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Atlantic Fellows for Social and Economic Equity
Ruby Hembrom AFSEE

Ruby Hembrom

Founder, Adivaani

Ruby is an Indigenous cultural practitioner, documentarian, writer and publisher. Her work addresses and challenges issues of non-representation, suppression, and appropriation of Indigenous cultures.

She is a Santal—the largest homogeneous indigenous people in India—born to first-generation migrants to the city.Throughout her life and career, she has been confronted by experiences that have challenged her Adivasi (first inhabitant) identity and has faced discrimination in environments where Adivasi languages are dismissed as “unintelligible sounds” and Adivasi knowledge systems are seen not just as inferior but inconsequential. More often than not, she has been the only Adivasi in educational institutions and workplaces. That invisibility and erasure became the tipping point for Ruby’s creation of adivaani (the first voices), a non-profit platform for indigenous expression and assertion that she founded in July 2012.

The books Ruby has published via the advaani imprint range from fiction to poetry, social science to art. Through adivaani, she has addressed and challenged issues of non-representation, suppression, and appropriation of Indigenous cultures, questioning who speaks for Adivasis and how and why they’re prevented from speaking for themselves or their articulations dismissed as “basic and not scholarly enough”. This undertaking was the entry point to Ruby’s work in social change and equity, which she does through books, documentary films, workshops, and talks, and by aligning with other Indigenous organisations on shared issues.

Ruby has written three books for children, including two on the Santal creation story, as well as the prize-winning Disaibon Hul (Let’s remember the rebellion), on the Santal uprising of 1855 against the oppressive forces of Indian landlords and the British empire. She is presently curating the first collective book on Adivasi feminism. In 2017, she coordinated work with Adivasi artisans for the exhibition Another India: Explorations and Expressions of Indigenous South Asia at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge, and contributed the afterword in the catalogue published by adivaani.

Ruby is a member of Tribal Intellectual Collective India, and Learn2Change, an international network of educators supporting global learning for sustainable development, where she brings Indigenous perspectives to the fore. She is a frequent contributor to mainstream media and journals via opinion pieces and essays and conducts research on Adivasi issues. She has conducted workshops on Adivasi agency and advocacy, and guest lectured on editing and publishing courses. Over the past decade she has attended seminars and scholarly events in Germany, Switzerland, Norway, Cyprus and England, focusing on Adivasi issues.

Ruby is a law graduate, a trained instructional designer, and an editor and book designer. She also holds a MSc in Inequalities and Social Science from the London School of Economics and Political Science. 

Not everything starts with an idea, or a plan. Sometimes it starts with a tipping point. Change precipitates at thresholds—at brinks—but it materialises after long, drawn-out processes of endurance and struggle, and the audacity to say ‘enough is enough’. That has been my experience with change. We are the generation of resurgence, nourishing a layer of life beyond our individual and collective efforts, contributions and limitations. Change is in crossing-overs and homecomings, and the pulse that links them.

Ruby Hembrom


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