“Johar!” In Odisha, this is how people from the Munda tribe greet each other.
I did not know this until I got to spend three days in the company of 18 authors from Munda, Saura, Kui and Juang tribes. We were together for a Write workshop where Pratham Books, in partnership with Ignus-OUTREACH, and generous financial support from the Bernard van Leer Foundation, was hoping to get manuscripts of stories, songs, poems in these languages to publish them as children’s books…perhaps for the first time.
More and more tribal children are now enrolled in formal school. They have to study in the official language of the state which is different from their mother tongue. The government has recognised the difficulty this poses for the child and has introduced multilingual education.
However, we all know that education is something much larger than what happens in a classroom with a text book. It must mean something larger if every child is going to have equality of opportunity within and after school. Books beyond the prescribed texts are as important for a meaningful education as what the teacher teaches in a classroom. But are there any such books available for tribal children?
Did you know that there are about 62 tribal languages in Odisha alone? Many of them don’t have scripts but they are rich speech communities with traditions of storyteling, songs and vibrant means of knowledge transfer between generations. Is there a way to acknowledge and respect these traditions and prepare the child for an education that priveleges reading and writing? I believe that books go a long way in building such a bridge.
I also believe that all children have an equal right to grow up reading good books. All kinds of books. Books in their own language which reflect the world around them. Books that open the window to the wide world out there.
The Write workshop was a first attempt to catalyse writing for children in tribal languages by people who are working with children. They know that books can be instruments of power, repositories of memory and culture and the reflection of a child’s world…
Stories told traditionally were shared and written, songs were sung by a universally tuneful bunch, new stories were written using triggers …
The books have been illustrated using Saura tribal art but with a contemporary twist. They are being published in the tribal languages in a bilingual format using Odia script and additionally in Hindi and English.Some Tamil-English, Marathi-English and Urdu-English versions are also in the offing. A small but sure step in reversing the flow of knowledge from the margins to the centre.