- What prompted you to begin Adivasi Lives Matter? What does your initiative aim to achieve and how does your work help realize those goals?
The journey of Adivasi Lives Matter started in 2016 when Ankush made a 2000 Km cycle yatra to some parts of Orissa Jharkhand to learn and to know about the Adivasi communities. During that yatra Ankush happened to visit Jadugoda which is home to India’s first Uranium mine, home to India’s first radioactive dumping zone. Unfortunately, it is also my home. The stories about Jadugoda did not make it to mainstream media, and the stories that do exist on media platforms on the internet are all covered by non-Adivasis. I did not depend on non-Adivasi journalists for information and I covered the story of Jadugoda myself in order to provide real and accurate information, in order to do justice to the stories and experiences of the lives of those living in Jadugoda. My story moved Ankush and we are both passionate photographers. He told me that my work was important. My non-dependence on non-Adivasi journalists to tell my stories was significant. That is where the idea of creating Adivasi Lives Matter began. We created this platform where Adivasis tell their own stories in their languages. They will not be dependent on other people writing their stories. The stories that we hear are written by non-Adivasis and are littered with misrepresentations. We thought that it was best that Adivasis told their own stories in their own tongues, to share unadulterated stories and experiences. We hope to continue our work for a very long time.
2. What does being part of the Adivasi community mean to you and what are some of the common misconceptions regarding the Adivasi community?
The Adivasi community is often misrepresented. The misrepresentation has been done by non-Adivasis, the result being that the minute someone hears the word ‘Adivasi’ they imagine members of the community to be savage and uncivilized, as something to be feared. But, being an Adivasi myself, I am proud to be part of my community. I feel these misrepresentations are done purposely because people do not want us or our identity to be in existence. The reason is simple if I were to introduce myself as Adivasi, as the ‘first settler of India’, this implies that all those who came after me are colonizers, invaders. They came to my land and grabbed my land by force and they claim themselves to be indigenous to India. They proclaim themselves to be the first settlers. This is wrong and far removed from fact. Communities have been living on this land long before they arrived on this land- they are indigenous. Those who step on their land after can be called ‘colonizers’. Adivasi can be described as ‘the original occupiers of land or those who lived on the land from the beginning of time’. Adivasi communities are the guardians of nature. Their lifestyle, livelihoods, festivals, rituals beliefs, the sustainable life they follow, does not harm nature.
At Adivasi Lives Matter we try to look beyond our community-based identity, we are all human first.
The community tries to bring balance to nature and our way of living protects biodiversity. As I mentioned before, it gives me great pride to be part of this community who is the ‘real guardians of nature’.
3. What are some of the challenges you have faced in your workplace or in your educational institutions due to your identity?
The identity in which we are labeled today is not our own. We always forget that we are human first and this is something that I have experienced in ALM. ALM is not completely run by Adivasis, there are non-Adivasis in the organization as well. At ALM we try to look beyond our community-based identity, we are all human first. Working in this kind of environment is not per se challenging, but I would say, it is an environment within which we learn things, about people and ourselves. What I have learnt, is that the decisions which we make in Adivasi Lives Matter are all taken by Adivasis and not non-Adivasis.
Adivasi communities are the guardians of nature.
The team is growing now with a greater mix of Adivasis. Members of the Adivasi community occupy leadership positions at ALM. One thing I find to be true is that all the non-Adivasis that I work with are great examples of allies to the Adivasi community. We have learnt from them, how their privilege can create change in society. They use their privilege for the development of other communities, they have taught me to appreciate all of our differences and grow together as human beings rather than as a labelled community as we are today.
Adivasi Lives Matter is a platform that works towards amplifying the Adivasi and Tribal voices of India. The initiative was started in 2016 so that Adivasi/Tribal youth and individuals can create articles and videos highlighting their lives and culture.
ALM is an attempt to bridge the gap by helping Adivasi/Tribal youth assert their identity through digital story-telling.