(Last Updated on : 10/03/2009)
Indian tribal literature upholds each of its rich traditions since thousands of years has been subject to cultural upsurges. The notable information about tribal literature in India is that, it has always been delivered orally; however, things have taken a fresh turn in the present century, with written versions coming into vogue, with able assistance from maverick tribal writers coming to light. However, the scenario was quite different in the ancient periods, with Indian tribals delivering literature sticking just to word of mouth. Literature, in order to be literature, has to be written and printed as well. After the printing technology started impacting Indian languages during the 19th century, the fate of oral literature turned perilous.
Independence in India witnessed Indian states and Union Territories being re organised along linguistic lines. The languages that had scripts came to be weighed with consideration. The ones that had not developed scripts (into which falls the Indian tribal literature category) and consequently did not have printed literature, did not earn their own states. In spite of such alarming situations, it remains only to wonder about the magic and aura of tribal literature in the country, which survived every odd of being stated orally. Considering the immense odds against which tribals had been fighting, it is nothing short of a phenomenon that they have indeed preserved their literature and language and continue to contribute to the incredible linguistic diversity of India.
The number of languages in which Indian tribal communities have been expressing themselves is breathtakingly huge. Though there are usual problems associated with differentiating the mother tongue in a multilingual society, the Indian Census figures suggest that there exist almost 90 tribal languages with speech communities of ten thousand or more. When Indian tribal literature is mentioned in such background, one necessarily speaks of all these.
Tribal languages such as Kukna, Bhili, Gondi, Mizo, Garo, Santhali, Kinnauri, Garhwali, Dehwali, Warli, Pawri and so on, possess hundreds of literature in their own sweet orla form.
Tribals in India have indeed taken to writing now-a-days. Many tribal languages now possess their own scripts or have taken recourse to the state scripts. Approximately four decades ago, when Dalit literature started pulling the nation's attention, tribal writers also came into the limelight. In Marathi, for example, Atmaram Rathod, Laxman Mane, Laxman Gaikwad, each belonging from nomadic tribal communities, were hailed as Dalit writers. During that time, the northeast was yet to flower its magic in tribal literature to the rest of India. During the last 20 years that the various tribal voices and literary works have started making their presence felt. Thus, Kochereti from Kerala and Alma Kabutri from the north stormed the readers almost the same time when L. Khiangte's anthology of Mizo Literature and Govind Chatak's anthology of Garhwali literature appeared in English and Hindi translation.
The last two decades have established that Indian tribal literature is no longer only the folk songs and folk tales. It now embraces other complex genres, like the novel and drama. Daxin Bajarange's Budhan Theatre in Ahmedabad has been giving rise to gorgeously refreshing plays, modern in form and contemporary in content. Little magazines such as Chattisgarhi Lokakshar and Dhol have started coming out, providing space for tribal poets and writers. Literary conferences regularly provide a platform for tribal writers. Conferences are being frequently held at Ranchi in Jharkhand and Dandi in Gujarat. In January 2008, a global conference under the title 'Chotro', dedicated to tribal literature and culture, was held at Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts at Delhi.
At present there exists a successful understanding among tribal activists all over the country that tribal uniqueness and culture cannot be upheld unless tribal languages and literature are played up.