Year of the Weeds: Tribal Cultural Heritage Endangered?


Year of the Weeds by Siddhartha Sarma published by Duckbill, is one of the rare books that deals with a topic of social injustice, bureaucratic ineptitude, corruption and collusion by the powers-that-be is a refreshing change from adventure, endless action, plotlines that celebrate winning, evoking fear and horror or on the other extreme books full of meaningless trivia and jokes.
Children are far more perceptive than we give them credit for and encouraging them to read books such as these will not only broaden their horizon but also help them become aware of what the many unaddressed issues of the country are and perhaps with the strong sense of compassion, morality and injustice that children possess at this age, will result in their becoming change masters when they are in positions of power, be it either in the government, administrative jobs, as entrepreneurs or captains of industry.

I hope that librarians, teachers and parents will place books such as these in the hands of their children and inspire meaningful conversations so that their wards became aware citizens and advocates for social change.

Sarma's book the Grasshopper's Run won the 2009 Vodafone Crossword Book Award in Children's Literature category as well as the Sahitya Akademi Award for the year 2011. In a recent interview with Siddhartha Sarma, The Hindu says, “Based on the agitation of the Dongria Konds against the mining of the Niyamgiri hills, the book lays bare the ground realities: corporate greed and rapacity, the government’s indifference, bureaucratic red tape that strangles the people it is supposed to serve; the brutality of the law enforcement agencies... all issues that an urban child would probably be unaware of.”

For further information on the issue here is an excerpt from a book by the well-known German anthropologist, Excerpt from the book: “Tribes of India: The Struggle for Survival” by Christoph Fürer-Haimendorf, In it he states that the final comments on the report by the Scheduled Areas and Scheduled Tribes Commission of India says:
“The tribals were dislodged from their traditional sources of livelihood and places of habitation. Not conversant with the details of acquisition proceedings they accepted whatever cash compensation was given to them and became emigrants. With cash in hand and many attractions in the nearby industrial towns, their funds were rapidly depleted and in course of time they were without money as well as without land. They joined the ranks of landless labourers but without any training, equipment or aptitude for any skilled or semi-skilled job.”
Though the commission recommended that the government, as trustee of the scheduled tribes, “should not allow the tribes to go under in the process of industrialization,” little was done to rehabilitate the displaced tribesmen and to train them for work in the new industries. Their eventual proletarization seems inevitable, and in the streets of Ranchi one can still see Munda and Oraon riksha pullers who not long ago were independent cultivators tilling their own land.”