Aruna Vajpeyi
JACINTA’S DIARY by By Jacinta Kerketta,Illustrations by Priya Kuriyan Jugnoo Prakashan/Ektara, 2023, 42 pp., INR 120.00
November 2023, volume 47, No 11

Jacinta Kerketta is a poet, activist and a freelance journalist. Belonging to the tribal area near Jharkhand, she is the voice of the tribal community. She writes about oppression of Adivasis, displacement of local communities in the name of development, appropriation of their natural resources, gender based violence, conflicts over land, problems of living inside the forest and government apathy. The book under review was written while she was a writer in residence at the Takshashila Bal Sahitya Srujanpeeth.
Jacinta’s Diary brings together a collection of tales of travel through tribal areas of Jharkhand, the Niyamgiri Hills and adjacent areas of Odisha. Her diary deals brings interesting insights into tribal society, forests, hills, villages, houses and customs. She describes the atmosphere of freedom among the people. There are no taboos. The boys and girls mix freely, girls can go out at night, dance, swim in the pond or roam around without any restrictions.
Uraonv is a tribal area near the border of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. There is a residential school in the village Bhagitoli where Enghlish and their native language ‘Kudukh’ are taught. She narrates the day-to-day activities of the children of the hostel. In the evening, the younger girls take the cows out for grazing. After school the boys and girls go to the forest to collect ‘sarai’ fruits. Oil is extracted from the seeds of these fruits while the waste is fed to cows and buffaloes.
The village elders speak to Jacinta about their ability to communicate with their ancestors through the signals they get from nature. Nothing happens in nature without reason. The wedding ceremonies and festivals are performed by the riverside, trees or hills to seek their blessings.
Jacinta next visits Saranga, her own place on the border of Odisha and Jharkhand with the Koel river flowing nearby. Now they have roads and electricity. But the tribals are not interested in the development of the area as it attracts all types of unwanted people like the sand mafia or mining mafia, inviting police in the area which in turn disturb the peace and harmony there. Tribals are scared of the police.
Another interesting entry in the Diary is about the Konch tribals of Niyamgiri Hills. The Niyamgiri festival is not exactly a festival but is a celebration of a protest by about 112 villages to protect the Niyamgiri Hills from the mining mafia. This festival has been taking place for many years to show their unity. The tribals say that they will sacrifice their lives to protect the gifts of nature.
The Asur tribals of Netarhat Hills were skilled in procuring iron by melting stones and making implements for use in agriculture and to kill animals. But it was banned by the British Government. So they shifted their occupation to agriculture. They celebrate the festivals connected with land, agriculture, forest, climate, etc.. They worship trees, land, and items which are in their daily use. It is interesting to know that they name their settlements by the tree under which they first take shelter. There are about 100 villages in Netarhat Hills like this. The community is better placed financially and culturally and generally good looking.
‘Mini’ and ‘Gilehari ki Bhasha’ are two stories which are not related to tribals in Jacinta’s Diary in which Jacinta ponders over the utility of language. There are four poems in the diary, all related to nature and the destruction of forests and hills in the name of development.
The book is very informative. Most of us are not familiar with the life led by tribals, who mostly live in Central India. Ektara Takshashila Bal Sahitya Srujanpeeth and Kalakendra have made an effort to highlight the tribal lifestyle, their language, their villages in their publications. The drawings by Priya Kuriyan are beautiful and very appropriate.