chapter  6
19 Pages

Enacting resistance in history and fiction

Counter-narratives of tribal historiography in Mahasweta Devi’s writings
WithDebarati Das, Rita Banerjee

This chapter examines selected works of Mahasweta Devi, showing how her historical novel, Aranyer Adhikar and fictional works on the tribal population of India provide a counter-narrative to the much-lauded mainstream story of India’s Independence and progress. Her short stories and novels voice a protest against age-old systems of bonded-labor, unfair percentages of sharecropping, eviction of tribals from their legitimate sites, invasion of their cultures, and attempts to strip them of history and identity. Devi acquires tribal history from the oral tradition and the songs that live in tribal memory, without being written. Sometimes, the tribals are able to enact resistance successively, whether individually or collectively, as in “The Hunt” or Chotti Munda. Their counter-narrative of protest gets recorded in their songs.

In Aranyer Adhikar, Birsa Munda’s concept of “dharti aba” represents an existence tied to nature and characterized by the community life of shared and limited gains and of love for land and nature as opposed to the colonial and postcolonial narrative of conquest of nature and a trajectory of material progress depleting natural resources. In Devi’s works, the tribal counter-narratives of resistance invariably express this linkage and explicitly articulate this protest.