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Cultural History And Emergent
Dalit Alternatives

By Goldy M. George

03 June, 2005

Human life is incomplete and impossible without cultural identity, which is the essence of human dignity. In the past people lived together in community. They had genuine feeling of love, caring, sharing and co-operation towards their fellow beings. Their life was also influenced by the natural factors like blowing wind, flowing water, songs of birds, voice of animals and other natural phenomena. Thus, they developed the use of a combination of various sounds to signify different things. In a course of time, this could have led to the evolution of language and music. During this period consciously or unconsciously, a life style and culture evolved in ways that were unique to each little community.

Gradually, with the passage of time caste discrimination seems to have arisen. The cultural art forms and the skills became the profession and monopoly of certain communities. For instance the Brahmins as teachers, Kshyatrias as warriors, Vaishyas as traders and Shudras as servants. There was of course another set of people who were not even designated within the Varna structure and they were the Avarnas. Under the hegemony of Brahmins and other upper caste Hindus, the Avarnas and Shudras were obliged to them in every aspect. They worked hard in the fields of the upper caste, illams (bungalows) and served the high caste without getting anything in return or with very little and unjust remuneration. This had deep effects on their whole life and culture. Their strumming and drumming depended upon the mercy of the upper caste. In other words their cultural rights were governed by the will and whims of the Brahmins and they performed accordingly during festivals, ceremonies, rituals and other celebrations of the upper caste. Also this was the period when religious input from the Hindu mythology entered into these art forms. Traditional communities performing Ramayana and Mahabharata are some of the ultimate results of this age. The domination of a particular caste had influenced the values and diverted the culture and art forms of the indigenous communities from its origins. Consequently the cultural and art forms of the traditional communities became the culture of the oppressed and outcastes.

Later, when these folk arts took some concrete shape, a wave of Brahminisation of the cultures, and communities took place. This was considered as the sanctification of people’s culture and their art forms. Most of the gestures and postures from the folk arts were transplanted into a new fabrication with extreme polish known as the classical art. The classical arts were framed to please the aristocrats and high class. Thus, ancient cultural arts have two forms; folk and classical. The classical arts were for the aristocrats, whereas folk art remains as the life-expressions of every community. Moreover, the classical arts are performed and enjoyed by only a few, but in the folk art, the whole community contributes and participates. In this process the history and tradition or cultural ethos of various ancient communities disappeared. For example, the real tradition and cultural ethos of Tellis, Kurmis (non-tribal), Rawats, Patels, etc. in Central India still remains as major question. This is mainly because they remained as service-rendering communities from ages immemorial. Now they have assimilated the culture and arts forms from different cultures from their respective locality. Feeling pride by justifying themselves as part of the higher caste is quite vibrant among these communities. There are many such communities in India whose history is unknown.

Consumerism and manipulation of media

Today, with the emergence of capitalism the class differentiation grew among the people and took a dramatic turn. In an age of globalization and marketization, the life values sustained through the community life and love are constantly diffusing and substituted with competition. Globalisation is nothing but the spreading of capitalistic regimes all over the world controlled by a few.

Natural environment and traditional values are being hammered in the name of progress and development. Any system, which allows greed to grow and selfishness to spread is a severe threat to human existence. This growing trend had badly influenced human life and culture. Eventually, a new culture of commoditization and consumerism has emerged within the last few decades - breaking the community life and cultural identity of masses.

Media, which is also meant to be a means of expressing the cultural and art of the masses, has also played a major part in legitimizing and disseminating this anti-life culture. The electronic media and mass communication have become the evangelists of consumerism. People have completely lost their control over media. The present system of globalization is constantly snatching away people’s rights over media, by making it target-centred than people-centred. Detailed studies had vividly clarified these in the last few years. Close studies states that the system has variedly manipulated the human life through the media. This range from entertainment programmes to the advertisements – the main object is not just to manipulate the human minds but also to capture the global market. For example, the main intention behind the anti-aids campaign through the television is not really meant to protect and prevent the masses from this deadly disease, but rather to sell the products like disposable syringe, needles, condoms, anti-pregnancy pills, etc. This opens doors to the Multi-national sectors and provides them easy entry into the national economy. This denudation of culture had ultimately led to the emergence of market-gods.

Emergent Dalit Alternative

The folk arts are completely controlled by people and even in the classical forms the people have some control on the performance. But today people lost their control over art and media due to the invention of electronic media and blind rush after modernization.

Therefore, it is very essential to develop alternative media to counter the electronisation process and to ensure proper communication of ideas as well as to foster the traditional Dalit-Adivasi art forms to preserve the community life and the sense of oneness. Since both the processes are of equal importance, it has to go in parallel. Alternative media will remain as the protective-fence and folk art and culture will give a new meaning to the life.

In the last few decades there is a quest among the Dalits to give a new meaning to their cultural art forms like Parayattam, Kaniyattam, Thaeim, Pulyapattu, Gandabaja, Panthi etc., affirming their liberation. Their singing, drumming, strumming and dancing are re-defining their perspective. On the other hand alternative communication like third theatre, street theatre, puppet show, etc., is also widely spreading. Dalit’s search for alternative media is in fact the search for a counter-culture, that will stand as a paradigm to protect human existence; re-write history and evolve a new culture of love and caring. Let this be a historical milestone from where we reiterate our march towards equality and justice, self-respect and harmony.

Goldy M. George is a Dalit-Adivasi activist currently working as the Convener of Dalit Study Circle in Chhattisgarh. He is also the General Coordinator of Dalit Mukti Morcha, Chhattisgarh











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