Humans of Jharkhand: A Conversation with Shalini of Adhivasi

Shalini, a budding photographer, grew up in Ranchi, Jharkhand in India and started the Instagram page @adhi_vasi as a way to document the people and traditions of the area she loves so much. We sat down with her to discuss why she thinks it’s so important to share the stories of the people of Jharkhand.

When and why did you start Adhivasi?

I started Adhivasi in November 2019. The reason behind starting Adhivasi was simple when I went out of Jharkhand to pursue higher education. I came across people from different parts of India, and they would ask me about my hometown. As I would say Ranchi, the only person that would pop up in their mind was the cricketer- Mahendra Singh Dhoni. No offense to Mr. Dhoni, but it bothered me to some extent. I would always think that the city (Ranchi) or the state (Jharkhand) had so much to offer in terms of culture, food, scenic beauty, climate, and people, but somehow people knew it only because of him. And that’s how Adhivasi was conceived with the mere idea to share about Jharkhand from my perspective.

What is your personal connection to Jharkhand?

I was born and brought up in Ranchi, Jharkhand. I draw a great deal of inspiration for my work from the cultural exposure I have had in Ranchi. I have always been open to experiencing new customs and being surrounded by indigenous people gave me easy access to their lives. I was actively involved in their daily lives and picked up a few of their beauty rituals. I remember as a teenager I would never wash my hair with shampoo. I would ask my house help (she was from a tribal community) to get murd(head) missni (mix) maati(soil) to wash my hair because she would use that to wash her hair. I was enamoured with her shiny hair and flawless skin. So, these little moments have helped me build a deep-rooted connection with Jharkhand and its people.

An image taken by Shalini, featured on AdhiVasi

What do you love most about Jharkhand?

I love the climate, especially in Ranchi. Despite the climate change around the planet, Ranchi has still managed to maintain a moderate temperature. Sometimes, when the temperature rises, it starts to rain. For me, that’s the beauty of this city. When it comes to Jharkhand,I love how different aspects of nature are always in sync with each other and create a beautiful synergy in this small plateau. The dense forests, beautiful waterfalls, and wildlife have always served as an inspiration for me.

Why do you think it’s important more people to know about the people and places in Jharkhand?

Jharkhand is known to be a tribal state but I believe somewhere the tribal community, and their culture have not received the kind of recognition they should have gotten. So, initially, when I was ideating on the name of the page I was not sure how to put across my learnings about a community in such a way that it would encapsulate its true essence. The correct spelling of the word “Adhivasi” is Adivasi. Adi means ‘from the beginning’ or ‘first’ and vasi means ‘resident’. However, I wanted to highlight the contrast between the ideology with which Jharkhand was established and the ongoing struggle of certain people from Adivasi community. This dramatic contrast still made them feel an incomplete (Adhi) resident (vasi) of Jharkhand. Hence, the name “Adhivasi”.

What is your favourite thing to document?

My favourite thing to document is people. I love documenting their soulful stories, and the connection they share or their surroundings. It gives me so much joy to make them feel heard and understood. It also helps me to widen my perspective. Everyone is different, and there’s so much to learn from their lives. I live in the rural part of Jharkhand. So I get ample time to make a conscious effort to observe people in the neighbourhood. I get immense happiness in capturing things as simple as their daily outfits. One such moment I can recall now is when tribal women go to work at construction sites or as house helpers, they always carry a towel with them. They wrap the towel around the waist to prevent the saree from getting dirty. Sometimes, they gracefully wrap it around their head as a head scarf to protect themselves from scorching heat. On such occasions, I make sure to take pictures of these innovative ideas and share them.

An image taken by Shalini, featured on AdhiVasi

What more have you learned about Jharkhand since starting Adhivasi?

A lot of things! I believe it was easy for me to get mad at people for not knowing about Jharkhand except Dhoni, but I was no less ignorant than them. Once I started Adhivasi, I discovered so many new things about the community, the kind of food they eat, why a particular food during a specific season, and why most of the festivals are focused on worshipping nature. For instance, they worship sal tree on sarhul (tribal festival), and they celebrate Jatra (tribal festival) on the first day of the magh (Jan/February) month to celebrate the beginning of ploughing. So, there are many more details that I have come across while doing research. As I dwell more on it, I feel how less I know about my homeland.

Thanks so much for speaking with us, Shalini. Be sure to follow Adhivasi on Instagram to keep up to date with Shalini’s work.

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