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The Cultural Identity of Shabars Tribes: The Case Study of Mahasweta Devi's The Book of Hunter

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The Cultural Identity of Shabars Tribes: the Case Study of Mahasweta Devi's The Book of Hunter

Manish Kumar

School of Studies in Languages

Jiwaji University

Gwalior, India

Mahasweta Devi is a celebrated social activist and writer in India. She has spent her whole life among the aboriginals of West Bengal. She has made her readers and audiences come across the real plight of the tribal people of this part of the country. Being an student of Shanti Niketan, she has developed a deep understanding of the real needs of these people.

This paper will offer an analysis of Mahasweta Devi's novel The Book of Hunter,2002 (first published in Bengali as Byadhkanda in 1994) in which she gives a poignant depiction of the life of Shabars--the hunter tribes. The novel is inspired by the epic poem Abhayamangal (better known as Chandimangal) by the great medieval poet Kabikankan Mukundaram Chakrabarti. Abhayamangal is regarded as one of the most authentic portrayal of the medieval Bengal. The novel gives an account of Mukundaram's life, the socio-political turmoil of the times, his migration to Ararha and his interaction with the hunting community called akhetiyas. The young tribal couple, Kayla and Phulli is protagonists in her novel.

The novel also tells the story of the Shabars themselves. The nuanced account of the life of the Shabars, who guarded their customs from hegemonic Brahminical cults, is plotted against the story of how Mukundaram became a poet.

Devi also attempts to break the stigma about Shabars, declared "crime prone" by the Criminal Tribes Act 1871 and seeks to reestablish their lost tribal identity. She wrote that Mukundaram, who was of Brahminical descent, "lightened the burden of mainstream society's sin by writing Byadhkanda (one of the two parts of Abhayamangal from which Devi borrows the title of her novel)."

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