Grant Period: Over two years
Mr Kalika Prasad Bhattacharya’s research into the folk songs of industrial workers from eastern India is substantially taken up with theoretical issues about the songs’ artistic relevance, the social and economic context in which they are sung, and their place in a history of subaltern culture. While he is in no doubt that such songs deserve documentation, Mr Bhattacharya is also interested in exploring the possible validity of industrial folk songs as an independent genre, and the connections between the folk culture of an agrarian rural economy and that of a ‘modern’ industrial one. The very notion of industry in the Indian context is also something that he is anxious to discuss. Mr Bhattacharya takes into account the dearth of studies relating to this aspect of folk culture. His own project is anchored to two broad, fundamental considerations: songs emanating from industrial sites like collieries, plantations, and factories are ‘folk’ in an accepted sense, and yet, they are sufficiently influenced by the exigencies of life in a factory, to differ significantly from folk songs as they are generally understood. He points out that folk songs spawned by industrialisation share the constantly evolving and yet continuous nature of folk music, as also the manner of their transmission. On the other hand, he feels that the altered process of production, the nature of contractual labour as against the bonded labour of the feudal system, and the mingling of individuals from different parts of the country, possibly give folk songs of the industries a distinctive character. It is this that he is especially interested in exploring.
Mr Bhattacharya identifies noteworthy features of industrial folk songs from the areas he proposes to cover – the tea plantations of Assam and Bengal, collieries in the Raniganj area of West Bengal, and factories in Jamshedpur. The workers on tea estates in the Dooars of North Bengal largely consist of tribes from Assam, Bengal, Bihar and central India like Rabha, Oraon, Bhil, Santhal, and Munda. The marker for establishing folk songs of the industries as ‘different’ could well lie in the very people who sing these songs given that their mixed origins, new languages and past work cultures influence these songs in fundamental ways. So while, on the one hand, one needs to question whether the conventional notion of monolithic industrialisation can be applied to India, it is also the case that in colonial India the word ‘industry’ was first coined with respect to tea plantations. While it cannot be said that Mr Bhattacharya is interested in comparing and contrasting Western and Indian working class songs, it is evident that the distinctiveness of the latter in his focus and concern.
Mr Bhattacharya, who is a folk singer and graded radio artiste himself, sees his research leading to an anthology of folk songs from the three industrial sites in eastern India that he will visit for his fieldwork. This anthology will not only look at the songs from a musicologist’s point of view but also examine what they reveal about the expression of a marginalised group. Mr Bhattacharya also intends on undertaking audio recordings of the songs for archival purposes.