Tuesday, 6 January 2015

The tribals of Jhabua : A realisation

It is not just a place. It is a realization. There are not just people, there are feelings, there is pain, there is happiness, there is kindness but above all, there is love. There is love in each one of us.
Swadesh, it is not just a journey out into the society, it is a journey within. 

Mahesh ji, who has devoted his life to the Bhil community of Jhabua, says it rightly, "Kisi ko badnaam karna bahut asaan hai, lekin kisi ko samaan dilwana bahut kathin" 
(It is very easy to stain or defame somebody but very difficult to win respect for someone).
And he has been doing it for the past 15 years, fighting the society (which believes the Bhils to be Aadivasis and dangerous, good-for-nothing excess population) for the respect of this community.

With Mahesh Ji, Founder of NGO Shivganga Ashram

The journey began with 26 of us boarding the train to Indore from where a bus took us to Jhabua. From celebrating Chritmas and birthdays to playing Mafia to doing some wonderful activites, it was a fun journey and we reached Jhabua on 25th December. We stayed at an Ashram and were welcomed by the crystal clear night sky, and the simple but fresh and delicious food.
Next morning after doing yoga and having breakfast, we divided into 4 groups and went exploring different villages.

Morning yoga and Pranayaam time

Our first stop was Uberav. Uberav, at first sight seemed to be beautiful gift of nature, with open fields, houses far apart from other, little hens running here and there near the houses, the children in the streets. But as we met the locals, there was much more to this place than what the eyes could perceive.
I had tried not to take any expectations or stereotypes with me, but at the back of my mind, there were still some thoughts (both positive and negative) about what it would be like meeting, talking and staying with the Bhils.

And all my stereotypes broke once we met them. They were like you and me, maybe leading a tougher life, maybe facing a lot more difficulties, but at the same time, more kind, loving and humble than you and me. They were people, not adivasis.

We discovered a lot of interesting things as we sat with a group of locals in a house and tried to understand their way of life.

Most of them did agriculture for a living, though water was really a issue there. Some of the relatively rich people people had got their wells dug up and were quite better off. The water through the government systems also reached either only the rich ones or, maybe the more aware people. A lot of people could not benefit from the government schemes.

Then, we tried to learn about the marriage structure. The most interesting part was the system of reverse dowry. Here, the groom pays the dowry to the girl's family. If the families do not agree upon marriage, the boy and girl can elope, the family finally has to agree and still there is a dowry (or bride-price) that has to be paid. It is a possibility that this reverse dowry system could be one of the reasons for a girl to boy ratio greater than 1 among the Bhils.

The Bhils generally marry young, around 15 yrs of age. They may continue their education after marriage, which is generally till class 10. But there were children, who aspired to study more. One of the girls Kamo(whom we met at Gavsar) wanted to go to a college in Indore. Another one, inspired by her Buaji wanted to be a police officer.
An issue was that most of them, even after studying till 10th or 12th, could not put their education to any use, which, among others is an indicator of how education system needs to undergo a revolution, be skill-based.

As we went around and talked more, we learned about the practice of Halma, an age old tradition of the Bhils in which any person in the community,even after putting all his effort in some task, maybe building his house or ploughing his farm, is not able to do it, can declare Halma. Now, all the villagers will come selflessly, without any expectations of return, work from morning till evening and help the person in the completion of the work. What a beautiful tradition.

Some people told us that how in the recent times, a lot of religious conversions were taking place. This sounded a bit strange. Many people were turning to Christianity. As we talked more, we realized, their innocence was being exploited to turn them into Christianity. This, in a way, is a point of debate. One may argue that in a free country like India, one has a freedom to choose whatever religion, but in place or situation like this, the game is different. The conversion has isolated the people from the rest of their community, their rich culture, the local festivals, and also the social and economic activities of the village.

After having lunch with a family in their house and spending some more time exploring around, we left for our next stop Gavsar. It was almost dark as we reached. We talked with a family with whom we stayed at night.

The night was a time of self-realization and understanding the thoughts of each other. Sleeping in the open under the infinite stars, we listened to each other.
The clucking of the hens early in the morning was the natural alarm.
And don't forget, we were in a tribal village,interestingly, we had to defecate in the open. Many of you might have already forming a picture of an unhygienic and dirty place due to open defecation. But no, it was serving as a manure for the fields. And it was a much better option than the sewage lines leading to water treatment plants finally leading to the water bodies.  And, houses being far apart, it was not a problem.
It also came as an insight into the kind of policies the government frames. They promise a toilet in every household, but a majority of the villagers don't need it, and don't want it.
They served us with delicious mouth-watering food with so much love. This was one moment when i realized the richness of our nation, the true meaning of 'Atithi Devo Bhavah'.
The Bhils work as construction labourers, mostly in Gujarat, when they have no water for their fields. Life in the city as a daily wager is completely different for these people. They have to live in congested places with no respect.
This was personally a moment of realization for me. I would not even spare a moment for a construction worker building a beautiful hotel in my locality, and today, here i was, in his home, spending a night and having food cooked with so much love and respect. I can't look at a worker with the same eyes now.

The next two days, we talked to more people, visited the local school, met the Sarpanch and the Mukhya of the village, looked at the government and NGO projects, and tried to understand what real effect had it brought in people's lives.

With the family that hosted us with all the love in the world

The Sardar Sarovar Dam

The next day we had a long journey through the forest to the remote villages where people's land had been sunk due to the Sardar Sarovar dam. Before talking to the people, it did seem quite logical to build a project which would serve the electricity demands of a vast population. But on reaching, seeing the situation with one's own eyes and listening to the people, I realized how difficult it was for the people who get displaced. And the compensation they receive is no match to what they lose. They lose their motherland, where their so many generations had been living. They showed us the sunk land, where some years ago, their relatives and friends had lived and were now relocated.

It was almost dark and time for the return journey, a one and a hour ferry ride over the seemingly infinite Narmada river. Within half an hour, the sun had set and the sky was full of uncountable stars. The never-ending Narmada reflected the stars in it's waters. It was a beautiful combination of place and time to be at.

Thoughts and learnings

Sleeping under the stars, spending nights in tribal villages for the first time, defecating in the open, the fun, looking at the society from a completely different perspective, the discussions, the songs, I have a lot of memories to keep with me forever. But most importantly, there is a realization. These are the people who produce food for us. These are the people who construct our houses.

A poor man is not unhappy because of his poverty, he is not unhappy because he has lesser resources. He is unhappy because of the way the society looks at him just because he was born into a poor family, he dresses in a different way than you do, because he does a different kind of job than you do.

I want to work for my nation, for the good of India, for a clean India, for the villages of India, to bring back  ' The Sparrow of Gold' tag.
And when i ask myself , from where will I get all the inspiration needed.
My inspiration is people. My inspiration is the beautiful traditions, the real education system of India (that once used to be), the richness of the Indian cultures, the diversity, but above all my inspiration is people. People are good. Everyone is a beautiful person. Everyone is honest. If you have ever looked in a person's eyes, you will realise he is honest. No one wants to be corrupt. All are good people.

If corruption of the system is stopping you to work for the nation, the hidden (lost) honesty of the individuals caught in the web of corruption inspires me to work for the nation. Because no one wants to be corrupt.

If today, you and me, each one reading this decides that we are going to be honest, every single day, every action we take is going to be honest (and it is not a small thing), every action is going to be for the good of the nation, india will change. I don't know much about other measures, but on a happiness index, we will be the top nation of the world.

Doing our bit to keep the tradition of Halma and Shramdaan alive

I am really grateful to AINA, IIT Delhi for this wonderful journey of self-exploration and consider myself lucky to be a part of it.