An Inter-Community Dialogue on Rice as a Site of Knowledge and Meaning
A two-day roundtable will take place in Kokrajhar, Assam, on 5-6 January 2019, organized by Ambedkar University Delhi in collaboration with the HaB program of IIAS, Leiden and INTACH, Delhi, to initiate a dialogue on rice as a site of knowledge and meaning in the Kokrajhar region.
- Dharitri Narzary, School of Liberal Studies, Ambedkar University, New Delhi
- Humanities across Borders, IIAS, Leiden
- Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), New Delhi
Context and Concept
Kokrajhar (Assam) is home to many indigenous communities which share certain common socio-cultural attributes and historical experiences. These communities, having co-existed as neighbours for generations, developed an understanding for each other’s ecosystem. Rice, as the primary staple of the local inhabitants, is the only major crop grown by them in the plains of Kokrajhar and also the focal point of a rich tradition of oral narratives. For generations, the traditional method of wet rice cultivation was practiced by local communities, with little or no influence of modern agriculture. The push towards development and globalization has made traditional rice cultivation a challenge for all groups in the region. Moreover, Kokrajhar has been a zone of conflict in the northeast for nearly two decades with serious implications for inter-community interactions as a result of violent ethnic clashes during the Bodo movement for separate statehood. This workshop will allow members of different communities to recast their differences around a shared object of material and cultural value, rice and its cultivation.
Participants and Process
The roundtable is designed to allow dialogue between four prominent communities of Kokrajhar District: the Boro, Rabha, Rasbongshi and the Santhal, around rice. Members of the community belonging to different age groups will be invited to participate as resource persons. They will lead and engage in the discussion to highlight the various aspects of rice culture, memory, ritual and the cultivation experience, ranging from knowledge about seeds, preservation of seeds, cross breeding varieties to farming methods, technology, tools, irrigation, sapling, (re)planting, and harvesting as well as challenges involved in growing rice today.
The idea of inviting different generations is to document the oral narratives on rice and their views on the changes that have taken place in the way communities engage in rice farming and to see whether the meanings and significance of rice in their community life have changed due to changes taking place in their lifestyle and living environment.
There will be a minimum of 2-3 local actors, scholars, educators, interested in rice who will also be present as observers. They will not participate in the dialogue directly but provide comments, suggestions and directions to deepen the conversations.
There will be four parts to the meeting:
- There will be a display of objects, items, photographs and other rice related materials to allow the participants to begin the dialogue.
- Interactive sessions carried forward from the exhibition: Sharing the experiences and their uniqueness. Community specific and common experiences will become part of the collective memory of rice growing community.
- Field visit: Since the workshop is planned during the winter immediately after the harvest, the field visit will be to the community specific villages to see the post-harvest activities. This will include walking through the fields to get a sense of the farms. Specifically, given the season, we will look at dehusking, drying, storage and rice mills among other practices
- Rituals and Stories: All four communities will share knowledge of using rice for social and cultural rituals on location/at the selected venue. For example, food and rituals, rice cakes, brewing, occasions for using rice made items and their relevance in the community life, and lore and legends around rice varieties.
The purpose of the workshop is multi-pronged. It will contribute to the existing body of knowledge on rice cultivation in the Northeast and its changing context. This is one way of using social memory to reflect on and record the importance of community knowledge for sustainable development. Besides this, it will help to see the way rice creates space and even possibility of interdependence between different communities for food security.
The intended concrete outcome will be:
- Create a digital repository of rice as a site of knowledge and meaning in terms of text, images, video and audio.
- Create space for collaboration and interdependence for knowledge production (between communities and academics/researchers)
- Use of rice as a learning tool in the exploration of humanistic pedagogies
- Publish edited and curated proceedings as material accessible to local communities (e.g. in local language/s)
- Proposal for a district museum of the shared rice heritage of the region.
Day 1 (5 January 2019)
Opening Session [9.00 a.m.]
Day 2 (6 January 2019)