e-Course; Capsule No- 478: Asur tribe:
The Asur tribe is found in Gumla, Lohardaga, Palamaud and Latehar districts in Jharkhand state in India. In pre-historic times, the tribe was amongst the Proto-Australoid groups inhabiting the western regions of West Bengal. As per the 1991 census, the total population was 10,721. On the social front, Asurs are divided into 12 clans, named after different animals, birds and food grains. The tribe is further divided into three sub-tribal divisions, namely Bir (Kol) Asur, Birija Asur and Agaria Asur; however, Birja are recognized as a separate scheduled tribe.
The Asurs have a very good knowledge of herbal medicines. The tribe has its own community council called as “jati panch” which settles all disputes. The Asurs accept food from Rajputs, Oraon, Kharwar, Thakur, Ghasi, and maintain kinship ties with Munda, Kharwar and other neighbouring tribes. The tribe lives in pats, a clearing areas in the forests, with their houses having mud walls, supported by wooden poles with a roof covered with paddy straw and self-baked khapras (tiles). Their houses have spaces for cattle and birds and a separate area for worship of ancestors. The traditional male clothing is dhoti, while the females have tattoo son their bodies and wear metal and non-metal ornaments and glass bangles.
The tribe’s religion is a mixture of animism, naturalism and ancestral worships; they also strong believe in black magic, as their chief deity is Singbonga. The other deities are Dharati Mata, Duari, Turi Husid, and their festivals include Sarhul, Karma, Dhanbuni, Kadelta, Rajjkarma, Dsahara Karam. The Asurs are mainly a hunting-gathering-foraging tribe.
However, over the time, a few of the them have started doing settled cultivation, and only occasionally hunting game. Due to increased alienation from their native habitats, and increased contact with plains people, the tribe has turned to iron-smelting, which has become their traditional occupation. This gives them a distinct identity as they claim to have descended from the ancient asuras, who were associated with metal craft. It’s interesting to note that women sing songs relating to the furnace to an expectant mother encouraging the furnace to give a healthy baby.
Though Asurs have transformed from a hunting-gatheringforaging tribe to iron-smelters for economic reasons, they are facing many difficulties and struggling for access to health services, education, transportation, drinking water etc.. Additionally, the agriculture-based economy is under threat due to bauxite mining in their areas. As a result, migration and displacement have been rising, and human trafficking of minor girls has become a serious challenge.
The tribe is one of the ancient tribes of the country, and the government should take proactive measures to protect the tribe, as they form quite a big part of the total population in Jharkand.