In’dialogues’ – India’s TED – Tribal Knowledge systems and contemporary education : Ganesh Devy

Ganesh Devy : literary critic and activist working for tribal welfare
Ganesh Devy : literary critic and activist working for tribal welfare

I would never like to call them Adivasis – tribals – janjati. They are the real stake holders of the land.

Knowledge and education – Not all knowledge is placed in formal education system. Huge amount of knowledge systems is outside – Music, arts, agriculture, engineering, medicine and healing, astronomy etc.

Education is not knowledge – there are many people who have a great amount of understanding on agriculture and cultivation, which an agri-scientist does not. Knowledge is inclusive… knowledge has time and space… plato to poulomi to Newton..

So many times I have been told, Indians are cyclical sense of time while others have linear. Barthruhari who wrote on grammar, wrote an additional book on time. He spoke about four characteristics of time..

  • Time – Water … cyclical
  • Time – straight road – we move along the linear
  • Time is like birds – trained to fly – fly differently but controlled by some body
  • Time is segregated, linear, aggregated.

One can be both rational and irrational, and be taker, maker and follower of knowledge

Theory and knowledge are not separated. Practicing people theorize. Learning happened when practice happened. Apprenticeship made it happen.

With the arrival of British, these practices have been trashed. Most important fact is all that is oral is not considered to be knowledge, that goes to the extent of instructions and to contracts. Only written books are allowed into the university. British intervention failed to understand the knowledge share, it actually did not understand the formation of the society.

University system was introduced. We still follow with minor modification. Our education system may be contemporary but not growing within.

Branding of people happened. States who became part of the people’s existence altered everything. How come this river and hill that belonging to us becomes part of the kingdom. I have become non-existent? Every thing was taken away…

Private enterprise or people made coins earlier. Coin-making was made part of the state, those who made coins earlier were made to be counter-feiters.

Agricultural yield was taxed on the area held, rather than on the yield that can change. Colonial system wanted the land to be listed. Wandering communities and entertainers became criminal tribes. A law was made in 1871, criminal law was changed to take care of this – 191 communities were declared criminal community. 690 were termed into tribal communities. They are not indigenous. They were engaged in economy and knowledge of India. We made them primitive, not knowing any idea of what it means.. We have become incapable of imagining tribes to be modern.

Language is the most distinguishing mark, differentiating one human being from the other. Voice along with body and eyes are used. Colonial understanding that, only that is written is valid, has made most of them invalid.

In early 19th century, when official printing was started, only a few languages were picked up. They were not picked up due to their richness and social spread of the languages. More developed languages were not the ones that came to print. We used paper since 13th century. Authors wrote and signed – Takuram, Kabir.. Voice and letters had no gap. With printing that gap came.

States were given to only those languages that are printed, when India got independence. Gujarati does not have any epics but state was there because it was printed. But Billi language has more epics but not printed.

One language can be written in different scripts – Sanskrit in three. One language can be written in different scripts, we limited it. Scripts came into existence for economic interest.

If you notice, script’s geographical forms come from number systems of the language.

How many languages in this country? 22 state languages, 26 languages get awards…In India we had 1652 mother tongues in 1961 census; In 1971 census it became 109;

Bangladesh came about due to Language. They declared only those languages that have more than 10000 speakers will be recognized, rest of the languages became all ‘others.’

If 3.9% of GDP is going to be for education, it is for only for those listed in 8th schedules. So all the languages that are not in there is not going to get any money for furthering. So all other languages and knowledge prevailing traditionally are weeded out.

Aphesia – either brain fails to communicate instructions or speech mechanisms do not identify. India has imposed Aphesia, 96% of languages are not heard in India. Every language has different ways of looking at the world, and they are not heard. We have imposed our likes and dislikes on vast number of people in this country.

We want in official forums to start thinking about it. In a recent meeting on intangible heritage, people were discussion about Interactive devices?!! 96% of the heritage has been left out!!

Adivasis always saw the earth as the place they belong. They did not see earth belonging to somebody. We are consuming natural resources, we are worried, climatic changes are drastic and beyond our control. Adivasis are at the receiving end of what these ‘knowledge’ owners push them into.

When we think of traditional knowledge, we need to understand that apprentice… those uneducated know more about agriculture than the agri scientists!

Degrees and affiliations are denigrating. Let us recognize the knowledge unrecognized. If we want to have sustainable development – not sustaining oneself – we need to sustain the mother earth. We need to recognize that knowledge. We need to evolve a system to recognize every body’s knowledge. We need to think education radically; we need to give the world a way, a paradigm of existence in future. Let us have dialogue with the ignored and bring them to the fore. It will give the world a word of hope.

We have a large class that wants to satisfy the urge very fast – Instant gratification:  Management of pain is anesthetics while pleasure is aesthetics. We have lost real aesthetics in the process. What we have developed over centuries – knowledge including all art forms – we put them into 3 min and 30 min idiot box and we do not have time and patience for them.

We need to open our mind and hear to integrate and help the world sustain. Let us do it.

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