With the objective of bringing marginalized communities into mainstream curricula, the workshop focused on Adivasi foodways and the wild foods documentation project
Nandini Oza, Prof. GN Devy, and Thomas Zacharias were part of the workshop
Pune, 12th December 2022: FLAME University, the pioneer of liberal education in India, recently held a two-day workshop as part of a larger ongoing research project called, ‘The Ownership of Public History in India’ (TOPHI) funded by the British Academy. Project TOPHI aims to bring historically marginalized peoples and areas of knowledge into school and university pedagogy. This event, hosted on the university campus on the 8th and 9th of December 2022, explored alternatives to mainstream curricula in telling new stories, and creating new lesson plans, across visual, linguistic and food traditions.
In 2020, 5 professors across 3 universities, including Prof. Maya Dodd of FLAME University, and the Keystone Foundation received a grant from the British Academy for the TOPHI research project. The TOPHI project was created to bring community researchers from marginalized communities, who make up the smallest proportion of Indians, to the forefront of formal education and to bring their voices into educational spaces. This will help local community development and allow the revaluation of their knowledge resources. It will also enable different audiences in the education space to develop a new understanding of collective public history.
In light of this project, FLAME University hosted the two-day workshop, which was a confluence of community researchers from across western and southern India. It focused on Adivasi foodways and the wild foods documentation project. Furthermore, the university worked together with several significant organizations namely, Hallu Hallu, Keystone Foundation, The Locavore, Pari Education, On Eating, Hakara, and Khidki Collective for this initiative.
On the first day, the workshop showcased public history work including an oral history of Narmada by Nandini Oza, former President of the Oral History Association of India, and creator of the Oral History Narmada repository; the work of Hakara; a bilingual arts zine in English and Marathi by Ashutosh Potdar of FLAME University; and On Eating, an online resource on food and memory by Kunal Ray of FLAME University. A talk by Aslam Saiyyad of Hallu Hallu was followed by the screening of the award-winning film, The Rooted by Janantik Shukla, Director-Producer, Rang Films.
The second day started with presentations by Keystone community researchers and Priti David of PARI (People’s Archive of Rural India) displaying possible ways of thinking through primary sources. Then, chef turned food documentarian Thomas Zacharias of The Locavore presented his work on how foodways provide a new understanding of ecology. This was followed by a talk by Prof. GN Devy, a thinker, cultural activist, and institution builder best known for the People’s Linguistic Survey of India and the Adivasi Academy and credited as the man who discovered 780 endangered languages. The indigenous population from Nilambur town in Kerala, the Kattunayaka, the Malamuthan, the Panyia, and the Cholanayaka community were among the tribes that also participated in this workshop. Other attendees included Irula, Toda, and Kurumba community members from the Nilgiris district of Tamil Nadu. The workshop culminated with a reception at the Pagdandi bookstore cafe that involved a talk on Adivasi wild foods by Chef Gayatri of Ground Up restaurant, famed for her experiments in fermentation using local ingredients.
Dr. Maya Dodd, Faculty of Humanities at FLAME University, and co-recipient of the British Academy grant who led this initiative, said, “The project goes beyond conventional historical practice by relying on multilingual and multiethnic sources and focusing on community traditions as site of making knowledge. This reassessment of knowledge resources intends to alter the narrow manner in which academia admits only certain sets of evidence to narrowly construct valid knowledge systems.” She further added, “It is a fact that present-day scholarship cannot rely solely on archival materials or primary sources that are only admitted institutionally. Through this workshop, we aimed to encourage the display, study and engagement of the undocumented and move the needle beyond the institutionally established historical record.”
According to Prof. GN Devy, “The marginal communities in India deserve a space in the realm of knowledge; it is their right. And hence, events like this provide the required reminder that there is something asymmetrical about the knowledge that we exercise in university space. Therefore, it’s a very important event, and I appreciate the institution and the group for planning it.”
Chef Thomas Zacharias mentioned, “I was inspired to participate in this panel because it is rarely discussed how food fits into the narrative of public ownership of history, land, and indigenous people. Locavore is a platform that focuses on creating long-lasting change through food. We achieve this through presenting stories and collaborating with groups and people that are working at the grassroots level.”
When discussing the significance of the Adivasi food event, Nandini Oza said, “I think Indian food itself needs recognition within India. It’s important that we recognize our food sources and the diversity of foods that we have. This workshop will be a good way of moving in that direction.”
Public history is the bridge that connects academia and society. And by bridging people and communities with a sense of their own history, a path of relevance can be paved for contemporary exchange of ideas, values and cultural forms beyond the boundaries of known academic confines.