The Future of Folklore in India

The other day, Niyati Mehta of the Tata Trusts visited us at CKS. She wanted to talk about folklore and its future in India. Folklore seems like such a nineteenth century academic pursuit — could new thinking bring it alive in some way? Several of us chatted with her on this topic, and many questions came up. What was it that folklore did for society in the past which it was not doing now? What had taken its place? Were we missing out in some way on account of our neglect of folklore traditions? What might that be?

We also talked about the wider politics of tribal knowledge and their marginalization alongside the political marginalization of these communities in India. Aditya mentioned that someone had recently pointed out that many backward groups have enjoyed their moment in independent India, including Other Backward Classes and Scheduled Castes, but that the Scheduled Tribes had yet to enjoy a major political victory in any state.

Ekta mentioned that folklore is also about community memory, and if tribal groups are being displaced or urbanized, that may be a key cause for the loss of folk memory. We talked about technology, media, books, libraries, community centers, and other ways in which folklore might be museum-ized, as well as perhaps transformed into contemporary idioms. Divya pointed out that there is a real question about whether this knowledge is ‘theirs’ or ‘ours’ or shared in some way.

We look to explore how to bring innovation thinking to this area of work, a domain we have never explored before. Let’s see what transpires in future. Meanwhile, we look forward to your thoughts on how innovation thinking can be deployed to engage and conserve endangered cultures…

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