Youngest Female Sarpanch to Warrior for 16K Adivasis: India’s Stunning Tribal Heroes

Youngest Female Sarpanch to Warrior for 16K Adivasis: India’s Stunning Tribal Heroes

“Any form of development requires coordination. But for the longest time, tribal communities have lived on the margins of mainstream discourse that impact them the most. Samvaad as a platform is seeking answers to this reality.”


This article has been published in partnership with Samvaad 2019.

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“I have lived my life for the forests, and one day, I will die for it,” says a woman clad in a plain-cotton saree with rubber chappals on her feet, as she takes centre stage.

You could mistake her for a lost face in the crowd of 2,000 people before whom she stands. But when Anna Kujur narrates her story, you realise this one-woman army has helped 16,000+ forest-dwellers get their rightful land patta for cultivation.

tata steel samvaad tribal sarpanch chhattisgarh jamshedpur
Beyond geographical boundaries, connected by tribal kinship

The woman who walks in next is the youngest female sarpanch, not just in her village but also in the whole of Chhattisgarh.

“I want the kids in my village to believe that the world is their oyster. Many social issues may plague our society, but education is the first step to addressing them,” says Ritu Pandram, with fire in her eyes, inviting a roaring round of applause.

These are mere glimpses of the compelling stories that came to life when more than 2,000 people from 159 tribes across 23 Indian States, 3 Union Territories and 13 countries, gathered under one roof.

The year 2019 marked the sixth edition of Tata Steel’s annual tribal conclave, Samvaad. A culmination of Tata Steel’s signature programme on tribal identity, the conclave spans over five days in Jamshedpur, offering a platform to people from indigenous communities to celebrate the culture, share the angst of tribal communities and most importantly, discuss different aspects of ‘Tribalism Today.’

Here’s a sneak peek at what happened at Samvaad 2019.

The event took place on 15 November 2019 — the 144th birth anniversary of the legendary freedom activist ‘Bhagwan’ Birsa Munda. The evening began with the beats of 151 nagadas with the tribes present at Gopal Maidan, to pay homage to the legendary tribal icon.

tata steel samvaad tribal sarpanch chhattisgarh jamshedpur
The grand opening

Over the next few days, the major engagements of Samvaad happened in two locations – the Tribal Culture Centre (TCC) and Gopal Maidan.

The mornings at the open-air amphitheatre at TCC took the spectators on a soul-searching journey; to rediscover their inherent resilience.

Speakers who shared their stories were changemakers in their own right. Many of them have fought and won over abysmal poverty, superstitions, authority, prejudice, resistance. They turned their own lives around and impacted the communities they belonged to.

At Gopal Maidan, rows of tents bordered the ground showcasing exquisite tribal art, handicrafts, clothing, jewellery and accessories etc. The aroma of delectable dishes wafted through the air at the tribal cuisine counter, Aathithya. Running for three years now, it offered 125 tribal cuisines to the public.

30-year-old Sreya Ganguly from the Tata Steel CSR team who is a part of the tribal cuisine programme says, “Food connects everyone, and the beauty of tribal cuisine, its distinct cooking style, ingredients, nutritional values and taste – deserve recognition. We identify tribal home chefs every year and help them collaborate with chefs and culinary experts at IHCL, to bring their recipes to the world.”

A major highlight of the event was the soul-stirring music of Rhythms of the Earth — a band birthed out of Samvaad, comprising 89 musicians from 43 tribal communities who performed with their musical mentors and curators for the evening, Swarathma, a leading folk-rock band from Bengaluru.

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The evenings that followed brought to stage a line-up of vibrant musicals. Sung and performed with traditional instruments, attire and makeup, these acts narrated stories of love, tradition, harvest time, struggles and success.

tata steel samvaad tribal sarpanch chhattisgarh jamshedpur
Folk performances galore

Some of the performances included the Sahariya tribe from Rajasthan, the LWRGI Theatre Group from Assam, the Kudiya tribe from Karnataka, the Baiga tribe from Madhya Pradesh, the Swangala Bodh Kala Manch from Himachal Pradesh, the Mundari community from Jharkhand, the Mavilan and Irula tribe from Kerala, the Khasi and Jaintia tribes from Meghalaya, the Bhil tribe from Gujarat and many more.

The renowned folk singer Madhu Mansuri sang of Jharkhand, as a tribal and forest land and how communities could come together for a sustainable future. His performance was followed by Johnny Huckle, a veteran musician from Australia.

A wave of thrill rang through the crowd as songwriter, music composer and producer Tom Murmu, known for taking Santhali music to the global stage, performed the Adivasi Anthem with his group.

The closing ceremony saw popular band, Summersalt from the Khasi hills take over the stage. Their songs reflected the life, history, struggles, joys, hope and the future of the people.

The programme concluded with the changemakers walking the ramp.

tata steel samvaad tribal sarpanch chhattisgarh jamshedpur
Rhythms of the Earth in motion

Bikram Biruli, a changemaker from Ho Tribe in Odisha, says, “Any form of development requires coordination. But for the longest time, tribal communities have lived on the margins of mainstream discussions that affect people of the community the most. Samvaad as a platform is changing that. Samvaad is indeed the best platform for exchange of powerful ideas and solutions.”


Also Read: Teacher Lives in Forests For 20 Years, Uplifts One of Kerala’s Most Underprivileged Tribes!


Speaking at the event, CEO & MD, Tata Steel, T V Narendran said: “Samvaad once began with the simple idea of bringing together tribal communities under one roof. In decades of interaction with tribal communities, we witnessed the pride that these communities take in their culture, rich history, heritage and music firsthand. Today, Samvaad has become a purpose-driven movement. Apart from providing people with a safe platform to speak openly, it is also creating new opportunities for improved livelihoods.”

Mr Sourav Roy, Chief CSR, Tata Steel, concluded: “The Samvaad ecosystem while listening and understanding to the concerns of tribal communities also aims to celebrate the rich culture and heritage of the same. It is beautiful to see tribal kinships. It is beautiful to see tribal kinships that go beyond geographical boundaries resonate with each other’s stories, gain inspiration and find solutions. But above all, what is even heartwarming is to see them build bonds for life.”

(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)

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