Preserving Bhil Adivasi Heritage: Bheel Voice Studio Amplifies an Indigenous Language and Cultural Revival

YouTube Channel and Internet Radio platform ‘Bheel Voice’ was established in 2022 with a clear mission—to preserve and promote the rich Bhili language and culture.

By Aditya Singh , 10 Jun 2023

Ninga Solanki and Raiti Bai recording at Bhil Voice's studio.

Raiti Bai is seen ascending a hill rapidly, clutching a phone in her hand, followed by her husband Ninga Solanki, who carries a microphone and a water bottle. At the hilltop, a small room adorned with tribal area paintings awaits them. Despite the scorching heat, the room is cooled by a running cooler. Within minutes, Raiti Bai begins speaking in front of the mobile camera, teaching the Hindi alphabet in the Bhili language. These videos, designed for the children of tribal labourers, are shared through social media platforms to ensure continuous access to education.

The production studio responsible for these videos is none other than the Bheel Voice YouTube channel and Internet Radio station, located in Kakrana, the final village of Alirajpur district in Madhya Pradesh.

Kakrana is part of one of the most underprivileged districts in the country, where the Khedut Adivasi Mazdoor Chetna Sangathan group has been striving for over four decades to champion the rights, education, and well-being of tribal citizens. Rahul Banerjee, a member of this group, has dedicated his life to the cause since completing his civil engineering degree from IIT Kharagpur.

Rahul Banerjee and colleagues prioritize protecting studio wall paintings from approaching rain.

Together with his colleagues, Rahul established the Rani Kajal Jeevan Shala, a residential school that caters to the children of tribal labourers from areas like Alirajpur, Jhabua, and Dhar, who work as labourers in Gujarat and Rajasthan throughout the year.

The school’s objective is to provide education while preserving the tribal identity and culture. To achieve this, Banerjee and his team translate Hindi textbooks into Bhili and English, teaching the children using a straightforward approach that enables them to learn all three languages.

Raiti Bai and Ninga Solanki lend their voices to the captivating recordings at Bheel Voice YouTube channel's hilltop studio in Kakrana.

During the current summer vacation, the school principal, Ninga Solanki, and his teacher wife, Rayati Bai, have adopted a new teaching method to benefit the children. They create various educational videos and audios related to the curriculum, which are then shared with the parents’ mobile phones. This empowers the parents to continue their children’s education even outside the school premises. Phone calls and messages are also frequently used to convey important information.

Ninga Solanki highlights the significance of this approach in providing online education to the children associated with the school. Moreover, these audio and video materials reach a wider audience, enabling other children to receive education in the Bhil language.

Solanki further emphasises that the culture, dialects, and lifestyle of the tribals, particularly in their region, are rapidly transforming due to modern influences. Many unique aspects of their traditional lifestyle are fading away, which could have negative consequences for future generations.

Rahul Banerjee, who plays a pivotal role in preserving the tribal culture of the area, stresses the importance of safeguarding the Bhili lifestyle as it embodies valuable principles of living. Rooted in nature worship, this society is one of the oldest on Earth, understanding the harmony between humans and nature in a simple yet profound way.

Banerjee acknowledges the challenges of preserving ancient cultures in modern society but believes that it can be achieved alongside embracing modernity. That is why their initiative began with the teaching of the Bhili language.

Banerjee’s views on Facebook caught the attention of Uttaron Dutta, a professor who had been studying in the United States for an extended period. Dutta, a Professor of Human Communication at the Hugh Downs School, Arizona State University, reached out to Rahul Banerjee in 2022 and visited Alirajpur for research purposes.

In recognition of the global significance of indigenous languages, the United Nations General Assembly declared 2022-2032 as the International Decade of Indigenous Languages. This declaration aims to raise awareness and support for the protection, revitalization, and promotion of indigenous languages.

Dutta explains that numerous cultures, languages, ancient practices, and ways of life are at risk of vanishing in the future. It is essential to document and pass them on to future generations, promoting these cultures, dialects, and lifestyles to the fullest extent possible.

During his month-long stay in Kakrana village, Dutta realised the significance of preserving this unique culture. He firmly believes that every facet of this remarkable culture must be conserved and enhanced. Additionally, he sought to conduct an experiment that would equip residents of underprivileged areas with skills to lead better lives with minimal investment.

Rani Kajal Jeevan Shala School in Kakrana village, preserving tribal heritage through Bhili language education, alongside Hindi and English.

In collaboration with Rahul Banerjee, Dutta initiated an experiment to preserve and promote Bhili culture while providing valuable skills to the people. They transformed a small room on a hill within the premises of Rani Kajal Jeevanshala into a studio equipped with a mobile phone for video recording, a microphone for audio, a laptop for editing, and a table, chair, and library.

The studio produces content encompassing songs, stories, traditional healing methods, and the significance of forests. During this time, Dutta provided training in various skills, including presenting and singing in front of the camera, mobile videography, and video editing.

Rani Kajal Jeevan Shala is a residential school where beds are being made for children to sleep.

Under his guidance, 15 to 20 children became proficient in shooting and editing videos. Dutta’s research expenses amounted to approximately 2 lakh rupees.

The approach employed by Dutta and Banerjee enables the preservation of various aspects of the Bhil dialect while fostering communication among people, particularly the Bhil tribals. Furthermore, it provides cost-effective skills that can be utilised in the internet era.

The Bheel Voice YouTube channel, initiated in 2022, encountered some challenges after initially operating smoothly. This YT channel and Internet Radio platform was established in 2022 with a clear mission—to preserve and promote the rich Bhili language and culture.

Rahul Banerjee explains that they are currently preparing high-quality content based on tribal culture, which will be uploaded soon. However, due to their responsibilities at the school, teachers and students face occasional difficulties in creating videos continuously and providing descriptions in English and Hindi.

He says, “Despite these obstacles, content preparation is underway, with the current focus being on recording songs and stories that encompass all aspects of Bhili culture. These recordings will be uploaded to YouTube and the Internet Radio.”

Shankar Tadwal, an activist of Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangathan, also contributes to Bheel Voice by recording content. He highlights the tribal society’s worship of nature instead of idols and their deep connection with their land, rivers, and environment.

Through his videos, Tadwal shares the lifestyle practices of this culture with fellow citizens and those who appreciate it, while also aiming to bring tribal festivals to the attention of a wider audience.

Rayati Bai is a teacher at Rani Kajal Jeevan Shala School and anchor of Bheel Voice Channel.

During our visit to the studio, Rayati Bai recorded the first Bhili alphabet video. In this educational song, she linked the letters of the alphabet to words commonly used in tribal families. The video also underscored the importance of forest conservation and nurturing a love for trees, rivers, and mountains. By attentively listening to this song, one can grasp the imperative nature of preserving Bhili culture.

Following the alphabet video, Raiti Bai sang a Bhili folk song traditionally performed during a daughter’s farewell, sharing related stories associated with this occasion.

Rahul Banerjee acknowledges that more efforts need to be made in this regard. While the Bhili language cannot single-handedly preserve the entire traditional culture, Banerjee is pleased that at least the practice of the Bhili language is being upheld among the youth. To advance this important work, more people, especially the youth, need to join the cause.