A lead about the Adivasi Academy in Gujarat was seen on the website of Local Futures/International Society for Ecology and Culture.
CHS-Sachetan’s co-founder, Winin Pereira, valued the thinking of one of its founders, Helena Norberg-Hodge, linguist and author of ‘Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh’, writing:
“Regarding Helena’s book, I am not merely “delighted” but astounded at the similar conclusions drawn, almost as if we are reading each other’s minds. In some cases she has used expressions very similar to mine . . . Also amazing is the fact that two communities so different in nature (one in the cold, resource-poor region of Ladakh and the other in the tropical, high-resource area of Maharashtra; one highly religious and the other animist) should have similar customs and culture”.
The website continued: Adivasis – tribal groups considered to be the aboriginal population of India – are facing powerful social and economic pressures that lead many to abandon their own language in favour of Hindi, Gujarati, or English.
CHS’ co-founder, Winin Pereira studied and recorded the Warli culture for many years. As Shabnam, daughter of Nergis Irani, wrote during the finally successful campaign opposing the plan to build a P&O port in Vadhavan: “We are all fighting to protect what both him and us love so much. In the future – providing that the adivasi culture is allowed to survive – others will be able to continue his work in recording adivasi lore etc. His work and the knowledge he provides will provide an inspiration for many (as it did to me). It will be used in many ways for the Warlis and in ‘selling’ to the rest of the world the idea that theirs is a progressive culture, not ‘backward’ and should not only be allowed to survive but emulated”.
Winin and colleagues in Jeevan Nirwaha Niketan, offered healthcare and education to children from disadvantaged families, who repeatedly fail the school entrance or end-of-year tests. The curriculum stressed the values of a just participatory and sustainable society, based on Indian culture. It was delivered first in Marathi; in the final grade, five, Hindi was introduced and a working knowledge of English imparted. Research has found that early years’ teaching in the mother tongue is most effective – see the references here. The director’s report records that by 1984, there were seven social work sections housed in different parts of Andheri and four hundred participants, not counting families and others in surrounding communities.The Adivasi Academy, based in Tejgadh, Gujarat, is trying to save the endangered languages of the linguistically diverse Indian subcontinent and to show its students that their native languages and cultures are worth preserving. It has been established to create a unique educational environment for the study of tribal communities and aims to become an institute for the study of tribal history, folklore, cultural geography, social dynamics, economy, development studies, medicine, music, arts and theatre.
The building is an example of eco-friendly and cost effective construction, using entirely local materials and labour, bringing to mind the clay structures designed by Keralan architect, Laurie Baker.
In the early days of the Academy, it was decided that formal educational qualification need not be the most serious consideration for being appointed as member of faculty at the Academy. At least one batch of students was trained by Shri Mansing Rathwa, who has never attended a school, but is a tremendous painter of Pithora, and Dr. Bhagwandas Patel, a highly accomplished folklore scholar—forming a single team for conducting classes for Museuology students learning to organise, arrange and manage museums. Young journalists and expert filmmakers have come together to teach the students of Media Studies.Rajmohan Gandhi, Mahashweta Devi, Justice M N Venkatachaliah have lectured the students, sitting on the rock under the famous mahua tree at the Academy, and lectured students ranging from 7 to 30 in age.
The Faculty has a mix of young postgraduates drawn from Adivasi communities and visiting scholars including Prof. Shereen Ratnagar, Prof. Lachman Khubchandani and Dr Ashish Kothari.
The Sorosoro website records that Ganesh Devy, former professor at Yale, arrived in Gujarat in the 90s to teach at Baroda University and made contact with a large number of indigenous tribes in the area. He sat under a tree one day and listened to village youngsters as they spoke about the way they envision their future, and what should be done to help their communities develop. Today some of those youngsters hold key positions in the academy:
“The air here is filled with a sense of peace, serene joy, pleasure for togetherness, and pride in showing short-term visitors what has been accomplished: a genuine economic and cultural development center for native populations”.