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Stories from the Field

Elvin Xing Yifu - PhD candidate, Anthropology and Bhati Family Travel Grant Recipient

Elvin Xing Yifu

Elvin Xing Yifu is a current PhD student at the School of Culture, History and Language at ANU College of Asia and the Pacific (CAP). Elvin’s research is focused on the ethnographic study of activism as an articulation of identity, self and aspiration, through working with tribal communities in Telangana, India.

I would like to begin by expressing my heartfelt thanks and gratitude to Mr U.N Bhati and the Bhati family. The Bhati Family Travel Grant has been instrumental in assisting in my smooth transition from Australia to India for my fieldwork, visits to various historical sites in India for data collection and facilitated travel for conferences in Hyderabad and to ANU for the annual conference of the Australian Anthropological Society.

From August 2018 to October 2019, I conducted my fieldwork amongst the Koyas, an indigenous community, also known as ‘Adivasis’, situated in the rural areas of Telangana State, India.  My research was mainly focused around the themes of Adivasi identity, heritage, and culture. I was particularly interested in how the Koyas understand and articulate what it means to be Koya in today’s fast paced and ever-changing world.

Over the course of 12 months, there were many illuminating and exciting experiences. I accompanied one of my friends as he canvassed for votes during an election campaign. We travelled over 100km each day and visited all the Adivasi villages in the district. I was able to see the disparities in livelihoods between the rural and urban areas in Telangana and from interacting with the Adivasis, it gave me deeper insights into the issues they face, such as lack of sanitation facilities, running water, electricity and road connectivity. Yet, despite the difficult conditions, the Adivasis sought to make the best of the limited resources they had, thus showing their resilience.

During the last week of September 2019, I accompanied the Adivasi youths of my village on a 700km road trip to the Kachargadh Caves in Maharashtra. These caves are important as they represent the birthplace of the Gonds (another Adivasi community in India), according to a legend recorded by British clergyman and scholar B Chatterton in his 1916 book The Story of Gondwana.

It was a tiring journey as 11 of us squeezed into a SUV and drove from Warangal to Maharashtra. When we reached the grounds of the Kachargadh caves, I was totally spent. Thankfully, the Government had designated the caves as one of their tourist venues. There was ample parking space for our vehicles and stairs were erected for easy access to the main caves.

Before starting the climb, we went to the shrine of Kali KanKali, the mother of Gonds and paid our respects there. When we reached the caves, we took some photos and one of the Adivasis who stayed near the caves explained the importance of the caves to us.

As we drove back into Telangana, we were all exhausted and hungry. Yet, I could see that this trip was significant for them. I asked one of the Adivasi youths how she felt after the trip was over – she shared that it was good and she really enjoyed herself. As I pondered over the trip, it made me see that this is not merely a study trip. It is also a trip to understand their roots and to ruminate what it means to be Adivasi in India.

“As I pondered over the trip, it made me see that this is not merely a study trip. It is also a trip to understand their roots and to ruminate what it means to be Adivasi in India."

As for me, it was a rare opportunity to visit a place that is not commonly found on guide books in India and develop a greater appreciation of Adivasi culture and history.

To conclude, it was an amazing and fruitful fieldwork experience. It gave me a deeper appreciation of indigenous culture, history, and heritage. It is heartening and encouraging to see these youths showing much enthusiasm in their indigenous culture. I am honored that they have allowed me to participate and accompany them on their journey of self-discovery.

It was possible with the help of the Bhati Family Travel Grant. For that, I am truly thankful, and I hope that the Grant will continue to help budding researchers from Australia to develop a greater understanding of India.

"To support further student research in India, please consider following the below link to give to the Bhati Family Endowment."

Updated:  24 April, 2017/Responsible Officer:  Dean, ANU College of Asia & the Pacific/Page Contact:  CAP Web Team