Message from the Desk of Chairman
The Tea Tribes are a vital part of the Assam-Brahmaputra Valley and Terai region’s cultural fabric, forming 25% of Assam’s population today. They have a vibrant, rich culture and a history going back more than 175 years, to the British colonial establishment of the first tea plantations across the region. Over the years, they have adapted dynamically to the local Assamese and Bengali cultures, creating a cultural synthesis from the local cultures and their cultures to create something that is uniquely their own. Though they have been marginalized economically, their cultural wealth is astounding. And while livelihood programs have worked hard to empower them with economically and environmentally sustainable livelihoods, their cultural well-being is no less important and no less worthy of attention.
As the plantation economy evolves and small-scale tea gardens emerge across the Assam-Brahmaputra Valley, so too has the culture of the Tea Tribes. These emerging cultural trends have breathed new life into the region’s potpourri of cultures and in 2015, the APPL Foundation, through Sirish, set out to map and showcase both these trends and cultural histories, to preserve them for posterity. In doing so, the Sirish Festival has evolved into a thriving platform for cultural exchange that has played an essential role in strengthening integration and nurturing the cultural well-being of the Tea Tribes.
Through Sirish, the Tea Tribes can share their complex, beautiful culture in its totality – their food, literature, fine arts, performing arts, sports – with communities across the Assam-Brahmaputra Valley region. The festival has strengthened cultural pride among the Tea Tribes, encouraging the youth to connect to their cultural roots and find new ways of preserving their culture in the face of pressures to assimilate. Over the past four editions of Sirish alone, we have received an astounding number of art works created by children, who are now taking renewed pride in their culture and participating actively in propagating it through Sirish.
In supporting thousands of local artisans and creators and creating a space for cultural exchange, the APPL Foundation has been instrumental in helping the Tea Tribes integrate into the wider community, creating a thriving, diverse society. None of this could have been achieved without the governmental support we have received in the past five years, particularly from the Assam state government, and the APPL Foundation is grateful for the support they have given us in propagating the Tea Tribes’ culture far and wide. With their help, the APPL Foundation has been able to share the culture of the tea tribes with over 80,000 people across the Assam-Brahmaputra Valley region.
Sirish gets its name from Sanskrit, meaning soul within body. Culture is the essence of humanity, the soul of what it means to be human. People are social animals and thriving cultures are essential to our health and happiness – and creative, transformative societies. Over the past five years, the Sirish festival has worked towards the vision of a holistically healthy and thriving society by promoting cultural well- being but it is only one step among many steps we must take. The future is diverse and multicultural: let us work towards building it today.