Us and them

The indigenous community, sometimes known to belong to the scheduled tribes, are unknown bands of humans around us. Their skin – darker than ours – is often adorned with tattoos, their bodies pierced with jewelry. In this semester’s last major architecture design assignment, we asked our students to design a community center for the indigenous people in a village of population 2500. They had to design something keeping in mind the culture of the place and its reflections on built spaces – the nature of the designs and materials used. In the first phase of this assignment, they had to conduct case studies from secondary sources (that is, from sources others have produced, without visiting a place in person) to learn about the ways of living of the indigenous communities, about how their required spaces can be informed by set standards of design, and collect insight from existing structures by studying some of them based on their quality of space, materials, used, and functions provided. This was a group of three with its members assigned randomly.

A girl in one such group of tried googling about indigenous communities but could only manage to find a list of names, which was far from any in-depth information she could use to inform her design. She was too hesitant to ask a guy member of her group if he knew anything about the indigenous community. The guy was shy around girls. But when I knocked on his shell gently and asked how he would approach this fact-finding mission, he said he would ask his family and friends about it. This made sense because he is local and may know people in the community who could help them inform their design. In the next few minutes, we were lost in our discussions about how indigenous communities were a unique source of rich social capital which we dismiss as traditional or backward. I was telling them how I had misconceptions about the indigenous community until I came to Jharkhand. I did not realize how many of them are Christians. How clever of us humans to make them follow our ways when they are in need, and we have a way to help!

I am curious to see how these designs turn out to be. But I am wondering, if I am also a bit scared; and I don’t want to ask why.

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