythm of the drums, and they collect money from the streetwalkers and shopkeepers. They are not begging. They are not demanding. They are making a hint for a gift at the cost of their sweaty body.

A kind of indescribable joy and delight accompanies hunger.

Usually, they appear at sasthi, stay till nabami, and then return to their home. Throughout the day during Durga Puja, they parade around the town. They dance. They add colour to the festival. Babus are happy at their visit. They take selfies with them and give ten, twenty or fifty to the bearer of the money-basket.

They wear the same thing, but one group can be marked by its unique colour. The upper part is covered with company-sponsored red, yellow and green T-shirts or football jerseys. The lower part is covered with green cloth, magically tied to their waist. Short but muscular. Black body, black-eyed, snub-nosed, wearing slippers all. Headgears are beautfully embellished with peacock’s or cock’s feathers.

Have these people heard the name Hansda? Do they know English? Are they literate? They must prove their “exotic” self and “self-pitying” tone for marketability.

Adivasi will dance. They will dance for a coin. They will dance for a meal. They will dance for the entertainment of the civilized.

Hansda has no power to bar them from dancing. For their survival, they must dance. They must entertain the well-off Indians, whose life is bereft of the scent of the forest, whose life is sealed by man-made thousand walls, “whose infra-vision does not see the splendour of the forest, the flower tucked behind the ear, the feather in the dancing headgear, but only the minerals beneath” (Nandini Sundar).

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I write because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, said George Orwell. As a writer, I never kowtow to the whims and dictates of the sacred godmen or godwomen, the political bigots and hypocrites, dealers of laymen, the dishonest and self-serving intellectuals, traders of religions, the betrayers of ‘other’ Indians who eke out a living by their sweat, who are living in fear for being lynched for this and that.

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