Culture, economy and identity: a study of the Oraon ethnic community in the Barind region of Bangladesh

Islam, Md. Rafiul (2014) Culture, economy and identity: a study of the Oraon ethnic community in the Barind region of Bangladesh. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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Abstract

Culture, Economy and Identity: A Study of the Oraon Ethnic Community in the Barind Region of Bangladesh concerns identity politics among Oraons in Bangladesh. The Oraons are an ethnic community who live in the North-West region of Bangladesh. Bangladesh is a multi-cultural, multi-religious and multi-lingual country. While Bengalis are the majority, the country has a large number of marginalised ethnic communities with distinct languages, religions, cultures and identities. These peoples are not well addressed in the development process of the country and face many socio-cultural changes in their lives.

This thesis examines the present economic condition of the Oraons and how this affects their socio-cultural life and their identity. Although past literature has portrayed the marginalisation and socio-economic alienation of the ethnic communities in Bangladesh, it has not provided insights into the specific problem of the connection between economic conditions and identity politics. The comparative literature on other societies also falls short in depicting the relationship between economy and identity in relation to ethnic groups that are socio-economically marginalised. Thus, my study focuses on Oraon identity in Bangladesh to see how it is structured by their present economic condition.

Through ethnographic fieldwork in Bangladesh, this research explores the factors that have led to the present economic condition of the Oraons. The literature on the Oraon community shows that they had a prosperous life in their settlement in parts of India before British colonisation in 1765. They were self-sufficient in livelihood as agriculturalists and forest food gatherers. However, their livelihood activities were interrupted by the Hindu, Muslim and British administrators in India. The Oraons were taken away from Chotonagpur in India and were settled in Bangladesh by the British India Government (1765-1947). Over time, socio-political factors, including the partition of Bengal in 1947, the abolition of the zamindary (land tenancy) act in 1951, economic differentiation and the rise of Bengali Muslim peasants during 1950s, communal uprising/war between India and Pakistan in 1965 and the independence of Bangladesh in 1971, have caused economic deterioration among the Oraons. According to oral histories and other empirical data gathered during field research in Barind, the Oraons faced economic crisis and led a hard life.

This research study reveals that the Oraons have lost land to local influential Bengali Muslim peasants and money-lenders. At present, almost all of the Oraons are landless agricultural day labourers and less than self-sufficient in terms of livelihood. Oraon economic practices include inter-household reciprocity of resources or sharing with kin outside the family performing festivals and ceremonies in the community. Thus, although the Oraons are landless agricultural day labourers, Oraon socio-cultural practices contribute to understanding of their domestic moral economy. In addition to their domestic economic practice, the Oraons sell their physical labour to rich Bengali Muslim peasants and are dependent on the wider Bengali society for subsistence, but are exploited. Although the Oraons face economic exploitation, they maintain strategic relations of indebtedness with rich Bengali Muslim peasants for survival. Some Oraons turn to religious conversion and assistance to survive against local Bengali Muslim peasants' domination and socio-economic exploitation.

I explore the processes that have promoted internal Oraon diversity through conversion in Barind. The Oraons are divided into groups embracing Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism or Islam because of their economic crises over time. My thesis, thus, identifies the processes of Oraonisation that help define the Oraons as Oraon.Although the Oraons face changes in economic activity and are divided into groups based on world religious views, they nevertheless assert their identity as Oraon, with particular socio-cultural features. In addition, the socio-economic relationships of the Oraons with the local Bengali Muslim peasants have contributed to processes of Oraonisation. Oraon socio-economic exploitation contributes to the constitution of their identity as Oraon, an ethnic minority group in Bangladesh.

My study, thus, focuses on the processes of marginalisation of Oraons in Bangladesh and their resistance to such marginalisation. Although the Government of Bangladesh does not recognise their distinct identity as adibashis (indigenous peoples) and has banned celebration of the international day of the world's indigenous peoples, the Oraons are deeply engaged socio-politically concerning their rights and recognition in the country. The Oraons maintain strategic networks with adibashi groups from both Bangladesh and abroad for their identity as adibashis or indigenous peoples to escape from local Bengali domination and state oppression. The Oraons' demands for socio-economic change and equal participation in mainstream Bangladeshi society and culture, described in this study, are partly framed in terms of indigeneity. The Oraons, thus, respond to the discourse of global indigeneity, although they live in remote parts of the Barind region in Bangladesh. In exploring the changing problems of Oraons, this thesis contributes strategically as well as theoretically to the literature on ethnicity. This research demonstrates a relationship between economy and identity in the case of the Oraons. Significantly, this study explores peoples' choices and interests in shaping their livelihood and survival strategies. I hope that, in exploring the problems of indigeneity in Bangladesh, my study also demonstrates the importance of devising policies for the adibashis. I also highlight the need to develop policies for those who live in the plains regions, such as Barind, because most development programmes in Bangladesh focus only on the ethnic groups of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHTs).

Item ID: 41601
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Bangladesh; Barind; Baring Tract; culture; customs; economic conditions; economy; identity; Kurukh; Oram; Oran; Oraons; religion; social conditions; society; Uraon; Varendra
Date Deposited: 16 Dec 2015 06:13
FoR Codes: 16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1601 Anthropology > 160104 Social and Cultural Anthropology @ 100%
SEO Codes: 95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9599 Other Cultural Understanding > 959999 Cultural Understanding not elsewhere classified @ 33%
95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9504 Religion and Ethics > 950407 Social Ethics @ 34%
91 ECONOMIC FRAMEWORK > 9199 Other Economic Framework > 919999 Economic Framework not elsewhere classified @ 33%
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