City SundayInterview

Museum to showcase tribal culture

The Karnataka State Tribal Research Institute (KSTRI), Mysuru, started with the mission to conduct research and evaluate studies on problems relating to Scheduled Tribes, has been working on their socio-economic and educational aspects in the state.

The institute has initiated many research activities, workshops and training classes through which it makes an attempt to promote the rich tribal culture and preserve the glorious heritage since its establishment in the year 2011.

Now, adding one more feather to its cap, KSTRI is gearing up to set up the state’s first tribal museum at Kergalli in Mysuru at a cost of  Rs36 crore. Efforts are afoot in constructing the museum and give a real feel of  haadis (hamlets) to make the concept authentic and attractive. The museum will reflect the culture, tradition and lifestyle of 50 tribes residing in the state. In an interview with City Sunday’s Deepika Narayan,  KSTRI Director Dr T T Basavanagowda gives a glimpse of the activities of the institute in protection of culture, promotion of language, health and other issues connected with the indigenous people.

Could you brief us about the activities at the institute?

Tribe is a group of people inhabited in the forests. India is one of the major countries having larger concentration of tribal groups. Among the tribals, primitive tribal groups are highly vulnerable and are isolated from the main stream of the society. Here at the KSTRI, we take up evaluation of government programmes, training for officers and tribal community, seminars, workshops, conferences, organising tribal festivals, production of documentary films on tribal life, establishment of museum and library. There are 50 tribes residing in Karnataka and we research on the above said aspects with main focus on vulnerable tribal groups in Karnataka like Jenukuruba who are found largely in Mysuru district.

Years on, has the life of tribes changed anyway?

Tribes and tribal societies in contemporary India are heading towards a paradigm shift with respect to their increasing exposure to the arena of development and related changes; leading towards a substantial transition from in their socio-cultural, economic and lifestyle like patterns. In the recent times, the effect of economic renaissance among developing countries like India has brought substantial alterations in socio-economic patterns of all forms of social structure including that of tribal society. The paradigm shift has bad effect on tribes as they are still unable to adapt to the conditions of the civilised society.

Holistic approach to tribal health is much talked about. What is your say on that?

Recognising the health indicators is generally poor in tribal areas as they live in remote areas with no access to healthcare service. As they are close to nature, they develop their own medicine using forest products. Another major hindrance is that they do not give importance to health and are addicted to alcohol. The practices like child marriage and kuduvali (alliance) have also had bad effect on their health conditions.

Infant mortality, maternal mortality and neo-natal death figures are high among the STs because of lack of healthcare infrastructure, low literacy rates and sometimes traditional practices.

Taking an example of our study, we found that most of the pregnant women of Jenukuruba community suffer from malnutrition. They are more vulnerable to skin diseases, diarrhoea, monkey disease, asthma and sickle cell anaemia. Both men and women drink alcohol regularly. Their dwelling places are extremely unhygienic, the study has found.

Tribal languages and culture are on the verge of extinction. What are the activities taken up by the institute to promote them?

Many tribal languages were on the verge of losing their distinctiveness. We didn’t want this to happen and hence, decided to safeguard the languages by printing the dictionaries. In our maiden effort, the lexicons of Hakki Pikki and Dungri Garasia tribal languages will be launched shortly. Two dictionaries containing words spoken by the Hakki Pikki and Dungri Garasia communities have been prepared by us. This has also helped to inspire children for learning as they will be able to access both in Kannada and English.

A tribal museum depicting the life of 50 tribes in the state will be established. We have secured 2.5 acres of land to develop the museum, which will be developed at a cost of Rs 36 crore, funded by both state and central governments. The state government has already released Rs 8 crore and a proposal has been sent to the Centre in this regard.  The objective of the museum is to preserve tribal artifacts and popularise them among the people and also within the tribal communities. The state is home to over 50 tribal communities. The institute has been collecting artifacts, hunting weapons, utensils and musical instruments. We have roped in archaeology and anthropology professionals and also tribal community people to make the museum authentic and also interesting. Initially, the institute is preparing a blue print and also collecting a variety of artifacts from tribal community people.

Evaluation of welfare schemes for tribes is a crucial task. How challenging is it?

The state government has introduced various schemes for the welfare of people belonging to SC and ST. But due to the lack of awareness about the programmes, only some of them are reaching the beneficiaries. We have a team of researchers working on this, it is difficult as it requires a lot of human resource who work on and off the field. This requires a lot of time and energy. The officers concerned, including district social welfare officers, should take initiative and create awareness about them, and ensure that they reach all the beneficiaries. However, we have sent few of our reports on welfare schemes to the Central government stressing basic infrastructure for the tribes.

It is said  that Research happens only in few institutes in the country. What is the status of research with respect to tribes? How is the funding from government?

Research is  seen as a white scholar job in our country. But the fact is that it is an uphill task. Especially when it comes to tribes. As I mentioned earlier, tribes are the people residing in forest and they are nowhere dependent on mainstream of society. They are away from us and it takes a lot of time to know about them. Most importantly, unless you develop a good rapport with the community, it is impossible to be come out with results. The tribes are sensitive and shy when they see strangers. For an intensive research on this community it is a tough job.

Both Central and State governments have allocated money for the welfare of the tribal community since Independence. Special grant in aid has been provided to research on tribes, besides special grants to vulnerable sections. But the amount of investment depends on the proposal.

Does the Institute face any staff crunch?

The institute is provided with adequate staff. There is no staff crunch as such. However, at times we find it difficult to deploy human resource for field work as it requires more staff. On the other hand, researchers sometimes find it difficult because of language barrier.  In order to avoid staff crunch and give exposure to the students, we usually take students from the department of Anthropology, UoM, where they will be part of the research during the data collection.  So far, we have managed to run the show with not much impediments.

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