In a tribe of its own

Despite possessing some splendid dioramas depicting tribal life and artefacts, Bharatiya Adimjati Sevak Sangrahalaya is cloaked in obscurity

April 14, 2014 06:06 am | Updated July 07, 2017 08:41 pm IST - new delhi

Statues of Bondo Tribal Family at the Tribal Musuem in Jhandewalan in New Delhi. Photo: S. Subramanium

Statues of Bondo Tribal Family at the Tribal Musuem in Jhandewalan in New Delhi. Photo: S. Subramanium

Is there a deliberate attempt to keep the public away from our museums? One wonders frequenting these museums in the city which have the requisite exhibits to attract them but not the warmth and the right spirit. So they function on the periphery without blending with our lives. How many of those working in Jhandelwalan have visited the Bharatiya Adimjati Sevak Sanghrahalaya, a tribal museum located just ten steps away from the Jhandewalan Metro Station? With a stone sculpture of Mahatma Gandhi leading a march in addition to the tribal motifs and figures adorning it, how come such a visible and accessible structure has failed to draw any visitors all these years? On any given day, Bharatiya Adimjati Sevak Sangrahalaya, which has the most beautiful dioramas illustrating tribal life, in the Capital, tragically doesn’t receive more than 10 people.

The museum is part of Bharatiya Adimjati Sevak Sangh (BASS), a non-governmental organisation working for the welfare of tribals. The organisation was established before Independence by Amritlal Vithaldas Thakkar, (came to be known as Thakkar Bappa), a close associate of Mahatma Gandhi, who became concerned with the plight of tribals in the country. And that’s how was born the Sangh, which had Rajendra Prasad as its first President.

That the museum doesn’t figure on their list of priority is evident from the fact that not much about its history is known. A really old member is called to share the date of the museum’s inception but we still don’t get a definite year of its birth. As revealed to us, it tentatively began functioning some time in 1951-52 as a tiny entity in Delhi University but when it shifted to its present location is again a mystery. Who started the museum is another question that props up after N.C. Hembram, General Secretary, BASS tells us that it was not Thakkar Bappa who was responsible for it. “But the collection was amassed with the network of 105 affiliated organisations in various tribal areas,” adds Hembram.

There is no way a child wouldn’t love what is on display but only if some attention was paid to its upkeep. A Naga woman breastfeeding her child while drawing a mat, tribals queuing up at a polling booth to vote, a Lambadi couple collecting gum in the forest…such are the life-like depictions of India’s tribes that fill up this museum. With facial expressions so real and detailed, the viewer gets easily absorbed. The only distractions are the unclean cases in which they are displayed, shabby mannequins and a smell that hangs heavy in the air thanks to it being kept locked.

School students, in particular those, who take interest in geography, would love the depiction of these known and unknown tribes like Bondos of Orissa, Yenadi of Andhra Pradesh, Baigas of Madhya Pradesh, Jounsari of Uttar Pradesh, Daflas of Arunachal Pradesh, Todas of Tamil Nadu, Ongis of the Andamans, Zeiliang Rong of Nagaland, Bhils of Gujarat, etc. The dioramas have been made by Fakir Chand Paruda of Odisha.

In the corridor are displayed tribal costumes like colourful, hand knit cotton saris, ghaghra-choli and dupatta, wraparounds called dokhna (worn by Bodos of Assam), grass loincloth worn by the Ongi tribe of Andamans and Nicobar Islands. The smaller rooms are also a treasure trove housing musical instruments, ornaments, utensils, weapons and indigenous herbs and medicines. Brief captions, proper lighting and display would do them a great service but the Sangh officials complain about lack of government funds. “While we get grants from some ministries to run our NGO for library, destitute girls’ home and our other tribal-related activities but not for our museum. The Ministry of Culture has put in a condition that it will give us grants if we also contribute substantially towards the museum which we are unable to,” says Hembram. Sitting on a prime location, occupying a land allotted to it by the Government on a 99-year lease, Bhartiya Adimjati Sevak Sangh is struggling to maintain a place which has the potential to achieve so much.

Bharatiya Adimjati Sevak Sangh

Thakkar Bappa Smarak Sadan, Dr.Ambedkar Marg

Phone number – 011-23625492

Timings: 11 a.m to 5 p.m .

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