An encounter that made him write: Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar on his book 'The Adivasi Will Not Dance'

Updated - March 11, 2018 11:07 am IST

Published - March 10, 2018 11:26 pm IST

Writer Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar during an interaction with  The Hindu   in Kochi.

Writer Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar during an interaction with The Hindu in Kochi.

Writer Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar is only too aware of the trappings of being a privileged member of the Santhal tribe taking an outsider’s view of the community.

If he had a rather carefree life while writing the fable-like novel, The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey , by the time he was ready with his first collection of short stories, The Adivasi Will Not Dance , in 2015, he had evolved so much as to be able to empathise with the continued misfortunes of his community back in the villages. But two years after the book was published, by Speaking Tiger, all hell broke lose and Hansda came under attack for “portraying Santhal women in a bad light”. The Jharkhand government banned the book, only to lift the ban four months later out of some ‘epiphany’, as Hansda puts it.

But he continues to be under suspension, still wondering “why were those educated people who protested the book two years after its release behaving like the right wingers!” Talking to The Hindu at Krithi Litfest-2018 at Bolgatty Palace, he said it was a story November is the Month of Migrations in the collection that put off his detractors. “It was in August last year and soon, people started digging up my old interviews and YouTube videos to hurl one allegation after another.”

He nods in agreement when asked if it was the rise of the right wing that would have triggered the protests.

Privileged childhood

Hansda says he had a privileged childhood at Ghatshila, an industrial town some 40 km away from Jamshedpur.

“Both my parents were working and I went to an English medium school, without really looking at the hardships of life. I had heard about Santhals leaving their villages to other places for work. But I never actually saw them.”

He was posted to Pakur in 2012 and saw for himself Santhals waiting at railway stations to catch trains to far off places. “There were mining companies and some of them had purchased land also…. And, people were migrating. Why would you leave your home town? I heard things. And, they were leaving their home to work somewhere else without an employment letter…”

Were they being trafficked? “Yes, it’s kind of trafficking,” Hansda said why he fictionalised the shocking experience. “It was my response to the circumstances.”

He believes his own tribespeople would have been instigated by “people who are not tribals” to take up cudgels against him. The government, while placing him under suspension, charged him with writing without obtaining permission. “That was the accusation and I explained my side. The government is still examining it. Hopefully, I’ll get back my job soon,” he said.

The Adivasi Will Not Dance has been translated into Hindi, Marathi and Tamil, with good reception in the last two. He’s set to publish another collection of stories this May and a children’s book by the end of the year.

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