When the ancient ways of a peaceful but brave tribe is threatened by the arrogance of an empire, savagery of the civilised, and greed of the affluent, the only thing left to do is rise in rebellion. The year is 1855. The tribe: Santals. Moving through a whirlwind of passion, greed, betrayal, cruelty, and sacrifice, this narrative of the first mass rebellion against the John Company brings to life a footnote in history that casts a grim shadow on our present. Author Sanjay Bahadur joined IBNLive readers for an interaction on his book 'HUL: Cry Rebel'.
Q. What inspired you to write the book? Asked by: nainika
A. The fact that something as tumultuous as Santal Hul (that martyred over 25000 Santal warriors) took place and yet we haven't really heard/read about it - even in our school history classes. I chanced upon the details during my visits to that region and realised the enormity. I felt that story of the glorious spontaneous uprising of the have-nots against the haves must be told.
Q. Understandably, movements like Naxalism are a result of poor governance and a failure of states to provide rehabilitation to its people. However, we cannot let it thrive, can we? Asked by: nainika
A. I think it was Confucius who said: "Best way to finish your enemy is to make him your friend". I believe if we as a society start listening to the voices of the marginalised - the tribals - we will eventually become their friends movements like Naxalism or Maoism will die their own death. I think that's what the government too is trying in some way now.
Q. Do you think the Santhal uprising bears any resemblance to the current Naxalite uproar? Asked by: Pooja
A. Absolutely. In fact, that was one of the reasons I took up the theme for a novel. When I did my preliminary research, I realised that over the past 200 years, similar "uprisings" have been taking place after every 30-40 years in the same geographic belt, for almost the same reasons: displacement, urbanisation, industrialisation, commercialisation etc. The manner in which the locals react, the techniques used by them are also very similar - despite the changes in politics and technology.
Q. Can it be possible that colonialisation of the tribals, while destroying their cultural heritage, could actually be of benefit to them individually? I ask this not from the perspective of taking advantage of them, of course, but of integrating them with mainstream society-- one with health benefits and a larger social reach. Are we not limiting them with our own idealised bias of what the 'ancient tribe' ought to be? Asked by: Diksha
A. That is a tough question. How do "we"- as in urban "haves" determine what the most wretched of the earth really need? But choosing the option that colonising tribes will benefit them is akin to the concept of "white man's burden". I'm not very sure that any segment of mankind is as yet enlightened or developed enough to carry such a burden for any other segment (or strata). Sure, we have to encourage integration - even strive towards it. But that should be more through empathy and sacrifices of the haves than through shoving of "civilization" down anyone's throats. Educate, guide, help and encourage - rather than pontificate, push, control and direct.
Q. Is marginalization a vicious circle? If so, how can one break out of it? Asked by: Usman
A. For me, marginalization is not a circle but a linear perpetuity. Down the ages, mainstream religious, social, political or economic segments of have marginalized others. The only way to end it is first start listening, seeing and understanding the marginalized segments. This is the responsibility of the mainstream. Inclusivity is the key. But of course it requires a very high degree of commitment and sensitivity.
Q. What and/or who is the inspiration for your book? Asked by: Sucheta
A. The Santal tribe and their glorious spontaneous rebellion against almost undefeatable imperial force was my inspiration. Here were a people who stood for self determination against all odds. They deserve a salute, if nothing else. Therefore - Hul - Cry Rebel. Another inspiration was the speech of Chief Seattle - a Red Indian chief - made around 1854 (close to Santal Hul). It can be read at http://www.spiritofmaat.com/archive/jan1/sealth.htm
Q. What are the parallels to today that are explored in your book? Asked by: Varun
A. One obvious parallel is the infamous "Red Corridor" of India today. The problems of reconciling the need for industrial growth with the livelihood and cultural identity of local tribes. It's not easy for a relatively poor youngster to take up arms against the bigger society. But the reasons they did so 158 years ago seem to be dangerously similar to the reasons they do so today. We must understand them quickly or get into a prolonged mess.
Q. What major themes from your book are exploring that are relevant to us? Asked by: jagmohan
A. Oh many themes are relevant to us: subjugation of the poor and voiceless. Ignoring the right of the marginalized to live their lives in the manner they want to. Dangers of retaliation and its potential cost to the society. What if those marginalized people do not have the forbearance of a Gandhi to "turn the other cheek "? What will we do if they chose to RISE as the Santals did? These were things I pondered while writing HUL. But then it also depends on what we mean by "us ".
Q. How long did your research take? You must have surely encountered a lot of problems. Would like to know more on it. Asked by: Sanjeev
A. It took me about 3 years of preliminary research and also continued with research during the 2 years of writing, so about half a decade. It was tough because very little has been written on Santal Hul in mainstream Indian history. I got most of the relevant information from secondary writings/research. P.O. Bodding was one of the main resources. He had done extensive social and anthropological research on Santal tribe. Also, I fell upon a volume of stray correspondence between British field officers and the then Governor General during a visit to College Street in Kolkata. It all helped triangulate events and personalities.
Q. How can we stop the repression of Adivasi's today and just let them be? Asked by: Alfred
A. By first starting to think they too have a right to exist.
Q. There are voices that argue: the Naxals don't want development. They don't want better roads or industry. Is that true? Will that not affect development, and ultimately the community itself? Asked by: nainika
A. All Naxals are not tribals and all tribals are not Naxals. I think we first need to get that cleared before we think of whose "voice" we need to listen to.
Q. How difficult or easy it is to write a fiction title based on something that actually happened? Asked by: Smita
A. It's about as difficult as trying to be another Gandhi or Bhagat Singh :-)
Q. What do you expect to accomplish with the publication of this book? Asked by: Nayantara
A. Make educated urban folks become aware that even the remote and "backward" tribals could have a history rife with struggle. That even they fought a war of freedom, that they too matter. Their story is as real as that of kings, queens and statesmen.
Q. How does talisker whisky get a mention in your book? Asked by: Jack
A. For one - I like Talisker. But seriously, in context of the book, it was an expensive and new whisky that a character was worried about. At that time, Talisker was a new brand and recent import to the Sahibs in India.
Q. While the 'white man's burden' is easily denigrated from an ivory tower, can that guilt really be replaced by things like infant mortality, death by lack of medical facilities, and other factors that people with a low standard of living have to deal with? Where do we draw the line? Asked by: Diksha
A. No that guilt will never go away. If one is sensitive that is. As long as we see the problem as a "burden" we won't find the right solutions. We must see it as a voluntary helping hand we extend.
Q. What, in your book should be of particular interest to the youth of India? Asked by: BSS
A. Santal HUL was all about the uprising of the youth. Today, young men and women "rise' in many ways - around Jantar Mantar, in the Red Corridor, in their cushy corporate offices. This book should make sense to the youth - of course, the thinking youth of India who get moved with more than the story of gods or life experiences of B-school/engineering grads.
Q. If you're talking about Talisker, shouldn't you care more about Glenfiddich? What about the Scottish conflict? Asked by: Fred
A. I should, indeed,but perhaps in my next novel. HUL-Cry Rebel concentrates on Santal conflicts and not Scottish conflict :-)
Q. 200 years, similar uprisings every 3 decades or so. What have we failed to learn? Asked by: Ritu
A. All I can say is we are condemned to repeat mistakes if we don't learn from history. We have to look back and learn. I see no reason why an evolved specie as humankind cannot learn from their past. That's why, as a fiction writer, I wanted to remind and inform thinking readers about forgotten fragment of our history that still casts a grim shadow on our present. We must learn to beware of the anger of the downtrodden and also respect their concerns.