Jaani Shikaar, Jharkhand and hunting women

College email lists can get repetetive after a point. I tend to run through them with a quick thumb. Yesterday, something caught my eye. Shivani Kumar, a batchmate at TISS wrote this email about a festival called Jaani Shikaar.I am publishing this here with her permission and after some mild editing to improve readability. Many thanks to her for sharing this.

Not that much is happening but saw this interesting festival in Jharkhand. It is called Jaani Shikaar. Every 12 years the women dress up as men and carry weapons and are out on the roads for a hunt. They hunt anything. Hens, pigs, goats and dogs. At least that’s what is supposed to happen. This year was one such year and I got to see the Jaani Shikaar in action.

Gangs of women dressed in male attire carrying sticks, axes, spears walk the roads. Most of these gangs have a few dead animals hanging around them, most common of these being hens and pigs. However what seems to be the new addition in this hunting expedition is that now these gangs stop all vehicles and extract money. Not huge sums, but token amounts as some sort of obedience rituals.

Tried to figure out the origin of this festival and its purpose. Since my sources were locals who found the question inconsequential I got a couple of versions, making sense but not absolutely fool proof.

Apparently at the time Aurangzeb attacked this part of the country, he attacked these parts of tribal land on the day of a festival. That being the situation, the men were all drunk on haria and were thereby unable to fight Aurangzeb. It was now that the women of the villages dressed up as men and fought off Aurangzeb’s army. Later however Aurangzeb came back with renewed strength and took over the place. However this festival commemorates the event.

Another school believes that every 12 years women play the role of men. Hunting and food gathering being the activities associated with men are handed over to women. Some sort of gender redistributive activity!

However in both stories the periodicity remains a question. The spirit if the festival was indeed worth seeing, but the concentration has shifted from hunting to extracting money. I wonder whether that too is reflective of the roles men play today?

We maybe onto something here. While the Mughal empire did spread over all sides in the 17th century. Cooch Behar, Bihar, Punjab, Jharkhand, parts of Afghanistan, Bijapur and Golconda. But a ritual from the 17th century? Such a localized one? The choice of 12 years is weird too. For something to sustain on a twelve year cycle, it needs to have some amount of institutional backing. (I just wish I had access to my college library now.)

The gender aspect of this just has me amazed. Masculinity and feminity as interpreted as dichotomies. People often argue that gender roles bring in a balance in relationship. Given the forms that expected masculinity takes, it appears more so as a matter of establishing power over a role, or giving a higher value to the role. Yesterday, I linked to an interesting post at Global Voices, which drew links between the expected roles of women in the peacebuilding process in Sri Lanka and the way women are perceived by the gaming industry. An interesting point

Ultimately, I think a lot of studies done on the effects of computer game violence simplify the complex matrix of factors and actors that shape our approach to conflict in real life. That women like less violent games don’t necessarily make them inherently better peacebuilders, a proposition as ridiculous as stating that men, given their propensity for violence, are less capable as peacebuilders than women.

Maybe we need to stop looking at feminity and masculinity as opposing values with rigid definitions. Feminity has nothing to do with women anyway. It’s a misnomer. A value is desirable or not, across the sexes. Any other expectation is just oppressive.

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0 Responses to Jaani Shikaar, Jharkhand and hunting women

  1. Pingback: DesiPundit » Jaani Shikaar, Jharkhand and hunting women

  2. nikita says:

    interesting story. thanks. am wondering at the whole ‘aurangzeb’s invasion’ bit though. the mughal empire worked through intermediaries…so there were people involved in this process…local chiefs, landed interests..wonder how they’d factor in to this tradition.

    anyway, what also caught my eye is that you went to tiss. so did i! a while ago. don’t have much to say for the place as an educational institution, but as a community of interesting students, it has something going for it. did you enjoy your time there? and do the things you do now as work reflect your learning in the place? curious.

    nice new webpage. though when i click on your comment on my blog, i am still directed to the old blogspot address.


  3. Ankur says:

    12 yr cycle makes me remember the Maha kumbh mela..


  4. Pareshaan says:

    So what is Jaani Shikaar all about? Rather a mystery!


  5. nikita: It’s an interesting story. My guess is that like all folklore or epics, after a point, metaphors sink so deep into the narrative – that it’s hard to figure out fact. I went to TISS, I think the course by itself needs a lot of work on it – but like you mentioned the people were interesting. I think TISS was too much of work, and people got little time to interact with each other. I slept very little for the two years that I was there. As an institution it is changing, especially under the new director – Parasuraman (Ex-ActionAid) and the man apparently has some radical ideas. Good for them I say!

    Ankur: Yep. Which is why I said institutional support is necessary. But I wonder what kind of institutional support the Kumbha Mela had a hundred years back.

    Pareshaan: We’ll just have to rely on Shivani’s narrative for now! 🙂