Little known tribe

Every time the Metro stops at the Jhandewalan station on its way to Rajiv Chowk, one spots billboards advertising footwear and sunglasses and another of model Upen Patel promoting Lee Cooper jeans, all under the statues of Mahatma Gandhi and other freedom fighters. The colourful billboards overshadow the unassuming and undersized board that announces the name of the building: Bharatiya Adimjati Sevak Sangh Tribal Museum.

The building, located next to the Metro station, has tribal motifs and life-like figures on its main and side doorways. The accessibility, aesthetically designed gateways, and a mere Rs 5 entry ticket, however, have failed to draw tourists, say the people who work for the Trust that manages the museum. They hope that their refurbishing plans will get the museum more visitors.

Weaves, weapons, musical instruments, utensils, herbal medicines and tools make up the 200 displays in the museum. Life-size figures depict the daily lives of these people. An Ongi woman and her child from the Andamans; a hunter with a whole assortment of weapons coming home with his day’s catch; village elders smoking; an elderly Gurjar couple outside their modest home; women of the Junag tribe in traditional hand-woven dresses, the Deuris of Assam, the Kols of central India and tribal dance and rituals recreate the world of the tribals.

And if you still want to know more, there’s also a library here, with more than 6,000 books on tribes and anthropology—some of them rare and currently out of print. Just like the museum, the library, too, can be accessed only after unlocking a couple of doors. Located at the end of one corridor, the library is quite well-kept except for the damp and dusty smell of old books. It boasts of rare tomes authored by W B Brown, Verrier Elwin’s treatise on the Bonda Highlanders, J C Nesfield’s book on tribes of upper India, published in 1885, among others.

The building is much bigger than what it looks from the outside. The rear side houses a destitute girls’ home. “The Bharatiya Adimjati Sevak Sangh was set up in 1948 by A V Thakkar, also known as Thakkar Bapa, a Gandhian who played a significant role in the Poona Pact, led by Dr B R Ambedkar. The land for the building was allotted by Govind Ballabh Pant. From Dr Rajendra Prasad to Morarji Desai, we have had a number of freedom fighters and leaders associated with this organisation. The Tribal Museum was opened in 1980,” says Ajay Kumar Chaubey, Secretary of the Trust. He adds that apart from the museum, library and destitute girls’ home, the organisation also runs a crèche, boys’ hostel and a clinic in the city. Besides, it brings out a quarterly academic journal on tribes. “We work in 27 states across the country,” he says. “Though hardly any tourist comes here, scholars from Indian and foreign universities come here to consult our library.”

Will it help if the billboards are removed and some promotion done for the city’s lone tribal museum?

“The billboards are a compulsion. We had to let out two floors to generate revenue for the Trust. The Ministry of Commerce has also taken the top floor on rent and typists—taking up work of small-time exporters queuing up at the ministry’s office—usually sit right in front of the main gate of the museum. It’s hardly an inviting sight for the museum. Till the time an alternative source of revenue-generation is identified, there’s very little that we can do,” says Chaubey.

But if you choose to ignore these eyesores, there’s a wonderland waiting for you inside.

Tribal Museum is open 11 am to 5 pm, Monday to Saturday