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Damned If They Do, Damned If They Don’t.

Updated: November 27, 2010 10:39 am

Raghu Nath Rath’s book—Kandhas and Kandhamal—is a well-written work, which mirrors the fate of the tribals in general and the Kandhas in particular. The district of Kandhamal in Odisha has been in the recent limelight for all the wrong reasons. The ethnic conflict, the tribal and non-tribal wars, communal riots, maoists terror etc have all vilified the image of this beautiful and charming district of Odisha. The serenity and clam has been shattered once too often in recent times and has caused serious social upheavals in the lives of its people.

                A lot has been written on the Kandhas, the predominant tribe of the state. Anthropologists, tribal experts, sociologists and the battalion of NGO’s that have studied and worked in the area have given their own interpretations for the past and the present state of affairs.

                The book is a bouquet of articles on the Kandhas and the region, which they predominate. Rath is not a dyed in the wool anthropologist, rather he is a diarist, who has written down all that he observed during his life spent in the district. The subjects that he has chosen are not very academic, but the book presents a cross cultural survey of the Kandhas, their evolution, their traditions religious beliefs, art and craft, music, dance and folklore, their metamorphosing world and the bleak uncertain future that stares at them.

                According to Rath, the tribals and their forest wilderness should be set aside from the influence of civilization. This sounds a rather far-fetched dream, but the author has taken pains to portray the tribals as living in harmony with nature. However in the present scenario, they are impeding.

                The true history of Kandhamal and the struggles of its people deserve a fair hearing in the court of public opinion. Is the Kandha religion—sinister or sacred? Are they bloodthirsty savages or a people of a noble and ancient heritage? Can the tribal people of Kandhamal rise up out of their undeserved shame and be seen for who they really are? Long-labeled as ‘a cruel human sacrificing tribe of ruthless savages’ it is time, the truth be revealed.

                In almost all developing and developed societies, tribals are viewed as another anachronism or an object of curiosity. Initially marginalised by the creation of the boundaries of the nation-state, these indigenous peoples are being further hedged in by the indifferent or patronising modern state. This book is a significant contribution by a writer, who has observed them from the grassroots level, and given his hand on views on their past, present and a certain dismal future.

Amadeus Press, 112, Vaishno Villa, Satyanagar, Bhubaneswar 751007

By Anil Dhir

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