President Droupadi Murmu took the oath of office on July 25 and used the native word janjati in her address. Using the native terms is significant as it indicates shaking off the colonial hangover. One India interviewed Bharat Gyan founders Dr. DK Hari and Dr. DK Hema Hari. The couple provided insight into the history of the word janajati.
Tribal is a colonial suppressive term used to denote forest and hill dwellers as lesser people. The word has a negative connotation used by colonists to marginalize societies. Dr. Hari says that one must not use the word as it reminds of colonial oppression. He also says that one shouldn’t use the term Adivasi as it stems from a colonial mindset implying they are first ‘vasi’ while others are later.
Vasi is a native term for a resident or inhabitant. Dr. Hari believes that ‘Adivasi’ implies that those living in forests and hills were indigenous people and resided here before the ‘Aryans arrived.’ The usage of the word Adivasi reaffirms the erroneous Aryan invasion theory. The theory has been debunked the world over and proven unscientific. The couple emphasizes all of us are vasis of Bharat.
“Maharishi Vishwamitra in the Rig Veda has referred to the people of this civilization as ‘Bharatam Janam.’ This means citizens of Bharat. The idea of citizenship goes way back to the Rig Veda. All are equals for their role in the ‘Vikas’ of civilization. Be it any ‘vasi’; all have played an individual and collective role in the growth of the civilization”, the interview quotes the couple as saying.
They believe Bharatiyas must use native words instead of those carrying colonial baggage. A tribe is a very generic term that can apply to any group of people. The couple reiterates that vanvasis must be held in high regard. They have been custodians of Bharat’s natural resources and have looked after the country’s forests, hills, and mineral wealth.
Dr. Hari highlights that the British wanted to control the forest land and mineral wealth and disenfranchised them of their joint guardianship of forest and mineral resources. President Murmu belongs to the Santhal community that rebelled in 1855.
Murmu brothers Siddhu and Kanhu organized together the vanvasi of the region near Rajmahal hills in present-day Jharkhand and led that protest. Over 15,000 Santhal people were massacred in that rebellion which finally carved out the region of Santhal Pargana around the Rajmahal hills for this community and inspired Bharat’s freedom struggle for Swaraj.
“Today, India has about 21.5% of forest cover and is yet to reach its set target of 33% forest cover by 2022. We must be thankful to those Vanavasi all across India who had sustained these forests across generations and had also fought valiantly to protect them. We should thank them profusely for, it is because of their sustainable living practices and guardianship across generations and millennia, that we have a forest cover over our land which is the source for many natural resources and the rivers that crisscross this glorious land”, the couple pointed out.
The best way to express gratitude to the vanvasis is by replacing colonial baggage with native pride.