That moment when you realise that you have the power to help another being, is priceless. Sarah Thomas, an avid traveller and founder of an ad film production house, knows it well, having recently made a documentary called The Unsung, which did just that. It is her gift to the Halakki Vokkaliga tribe, which resides in the coastal region of Karnataka and possesses a rich culture of over 50,000 folk songs, passed down from generations.The tribe is now tackling the enormous tide of modernisation, with only a handful of women over 70 years old, who identify with their traditions. Sarah’s documentary voices their concerns.
“The film touches on the struggles of the tribe, the clash between modernisation and their culture, the fight to keep their forests alive and the painstakingly long battle to be included in the Scheduled Tribe list in India. This story is a reflection of several hundred other tribes going through drastic changes in lifestyle, losing bits of their identity amidst the growth and development in the country. Their battles that go unheard, unnoticed,” says Sarah, who asserts that The Unsung is not just a record of the fading tribe but the fading diversity of the country.
Having discovered the name of the tribe while she was surfing the Internet, the shocker came when she saw them for the first time.
She shares, “I was travelling to Gokarna and I spotted tribal women clad in half sarees with their backs bare and a number of beaded chains covering their upper body. I immediately identified them as the Halakkis. It fascinated me that towns in India still have tribal people living harmoniously. This belies the myths that they only live in forests hidden away from civilisation.”
Shedding light on the biggest woes expressed by the youngsters of the tribe, Sarah says, “The recurring story among many people we spoke to was that they are all Post Graduates, some Graduates and yet they cannot find jobs because of the existing caste and tribe divide in India. They do not have the political representation to take a stand nor do they have the money. They need job opportunities, respect, subsidised higher education, awareness and guidance on what to take up in the future.”
Sarah explains, “There is a lack of understanding and respect among us towards anything that is different from us. The reason that tribes are dying is because the younger generation of the tribe is embarrassed, there is a sense of shame with the larger masses demeaning them and their culture. People from the modern world believe that we are in some way greater than them. I wish the documentary brings awareness among people about tribal people in India.”...