Over five days in November, tribal people from 24 states of India and 13 countries came together in Jamshedpur, a city known for its steelmaking, to take part in a feisty celebration of their indigenous identities and aspirations.
Now in its fifth year, Samvaad, as the event is called, is an effort to bridge social and cultural divides through free interaction and expression. A vibrant and colourful event, which seeks to promote diversity and inclusion, it is hosted by Tata Steel as part of its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives.
This year’s Samvaad attracted some 1,700 participants who came from all corners of India as remote from each other as Nagaland is from Karnataka or Bengal is from Ladakh. Internationally, there were people from South Africa, the Cameroons, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Myanmar, Laos, Zambia, Mexico and several other countries. “ We have tried to set up something which is unbiased, safe and honest to celebrate what is tribalism and discuss what the tribal view of development might be,” says Sourav Roy, Tata Steel’s head of CSR.
In tribal fashion, circles and semi-circles prevail. At Gopal Maidan in the heart of Jamshedpur, a large circular stage is the centre of all the action. At the inaugural, as darkness descends, a large tribal drum takes centre-stage. The loud rhythmic beating of tribal drums sets the tone for the evening of performances ahead. Soon the drummers have the audience on their feet — holding hands and linking waists and dancing as Santhal tribals do. Each day began with a different tribal prayer.
The mood and tenor at the event are far removed from the structured formality of a company-sponsored event. It is easy-going and impromptu, even while following a schedule of events, making it simpler and less daunting for community groups to express themselves and interact.
Over and above the cultural and religious aspects there were workshops on tribal healing and marketing handicrafts and daily sessions at which developmental issues were addressed by community groups telling stories of their struggles and achievements in an attempt to learn from one another.
On parade at Samvaad are different forms of local dress, music and food. Importantly, it is also curated to be an unrestricted platform where tribal people can speak their minds politically. Many of them have been victims of development who have experienced eviction from their homelands and loss of livelihoods due to destruction of natural habitats. They all come to Samvaad with their stories and are encouraged to tell them.
A genuine interest in the tribal way of life generally preceded the approach to CSR under Biren Bhuta, who was Roy’s predecessor and initiated Samvaad. Efforts were made to revive interest in tribal languages among the young and classes were held at the village level with local teachers from the community. There were also efforts to preserve tribal heritage and musical instruments and promote performers in the hope that they would inspire others.
By Tata Steel’s very presence in Jharkhand, “Tata and tribals have their fates intertwined”, says Bhuta. But banish the thought that Samvaad is anything more than a serendipitous happening. “We don’t have mines in Nagaland and we aren’t going to Ladakh to make steel,” says Bhuta.