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Jacinta Kerketta: Becoming the voice of indigenous communities

While Jacinta Kerketta's poetry is about the lives and losses of indigenous communities in Jharkhand, her writing is about the conflict over land, the impact of risk management programmes on those living inside forests, and grassroots democracy among indigenous populations

Jasodhara Banerjee
Published: Dec 9, 2022 11:32:44 AM IST
Updated: Dec 9, 2022 11:41:37 AM IST

Jacinta Kerketta: Becoming the voice of indigenous communitiesJacinta Kerketta, Writer and freelance journalist Image: Amit Verma
Jacinta Kerketta’s poetry reverberates with the lives and losses that the indigenous communities in India are grappling with at a daily level.

Born in the Oraon Adivasi community of West Singhbhum district of Jharkhand, the 39-year-old is also an independent journalist. “In the past one year, I have travelled through Jharkhand and Odisha and have continuously written about issues related to conflict over land, the impact of risk management programmes on those living inside forests, and grassroot democracy among indigenous populations,” says Kerketta, who has a master’s degree in mass communication from St Xavier’s College in Ranchi. “I have also tried to highlight the different questions and perspectives of these indigenous populations through my poetry, and have published my poems at national and international levels.”

The displacement of indigenous communities in the name of development and the continuous appropriation of their natural resources, the colonial mindset prevalent within our country, the struggle of indigenous communities to save their water, forests and land, their core issues and philosophy of their life are at the centre of my writings, she adds. “My poetry is inspired by the concept of ‘universal value’ that is still alive among the indigenous communities who live close to nature.”

For her journalistic work, Kerketta is inspired by how to stop the establishment of only a single aspect where coverage of any event or story is concerned, and how to make people aware of other aspects of which they might be unaware, so that they are able to understand grassroot problems from a new perspective.

Jacinta Kerketta: Becoming the voice of indigenous communitiesKerketta is also working on short poems and diaries for children, which are published in the magazine Cycle, which is published by the Bhopal-based Iktara Trust. These writings are about life in tribal areas and its philosophy. “Children grow up very quickly, and they become citizens of the country,” she says. “The stories they never hear, they cannot understand after growing up. Tribal populations have disappeared from children’s literature, and I am constantly trying to write for them so that they can read about the lives of the tribal world.”

Kerketta also works in tribal villages to teach youngsters about tribal history, culture, the lives of women, and their struggles. “They watch films, read poetry, meet new people and share their feelings so that they feel more confident. In some villages, this has reduced the tendency of tribal girls to migrate and drop out of schools at an early age.”

“During my college days in the 1970s, UGC had made a film on the guru-shishya parampara, in which some professors say that sometimes we are fortunate that our students have done much better than what we have done. Jacinta has done so much more than what I have done or what we were thinking,” says Meghnath, who was Kerketta’s professor in college, where he was teaching cinema. A documentary filmmaker and social worker for the last 50 years, he has been living and working with indigenous communities in Jharkhand for 40 years. His films have won multiple awards, including the 59th and 65th National Film Awards.

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“Recently, when Jacinta’s younger sister had a baby, she was sitting in the delivery room and wrote about the hospital system, about things that have improved and what is still lacking. I shared it with a doctor friend at the Vellore Christian Medical College. He was so impressed that he read it out at an official gathering there, and wants to take up the issues Jacinta had written about. On the other hand, I was in Raipur last month, where I was showing my films to students, where a girl read out a poem by Jacinta. This shows her poetry and writings are becoming a part of our daily lives and activities here. I am an atheist and I don’t have any prayers to recite. But now I open her books in the morning, and read one or two of her poems, and they are like a prayer to me,” he says. 

(This story appears in the 16 December, 2022 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)