ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Muzzling Artistic Liberty and Protesting Anti-conversion Bill in Jharkhand

Adivasi culture is fluid in nature, with the scope for imitation of other cultures and a significant inclination towards its own socio-religious practices. The common tropes of this culture and identity are more of a political construct and are used as a potent tool to unite against external forces. These constructs are analysed in light of the response by civil society, the government, and Adivasi communities to the book The Adivasi Will Not Dance: Stories by Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar.

Jharkhand was in the limelight a little over a year ago for two reasons: first, the protest against and ban on Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar’s book The Adivasi Will Not Dance: Stories, and, second, the anti-conversion law which penalises attempts at conversion with imprisonment. The state government had passed orders to confiscate copies of the book as well as banned its sale. Civil society activists attacked Shekhar for allegedly portraying Adivasis in poor light and for writing porn in the name of representing their society. The same civil society organisations have also protested vehemently against the anti-conversion bill. Leaving aside the government’s actions, one can say that the incidents evoked responses from the Adivasi society that could be regarded as reactionary in the first case as it curtails the individual liberty of artistic expression, and liberal in the latter case as the individual right to freedom of religion is invoked. The two reactions were rather incompatible and need to be understood from a perspective fit enough to explore Adivasi culture as it exists in multiple modalities. The fact that Adivasis in Jharkhand have lived side by side with caste societies for a substantial number of years makes it necessary to understand their culture as a dynamic, rather than a stagnant entity. While it is easier to capture the exchange of tangible behaviour, the amorphous nature of cultural cross-pollination is difficult to be easily interpreted. The common tropes of Adivasi culture and identity are more of a political construct and are used as a potent tool to unite against external forces in order to protect their resources. The pertinent questions that arise are: Why was it felt necessary by a certain section of the Adivasi society to protest against Shekhar’s work in the name of culture? Which notion of culture are the protestors subscribing to? Does the Adivasi society need to make sense of liberal values not only in matters of faith, but also in matters of an individual’s liberty of expression? I look at the Adivasi sociopolitical discourse by taking up the issue of anti-conversion protest first and then try to link it with the Adivasi politics of cultural imagery. This article attempts to understand the the reactions of the three identified parties, that is, the government, civil society, and the individual.

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Updated On : 11th Jan, 2019
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