Depiction of rural or tribal lifestyle from an urban perspective: flawed and filmy

For long, we the modern education and its products, have perceived rural and tribal India with our understanding limited by materialism and insensitivity. While we label some traditions as inhuman activities, we impose a sympathy on others. Both equally damaging to these earth-saving traditions and self-respect of those people. The traditions & lifestyle of rural and tribal India are presented to us like an out of world phenomenon. They may seem very dramatic to us, but on the ground, for these people, such traditions are simple and natural part of their life.

Kumar Harsh
4 min readApr 17, 2020
The caption as given: डॉ. यशोधर मठपाल जी द्वारा बनाई गई तस्वीर पहाड़ की नारी के संघर्ष को दर्शाती हुई — ‘कटु सत्य’. ‘The Reality’ by Dr. Y. Mathpal Src: Museum of folk culture Bhimtal

I came across this picture today on Facebook. I do not conflict with the artist; it is indeed a beautiful painting. But the idea conveyed makes me put some questions.

What I see in this picture is women climbing on trees to obtain wood, and that is portrayed as hardships of women in the given landscape. It is nothing but lack of understanding or more lack of desire to understand, captivated by one’s aura of being educated and hence ‘knower of everything’. What would have been a good picture? Women using some easy electric woodcutter to chop down the trees?

Maybe the artist had other things in mind, saying that I don’t mean any disrespect to him. It is no personal trait but rather a collective consciousness build by the ideology of education based on materialism. Even a very genuine and kind person can get deceived, because it’s like a programming of years of mind, which by default would generate a sympathy blocking any touch of any other perspective.

For long, we have judged rural or tribal India with our perspective of materialism and modernism. What may seem like a hardship to us, maybe just part of their lifestyle? Perhaps we don’t imagine such hardship because we are enough dead inside for mother nature or have engrossed in the false belief that everything out there is for our consumption. But the rural or tribal people still have those emotions with earth, with trees, with water, birds and animals.

For instance, tribal people in Jhabua leave their two-days livelihood, all women, men & children with their own expense come to Jhabua from their villages. These villagers from more than 500 villages reside in Jhabua for two days and make contour trenches on Hathipava Hills of Jhabua and conserve water. This is their tradition — Halma.

Now we can not imagine, going to someplace far away from our home and spend time, energy & money and desire nothing. Not even appraisal or recognition. We can’t believe that human-like these exist, who serve only out of their dedication and love for mother earth.

A tribal woman participating in Halma tradition, Jhabua, March 2017.

Here’s a picture of a tribal women in Halma. She’s holding her young baby and working to make contour trenches. Some urban chap may feel like that she is having such a hardship. But no, imagine the other way. Imagine the strength of this women. She is under no pressure. She is not bound to work, but she would still do. Imagine how powerful she is? In true sense, the women like her characterize ‘Shakti’.

In Jhabua, the farmers do not take water from a pond for agriculture if that is the only source in the locality. The emotion is that we humans can get water to drink, but other sources but how do our animals and birds will survive the summer? Relative to this, the max we can imagine is being a little kind to animals and so put little water in a pot somewhere, after snatching all.
Having spent a year with tribal people in Jhabua, I can say that they take hardships for nature which we can’t even grasp that something like that is real.

It has become my firm conviction that the tribal people are only section of humanity left, who still knows and practice the true ‘living in harmony with nature’. They are only one who respects the balance that nature is to support our survival and not for our sole consumption. And they are only from whom we can learn.
And whether we can accept or not, this is the only way to sustainable living.

It is high time that we stop judging rural and tribal India with British standards. Instead of expressing sympathy, let us try to connect with them empathetically. It is time that we learn from them that what are the values that make a such strong moral character. What are the values that ensures such a strong connection with nature?

It is time that we change the idea of educating them to learning from them.



Kumar Harsh

Mostly from experience - of tribal Jhabua, and the struggle of learning 'selfless passionate dedication for people'.