Rahul Banerjee

Ashoka Fellow
India,
Fellow Since 2004
Aarohi NYAS Trust

Citation

This profile was prepared when Rahul Banerjee was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2004.
The New Idea
Rahul recognized that to engage disenfranchised tribal communities in mainstream Indian life, he had to help them first come together as a community. Rahul uses language to empower Bhils with a multi-step approach: preserving their age-old traditions, practices, and wisdom through a written language; using this newfound pride in their culture to bring them together as a community; and finally using this sense of community identity to fight for their rights and participate in modern life.
Starting with Bhils, India’s third largest tribal community, Rahul has worked with the community to develop a written language using the Hindi Devnagari script. This language is now being used to gradually document the entire body of Bhil myths, folklore and literature. Documentation of folklore is instilling among the younger generation awareness of age-old customs and rituals and disseminating information about the adivasi (tribal) way of life. A written language also allows for publication of magazines and newsletters in the Bhili language, furthering a sense of community identity. With indigenous language acting as the common strand, the Bhils are rediscovering the old bonds that held the social fabric of their community together. This newfound unity allows them to collectively challenge their marginalized, victimized status, fight for their rights, and participate actively in the social, cultural, and political life of mainstream India.
Rahul is also working at the policy level to mainstream Bhili language and history in the education system. He has roped in educators from the Bhil community to support and further this movement, which will eventually spread to other tribal groups such as Gonds and Santhals. At every stage, Rahul brings in members of the community to participate collectively in decision-making, thus preparing them for playing similar roles on a broader level outside their community.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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