The Sabar (also known as Saora, Sora,Shabar, Surris, Saura etc.) are one of the Adivasis (tribals) belonging to Munda ethnic group who are found mainly in eastern regions of India. In Mahabharata, Sabar tribe finds mention as a forest dwelling community, who worshipped Lord Krishna.
During the late eighteenth century, the British colonial administration in India classified certain communities as Criminal Tribe, giving such classification a legal sanction through their Regulations and Acts of 1793. During the following century many more such tribes in various parts of our country were added into this list. In 1871, Sabar community was also added in this list of “criminal tribes”.
After independence, the All-India Criminal Tribes Enquiry Committee was constituted in 1949; August 31, 1952 these statutory criminal communities were finally ‘denotified’ in the books of law and the Act was replaced with the Habitual Offenders Act 1952. Besides the change in the books of law, the government did not take any steps towards finding alternative livelihood for the members of these ‘habitual offenders. They were left to their own devices to earn their living.
They remained a denotified criminal tribe to our society till mid-90s when people like Mahasweta Devi, Ganesh N Devy etc started bringing the life-stories of these people in their stories for the people in of our civilized society.
Kheria Sabar is one of these denotified tribes from the Purulia district of West Bengal . As with most DNT-NTs, the Kheria Sabar also lead a stigmatised existence, painted in unfair light and largely forgotten by policymakers, they live on the fringes of a system that, until recently, branded them as a community of dacoits and robbers.
Traditionally, they were hunters. Their life was primarily dependent on what they could find from the forest – fruits, leaves, roots and the animals. Hunting and gathering was the prime mean of their survival along with serving to local rulers. The independence in 1947 lead the transition phase when the property of rulers was handed over to the forest department of newly formed Indian government. Sabar tribes were compelled to leave the forest. But when they were kicked out of the forest, they were given barren, stony land. They had no option other than working as migratory labor and had to face several brutalities and torcher from forest and police department.
In order to safeguard the community and to exercise forest rights, a community collective in the form of ‘Sabar samity’ came into existence by the blood and sweat of nine founding members from Sabar tribe community of Purulia district. All nine founding members were from 6 different villages of four blocks of the Purulia district. Two of them Budhan Sabar and Suku Sabar were freedom fighters who even went to jail during colonial period. They extensively travelled to various remote places to make Sabar community aware and unite to form a union of Sabar tribe across the district. Thus, the Sabar samity was established on 7th January of 1968.
In the absence of means of communication it was utterly difficult to bring together the Sabar tribe people from other villages and blocks to a common platform. Hence, the founding members organized a ‘Daal Parab’ folk art fair for Sabar in order to unite Sabar people from different parts of the district/state every year. During this folk-art fair, need of Sabar tribe unity, extreme needs and possible solutions were discussed every year. Gopiballav Singh Deo the ‘Sabar Pita’ (Father of Sabar) being one of the prominent founding members of Sabar samity has played a crucial role in establishing and guiding the Sabar samity along with other eight founding members.
The samity gradually got members from all corners of the Purulia district. In the year 1983 Jnanpith awardee, social activist and renowned writer Mahasweta Devi joined the Sabar Samity as a ‘Sabar Mata’ to guide and support the samity as an acting working president. In the year 1983 the Daal Parab festival was renamed as Sabar Mela, the festival was graced by the presence of freedom fighter Mr. Lachu Sabar and Mr. Kanuram Sabar. Since then, Sabar Mela has been organized every year in the memory of founding members, showcasing folk art and to discuss the needs and probable solutions of the Sabar tribe community. Even today one of the founding members Mr. Nanda Sabar is still guiding and supporting the existing members of Sabar samity.