Author

Priyank Chauhan

Priyank Chauhan

Research Associate | VIF

A cultural exploration of the Bhil lands

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A tribal painting depicting local folklore

Under Vision India Foundation’s rural immersion programme, I had the wonderful opportunity to spend the first week of this month in Jhabua, Madhya Pradesh. If MP is ‘desh ka dil’, then going purely by my experience Jhabua should be called ‘desh ke dil ka dil’. It’s a beautiful place, full of greenery and amazing people, and is one of the districts that falls in MP’s tribal belt.

When you go visit a tribal area, having little exposure to the culture, you go in with many prior fixations. I actively tried not to but even the few presuppositions that I had were blown away by my experience there. It is a further testament to my general conviction that theorization devoid of practical experience can only lead to half-baked knowledge and if there is a genuine attempt to understand someone, they must be understood on their own terms. This is not the general trend that we now observe in academia in general, and the fields of study that attempt to explain away inequalities – subaltern studies, gender studies, caste studies, in particular.

In the villages of Jhabua, I saw a simple and yet a pretty rich kind of life that is hard to come by not only in the big cities, but even in the villages of the plains. People living in a state of communion with nature and a general state of harmony with the world. And this is not my attempt at romanticization or exoticization either. The mode of subsistence there is agrarian and my own rural upbringing ensures that I could connect to every single person there on this fundamental level. On my solo visits to the villages, it was like visiting my relatives, it was that relatable. Talking about people living in harmony with nature, it’s not like modern technology has not reached Jhabua or that people living here don’t travel around. Far from it, most forms of technology have been put to good use here. But in ways I do not understand , people seem to have resisted taking up many other intrusions that increased use of technology and a more comfortable lifestyle leads naturally to. Some of it might have to do with the nature of faith here. The tribal people here are Hindus in the truest and keenest sense of the term – they have nature at the centre of their worship.

Read more on his personal blog