Friday, October 21, 2016

Ethnic identity, Folk epics and Internationalization of Knowledge production

This paper explores the complex relation between ethnic identity, folk epics of coastal Karnataka and the process of an Internationalization of knowledge production.  The main observations are based on my regular interaction with the artists of Bhoota worship who narrates night long stories of the birth and death of local heroes, locally known as PaDdnas, which are the best expressions of the contemporary spirituality and religious experimentation. This has long been connected in Tulu tradition and religion with local myths.

Three main questions will be asked in this paper-

1.      The problems in understanding desi knowledge system thru these narratives,  as the so called Desi knowledge production is also a mixture of many cultures and changes. For example the Bhootas of Tulunadu have been influenced by Buddhism,  Jainism and Islam
2.      How these local knowledge systems are currently replaced by the process of Internationalization of knowledge production,  as Globalization is necessitated by the new economy for the expansion of market beyond cultural borders, and
3.      Our immediate responsibilities

There has been an intensive dialogue on these subjects in recent years, involving governments, NGOs and academia of both developed and developing countries, on the conceptualization of Desi knowledge, and  its sustainability,  its relation with poverty and cast system, information delivery mechanisms and evaluation of various forms of development activities. Much of these dialogues have been concentrated on either bridging or parting the division between east and west, upper caste and lower caste, urban and rural, written and oral etc. Surprisingly, there is not quite as much vibrancy in exchanges of perspectives between written and oral or in other words between desi and non-desi knowledge systems, and its impact on development cooperation strategies and institutions and on their approach to the ongoing debate on the global development agenda. In such a fast changing and critical situation, where we, folklorists stand?  Can Indian folklore, which exists in various regional Languages from time immemorial, survive the global challenges? 
Let me begin with my experiences with Mr. Bolya Ajalaya who expired recently. He was a Bhoota performer, belongs to a untouchable caste called Ajilaya or Ajalaya. He was a god during ritual and an untouchable during day time.   As you may be knowing, Bhootaradhane or Bhoota worship, is a form of worship, special to Tulunadu. Bhoota means, the past, the bygone, meaning thereby the spirit of the ancestors. Bhoota worship has a history of about eight centuries. This ritual has a complex structure with beliefs, rules of worship, apparatus, literature, music color and  other theatrical elements. About thousand Bhootas are being listed now. The songs sung in the Bhoota  performances are called ‘PaDdanas’ They are long narrative epics with tragic end.   
I was watching Bolya Ajalaya performing    variety of Bhootas and reciting hundreds of paDdans through out night. In a place called Mogra, in Dakshina Kannada district of Karnataka State, he had a task of performing 100 Bhootas overnight. Such a talented Bolya, started asking money with me for his son’s education. After I got a job at a college at Sullia, I helped him financially and his brilliant son, Mr. Kepu Ajila got a BA degree with good marks  in 1982. Latter He got a job in a bank with a good salary. After that, the first work Bolya did was asking his son not to participate in a Bhootaradhane, which he nurtured at least for half century. When I asked about this departing, Mr. Bolya thanked me and told that, ‘my sufferings should not be transmitted to him, let him live a dignified life’.
This is the hard reality in the field. The barriers of the epics are no more interested to transfer their wisdom to the next generation, but we expect them to do so, hence  we are moving in opposite directions.  There are less and less narrators for epics like Dhola Maru ( Gharwal), Annamar Kathei ( Tamilnadu) Palnadu ( Andhra Pradesh), epic of Guga and Devnarayan ( Rajasthan) Malemadeshwara ( Karnataka), Khandoba ( Maharashtra), Hir Ranza ( Punjabi), Pandvani ( Chattisgarh) etc. The children of these epic narrators wanted to join schools and get modern education. Folklorists wanted to study the creative expressions of various epic narratives, including their music, dance; beliefs, artistry of the expression itself. They examine an epic, for instance with in its larger social and political context in order to understand and appreciate the epic better.  Most of us are interested in knowing how the artist and his community understands and appreciates the art form. These approaches contribute to the understanding of a local knowledge, which we often vaguely refer as a desi knowledge system.   Many others believe that these knowledge productions belong to Pre-colonial India. We are furthering our studies with such understandings, sometime with confusions, and some time with misperceptions. In this context, let us Look for the following issues when we work on folk epics.   

  1. Firstly, over the travail of centuries knowledge production by uneven communities spread across the Indian sub-continent underwent the long processes of continuity and change involving innovations, additions and abandonment in the wake of marches and migrations of material cultures, interactive co-existence, assimilation and acculturation, relationships of control, stratification and domination, cults and sects, hierarchy and exclusion, invasions and subordinations, dissents and protests, incorporations and reconstitutions. The major marches and migrations were of Mediterranean, Persians, Macedonians, Parathions, Greeks, Kushans, Sakas, Chinese, Huns, Iranians, Turanians, Afghans,  Pathans, Jews, Arabs, Mongols and Mughals who came to the sub-continent at different points of time roughly between BCE 1000 and A.D 1600, impacting  knowledge production. Hence we  should be very careful while referring to Desi knowledge production particularly in epics. Epic knowledge is also a mixture of many cultures and changes.  We have Buddhist impact on PaDdanas of Tulunadu, Jainism impact on Death rituals, Islamic impact on performances and so on.
  2. Secondly, Epic knowledge had differences in terms of theoretical as well as technological levels from region to region at all times as required by particular language, materials and environment, and as enabled by the varying heritage of communities. Hence we should not forget that the epic knowledge system has been produced in the contexts of time, space, communities/ Castes and individuals. This intellectual tradition is multiple in nature. My friend Bolya has used modern colors effectively.

  1. Thirdly, traditions of epic knowledge production in the sub-continent were many but all of them underwent the processes of continuity and change in the wake of the historical incidents.  

The emergence of a new class of socially unencumbered laborers, revival of trade and markets, accumulation of money in the hands of the towns-men, migration of laborers into towns, transformation of the guilds into small factories, growth of production beyond local consumption, expansion of market, enhanced development pressure on productive technology, distributive need for quicker transport etc. are the new languages of our culture. Globalization was necessitated by the new economy of mechanized manufacturing, need for expansion of market beyond cultural borders. Global Control is far more than mere political subjugation and economic exploitation. Internationalization is an irresistible process of the penetration of Western culture into the local cultures and traditions, and their slow, traumatic and fundamental reconstitution from within rather than a sudden disruption or replacement. It is a process of the transformation of the traditional self into a self- Uprooting, self from within, a thorough revamping of the traditional worldview from within. It is a process of voluntary acceptance of a set of new meanings, measures and parameters of knowing ones self and the world distinctively, following them to judge the right and wrong, and living them mechanically through ‘mimesis’. It is a process of enthusiastic internalization of the truth about oneself, one’s culture and the cultural past as represented by the West, and seeking to live the representation as real and ideal. This internalization of the culture is believed as truth by us and our younger generation, which brought fundamental changes in the regime of knowledge production. Internationalization is thus a natural and easy process for which Mr. Kepu, son of Late Bolya was easily succumbed. We have no moral right to tell him to go back to his father’s profession.

Currently, trade in higher education services is a billion dollars industry, including recruitment of international students, establishments of University Campuses abroad, franchised provision and online learning. Higher and technical education has become a big service industry and is expected to increase 100% during this decade. India is a signatory to WTO, which includes General Agreement of Trade in Services ( GATS), where education is one amongst the 12 main sectors classified as services. Globalization of higher education has been on the thematic priority of the UNESCO and International Association of Universities ( IAU). Number of recent studies has indicated rapid increase in global demand for higher education. The economic impact of higher education is also important. According to NAFSA (National Association of Foreign Student Advisers) report, during 2012-13 academic year, 8,19,644 international students and their families at universities and colleges across the United States supported 3, 13,000 jobs and contributed $24 billion to the U.S. economy. This is a 6.2% increase in job support and creation, and a nearly 10% increase in dollars contributed to the economy from the previous academic year. With about 4,00,000 international students in Australia and about 9 billion Australian Dollar revenue to the Australian economy, and 5.7 billion New Zealand dollar to the New Zealand economy with about 2,00,000 international students, higher education now represents a largest export sector. In this context, recently the University Grants Commission has projected a vision for Indian Higher Education as part of its five year plan and set up a special standing Committee to promote Higher Education . This committee strongly recommended-

  1. Internationalizing higher education system and then exporting it. This will have
economic and political benefits, including playing a vital role in building bridges between countries and across geo-political lines.

  1. Starting twinning programs through international linkages where Indian and Foreign institutions enter into voluntary combinations to further their mutual objectives and interests. Twinning programs are collaborative arrangements between two universities for enhancing or build capabilities of both the institutions to operate, manage and administer undergraduate or graduate programs, and to provide students with the opportunity of an International degree

  1. Establishment of Education Excellence and Export Zones ( EEEZs) to house world class Indian or International Universities and branches or campuses  of other international institutions to overcome the problems rigid controls, dilapidated infrastructures, out of date curriculum  etc.  

 As a result, higher education in India is rapidly changing and is ready to be governed by the business rules. As a result, English has become a national link language, resulted in creating global monoculture.

In such a fast changing and critical situation, where we, folklorists stand?  Can Indian epics, survive the global challenges?
To be very honest, we do not have, at least not in sufficient quantity or depth, are analyses of the cultural implications of this new world order.
If we work hard on these issues, we could provide a model for what the rest of the world could be like.

Lastly, while reading this paper,   many of our epics are vanishing away. I urge honorable Prime Minister of India for creating a Indian Folklore Archives ( IFA) and establishing a National Folklore Academy ( NFA) for preserve and study of our great epics at least in archives, before it vanishes away from our soil.  

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