Friday, August 29, 2008


Verrier Elwin, one of the most interesting Englishmen to have worked in India this century, came to his adopted country when he was only 25. A few years later, he moved to a tribal village in the heart of India. He lived most of the rest of his life among the tribals of India, whom he loved and worked for, and about whom he wrote beautifully, intensely and extensively.

His friend, W.G. Archer, who was in the Indian Civil Service before becoming a curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum, had asked about Elwin: "What makes a man change his nationality, abjure civilization, and, in the upshot, become a blend of Schweitzer in Africa and Gauguin in Tahiti?" That question cannot be answered, but it prompts curiosity about his life.

Elwin was born the son of an Anglican bishop. He graduated from Merton College, Oxford, with a first in English literature and won a scholarship to support his degree, which the family tradition directed to be in theology. A doctorate in divinity had prepared him to be ordained as a priest, but his associations and interests had turned Elwin, while at Oxford, into a mild Indophile, with his heart turned wistfully towards Tagore and Gandhi. At a Students' Christian Movement meeting, which Elwin had attended at Stanwick, he met J.C. Winslow, who had come back from India to recruit young men for his Christian mission. Winslow, a product of Eton and Balliol, had gone to India to spread the gospel, and was so awed by the astonishing richness of Hindu spiritual and cultural heritage and ideas that he thought that Jesus could "take all those elements that were of permanent value and bring them to a richer completion".

Elwin was already looking eastwards and was easily seduced into joining Winslow's Christa Seva Sangha, which drew its inspiration from the traditional ashram ideal of the Hindus, as reinterpreted and actualised by Gandhi's ashram at Sabarmati, a centre of abstinent and religious life, dedicated to the service of the poor.

After a view years of living in the tradition of service to the church and in compliance with the Gandhian ascetic ideals, Elwin felt impelled to break all links with his past. He decided to work among the lively, sensuous, forest-dwelling tribals - materially the poorest of the poor in India, but blessed with a capacity to endure much and enjoy life fully.

They were rich in their capacity to love, in their sensitivity to beauty, in their delightful songs and dances, and in their ability to make fine, strong and beautiful things.

Elwin had not planned on anything other than being of service to these people when he and his lifelong volunteer colleague, Shamrao Hivale, moved to a Gond tribal village in Central India to have their own ashram. The events that followed - shifting their base deeper into the forests, establishing a home for lepers there, doing research work among the tribals as a friend and helper, practicing a "philanthropology" that brought with it a need to defend the tribals against all external aggressions, cultural or economic,and writing volumes about them - appear, with the benefit of hindsight, to be Elwin's unfolding destiny, as were his becoming an Indian citizen, receiving one of the country's highest honours, and becoming a friend and advisor to Jawaharlal Nehru.

Elwin had begun his work in India as a very unusual Christian missionary with Gandhian leanings, unacceptable both to the British Raj and to his own church in India. He soon became disenchanted with the pretentious aspects of Indian spirituality and with Gandhian puritanism and self-righteousness. India's "primitive" tribals won his heart, eventually; and he gave his brilliant mind and devoted his enormous energies, towards helping them, writing about them and defending their rights and their waysof life.

His beginnings were those of an earnest, somewhat uncertain and self-doubting but deeply religious man, and, although he later rejected all formal religions, he never could choose any other than a selfless, dedicated way of life. But the roles he took on were always nonconformist. Consequently, he had to fight powerful opposition and persecution from organized, conventional people all his life.

Although Elwin was able, in his lifetime, to have some influence on India's policies towards its tribal peoples, one fears that, with time, much of what he lived and stood for is in danger of being ignored, misunderstood or forgotten.

Courtesy: Sunil Janah on Guhas book

This great man was born on 29th August......remembering him on his birth anniversary

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


For any soldier of the Indian Army ,the famous memorial of 1962 war between India and China at Jaswantgarh stands taller than even the 14000 ft high Sela Pass along the steep, serpentine mountainous road to monastery town at Tawang in western Arunachal Pradesh.

It is not because of the altitude of its location but for the inspiration it gives to Indian soldiers guarding the frontier with China.

A journey towards the picturesque Tawang through pristine hills of Arunachal Pradesh can't be complete without a stopover at Jaswantgarh Memorial that stands testimony to an Indian soldier's unparallel bravery.

And for Indian Army jawans and officials, it is a must-visit site to pay obeisance to Rifleman Jaswant Singh, Maha Vir Chakra, of 4 Garhwal Rifle, who laid down his life resisting the Chinese Army's march for about 72 hours along with two other soldiers during the 1962 war.

Singh was then captured and hanged at the same place where the memorial now stands, by Chinese invaders. The memorial is about 14 km away from Sela Pass.

It is more of a temple than a war memorial for Indian Army soldiers. The Army has put a section of its soldiers at round the clock duty at Jaswantgarh to look after the memorial which is located about 500 kilometers away from Guwahati, the gateway to the Northeast in Assam.

The temple-like Jaswantgarh memorial has a garlanded bronze bust of Jaswant Singh who is referred as Baba by soldiers, a portrait of the war hero and his belongings including the Army uniform, cap, watch, and belt. The earthen lamp before the portrait of Jaswant Singh burns round the clock.

For his six caretakers from 19 Garhwal Corps of Indian Army, Baba Jaswant Singh, MVC, still exists. They serve Baba bed tea at 0430 hrs, breakfast at 0900 hrs and dinner at 1900 hrs, oblivious of the reality that that the war hero is no more alive.

They make his bed for him, polish his shoes and deliver the mail sent by his admirers. They even clear the mails the next morning after 'he has gone through them'. They change his bed sheets every Tuesday.

These soldiers not only serve Baba. They reneder yeoman service for travelers along the hazardous portion of mountain terrain. Besides coming to rescue of travelers in trouble, they run a snack store where they serve tea, coffee and delicious samosas and pakoras to refresh the tired tourists, charging a nominal price that goes to upkeep of the war memorial.

The Indian Army sentinels at Jaswantgarh complain about the lack of electricity at the war memorial. It is lit up only for two hours in the evening through a diesel generator. They also fear that the roadside portion of the memorial is under severe threat from landslide.

One of the three historic bunkers at Jaswantgarh has already been damaged due to landslide while another one is in imminent danger unless something is done urgently to save it.

For the heroic effort of Rifleman Jaswant Singh, of the 4 Garhwal Rifle was awarded battle honour Nuranang, the only battle honour awarded to any Army unit in the Sino-Indian war of 1962.

Source:The Hitavada


The only known habitat of one of the world's rarest birds has been saved from destruction. Thanks to a compromise between environmentalists, villagers and the Andhra Pradesh government, the 400km Telugu Ganga Canal, which will stretch from Srisailam in central Andhra to Chennai, will be diverted around the only remaining habitat of the Jerdon's courser, a striking, nocturnal bird, the size of a lapwing and found only in one region of Andhra Pradesh. At the urging of the Bombay Natural History Society, an NGO, the state irrigation ministry has agreed to reroute the canal. The government has agreed to add 3,000 acres of adjoining land to the courser's sanctuary. Thrilled by the development, Dr Panchapakesan Jeganathan, a scientist at BNHS who has been fighting the battle for the courser's habitat for the last eight years, said, "This bird is more threatened than the tiger. Now, there is a very good chance that it will survive."

Source: The Times of India

Saturday, August 16, 2008


One often sees pictures and figures of tribal men and women adorning gardens, homes,hotels govt. offices in Chattisgarh.Ever heard of them depicted on walls of toilets.?? In Raipur you get to see them . The walls of the Sulabh Toilet complex in Tikrapara , Raipur has paintings of the Bastar tribals, the Bison horn madias decorating them. Is it the idea of the artist who painted these walls or of some intellectual?What I fail to understand is why tribals in such a filthy place?? Why not the face of some political goon or a corrupt neta? Looks like Bastar is the hot topic it govt. websites, text books, politicians speeches or lastly even toilet walls!
I'm sure hundreds of people have used these toilets till date.Why hasn't somebody raised a voice? A particular Indian community in London protested because symbols associated with their community were printed on a restaurant menu card.They protested so vehemently that the cards were withdrawn immediately with an apology. If it can happen in a foreign land why not here..and we have all the reason ..Toilets are no place to depict tribal culture and dance!

Thursday, August 14, 2008


Today being Independence Day one can see many children excitedly waving the Tricolour on the way to their schools for the Flag hoisting.What a perfect scene, the youth of tomorrow enjoying their independence and freedom.

On the other hand you would probably even see the other picture of tomorrows youth.Children scavenging the rubbish bins, for some scrap to sell and satisfy their hunger.

These scenes prompt me to think , are we really free???

What does Freedom really mean?Is it just freedom from slavery to a foreign nation?

We have hungry children dwelling on streets, the girl child being killed even before she is born, brides burnt for dowry, wives assaulted by husbands, tribals dying due to political power games, corruption, the common man struggling to have his voice heard......................

Freedom is a farce.

We are still slaves, to ourselves ,to our greed and to all the evils prevalent in our society and system.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


Khudiram Bose was a freedom fighter, who was one of the youngest revolutionaries of the Indian independence movement. He was born on 3rd December 1889. Trailokyanath Basu, his father was a Tahsildar of the town and mother Lakshmipriya Devi was a religious lady. His birth place was Bahuvaini in Medinipur district, West Bengal. Khudiram Bose was influenced by the notion of karma in the Bhagvad Gita , and was involved in revolutionary activities to free mother India from the clutches of British rule.

Dissatisfied with the British policy of the partition of Bengal in 1905, he joined Jugantar - the party of revolutionary activists. At the tender age of sixteen, Bose left bombs near police stations and made government officials his victims. On the charges of carrying out a series of bomb attacks he was arrested.
In Muzzafarpur, Bihar,on 30th April, 1908 Khudiram Bose and Prafulla Chaki planned to assasinate the Chief Presidency Magistrate Kingsford.

The magistrate was known for his blatant judgements against the freedom fighters. They waited for Kingsford's carriage to come in front of the gate of European Club and blew up a carriage which was not carrying Kingsford. As a result of this unfortunate incident two innocent British ladies - Mrs.Kennedy and her daughter were killed. Both the revolutionaries fled the crime scene.

Later Prafulla committed suicide and Khudiram was arrested.
On the charges of bomb attacks carried out by Khudiram Bose, he was sentenced to death at the age of 19.He was hanged to death on 11 August 1908.


Saturday, August 9, 2008


"How to marry a tribal and get trees," was the headline of a Bhopal based story that appeared in the Indian Express of January 23, 1997. Based on a secret document by the Bastar collector, Mr Rajgopal Naidu, to the Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister, the report showed how large tracts of forest land in Madhya Pradesh were being denuded by bureaucrats and forest mafia who were exploiting the tribals in the area.

Indigenous forest dwellers have malik makbuja or tribal ownership rights over forest trees. So government officials, timber traders and politicians, working closely, found various ways of grabbing trees or even whole forests for themselves.

One method was to marry tribal girls, get written permission from them to chop trees and clear vast tracks of jungle. Subsequently, many of these girls were abandoned.

"There are innumerable tribal women in Bastar who have technically more than a million rupees in their bank accounts and yet they live below the poverty line," said the Express correspondent.

The report pointed to the active involvement of Mr Naidu's senior and the Commissioner of the Division. Land belonging to scheduled castes and tribes can only be sold to those belonging to the same groups. But a revenue inspector had bought forestland in which there were trees worth Rs 7.5 million in the name of his wife. Since he was from the Revenue Department, he made a fresh map in which the land was not shown as tribal land, and chopped down the trees. An inquiry was ordered, but the Commissioner gave him the go-ahead while the case was pending in the lower courts.

The story was sensational not only because it highlighted the dubious manner in which large tracts of invaluable teak and sal forests were being cut illegally; it also revealed the large-scale exploitation of illiterate and poor tribals and scheduled castes by the upper crust of society. Three NGOs working for rights of tribals and forest dwellers took up the case and it was brought to the Supreme Court. The corrupt Commissioner was transferred, two Revenue Department officials dismissed from service and another suspended.

A week later, Mr Naidu too was transferred, but he finally received recognition for his courage in exposing the links between people in the government and the timber mafia. The honest government officials, some committed NGOs and the media had worked collectively to expose the corrupt system and the devious manner in which the tribals were being exploited.

Tribals, the indigenous people or forest dwellers, as well as the Dalits or scheduled castes, continue to be second class citizens in India. This is despite the government's efforts to eradicate the centuries of discrimination against them by reserving a quota of government jobs and seats in educational institutes.

There are 636 scheduled tribes, each with their own distinct culture and customs, constituting a population of more than 80 million and accounting for over eight per cent of the Indian population. Some of these tribes are primitive, and have remained isolated from any form of development.

Four of the tribes who live in the Andaman Islands in the Indian Ocean, south east of the Indian mainland, are on the verge of extinction. The Great Andamanese, the Jarawa, Onge and Sentinelese have lived and flourished in these islands for 20,000 years. About 150 years ago, they had an estimated population between them of at least 5,000. Today, the population of the four communities is not more than 500, though the total population of the islands is about 4 lakhs.

The population of the Onge is down to a hundred, the Great Andamanese just 30. And a trunk road cuts through the Jarawa forest homes, bringing in development that is proving disastrous for the tribe.

As people from the mainland harvest the exquisite timber of the islands, the tribal communities are being systematically alienated from their forests and their land. The migrants from the mainland brought with them infections and diseases to which a large number of tribals have succumbed. The debate on whether these indigenous people should be brought into the national mainstream or allowed to stay in their primitive state continues.

Tribals living in other parts of the country, most of them in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Bihar and Gujarat, are not being driven to extinction like the tribes of the Andamans but they are being pushed out of their shrinking forest homes. Large numbers have been displaced because of dam construction and other development projects in forest areas.

One of the major objections of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (Save the Narmada movement) to the construction of a series of dams on the Narmada River is that thousands of tribals would be displaced in the states of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. The number of people displaced increases with the height of the dam.

Agitation against the dam has been going on for about 15 years, and it is because of the efforts of tribal activists like Medha Patkar that land-for-land compensation was agreed to by the Central Government. However, the Madhya Pradesh chief minister has gone on record to say that his state does not have sufficient land to give the 41,450 families who will be displaced in Madhya Pradesh alone.

The case has been fought through the courts and finally the Supreme Court of India has permitted the height of the dam to be raised.

The forested tribal hinterlands are also the areas where there is a rich reserve of minerals. According to the fifth schedule of the Constitution, tribal land cannot be leased out to non-tribals or to private companies for mining and industrial operations, but with the government's thrust on economic development, there is constant pressure to mine the homes of the tribals. But movements like the Narmada Bachao Andolan, Jan Vikas Andolan and NGOs like Ekta Parishad and the National Committee for Protection of Natural Resources maintain a check on government and private sector greed.

Yet it would be unfair to say the government has not made efforts for development of tribals. Special provisions have been made in the Indian Constitution for the protection and development of scheduled tribes. Promotion of educational and economic interests, protection from social injustice and exploitation are enshrined in various articles of tribal laws. Tribal land cannot be bought or sold except by the tribals. There is a National Commission at the centre to protect the interests of the scheduled tribes and since 1997, 100 residential schools for tribals have been set up. To encourage education of tribal girls, hostels have been established. Under the government's five-year plans they are being constantly renovated or expanded.

Tribal crafts and their traditional weaves are being propagated in a big way. A special shop in the heart of New Delhi sells exclusive tribal crafts. With the help of trained designers, tribal weaves and handmade fabrics are being promoted.

But the ground reality is that money and status continue to elude them. Literacy levels of the tribals are still very low - for men about 29 per cent and for women 18 per cent. Tribals work as cultivators and agricultural labour and according to the reports of the Planning Commission, 52 per cent of the rural and 41 per cent of the urban tribal population lives below poverty-line. That means they earn less than Rs 11,000 in a year, barely US $28. Some of the tribals in the poorer regions of Orissa still survive on roots and berries. Because of poor health facilities in the tribal pockets in which they live, malaria is a major killer.

There is a 7.5 per cent reservation in jobs for the tribals, but only 3.5 per cent of the posts have been filled. Tribals are missing in the higher echelons of administration. Fifty-two years after Independence, the tribals continue to be marginalised, which is why in October 1999, a full-fledged Ministry for Tribal Affairs was established at the Centre.

Tribal representation in Parliament is sizeable - 41 members in the Lok Sabha and 11 in the Rajya Sabha - but they have remained largely voiceless. Though reservation for SC and ST was initially meant to last 10 years, it was extended decade after decade because there has been poor implementation of the various laws and measures for their educational, social and economic advancement.

Since the early nineties, a group of tribal rights activists has come together under the leadership of the well known writer, Mahashweta Devi, to fight for the rights of some 60 million denotified tribals who are treated as criminals. They are routinely picked up by the police for questioning and beaten up. Many of them die in police custody.

This traditional bias against these tribes, a legacy of British rule, persists despite more than 50 years of government efforts to bring all tribals and other backward communities to parity with the more privileged members of society.

In 1871, the British passed the Criminal Tribes Act. It notified about 150 tribes as "criminal" and gave the police wide powers to deal with members of these tribes. They could restrict their movements and insist they report at police stations regularly. Independent India repealed the Act in 1952. That is why they are called denotified tribes (DNTs).

That term is rarely used, however. They are nearly always referred to as criminals. And it is this view, more than anything else, that defines the ways the DNTs live today, says Dilip D'Souza, who studied and wrote extensively on denotified tribes under a fellowship awarded to him by the National Foundation for India.

Some 150 years ago, a large number of these tribal communities were nomadic. They were considered useful, honourable people by settled societies with whom they came into contact. Many of them were petty traders who used to carry their wares on the backs of their cattle and sold or bartered goods, which ranged from honey, grain and rice to herbal medicines, in the villages through which they passed. Most nomadic people were also craftsmen, making and selling baskets, mats, brooms or earthen utensils.

But the media has been particularly insensitive to the plight of these tribals who continue to be treated and referred to as criminals. "Haryana to flush out criminal tribes" was the headline in the Indian Express of February 27, 1999, followed by "Bansilal orders crackdown on criminal tribes." The Tribune News Service on September 9, 1999, reported "48 Pardhi robbers from Guna held." The Express News Service of November 6, 1999, reported "Stone age robbers: Pardhis know no mercy."

Dr Meena Radhakrishnan, a social anthropologist at the Nehru Memorial Museum, says the spectre of the so-called criminal tribes has begun to haunt the middle class readers of newspapers in Delhi. There has been a marked increase in news stories which claim that a gruesome murder of an elderly couple was committed by a group of Sansis who robbed them of all their valuables. Or that a woman living alone was brutally done to death in the dead of night by a group of Pardhis. Television programmes on the tribes put fear in the minds of viewers, and the words "criminal tribes" have become synonymous with criminality of a mindless, violent kind. Radhakrishnan says the terror being fanned in the public mind has led to lynching of hapless Sansis or Pardhis, with no protest from others.

Most members of these tribes live in dismal conditions - often on the outskirts of a city - and are extremely poor. Even the educated members of these communities, who form the first generation of office goers or professionals, are looked upon suspiciously and insulted.

In 1998, after two custodial deaths of members of these tribes, Budhan Saber of Purulia District of West Bengal and Pinky Hari Kale of Satara District of Maharashtra, activists filed writ petitions in the Kolkota and Mumbai high courts respectively. They also informed the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) about the two deaths. Their efforts resulted in compensation being awarded to the families. The NHRC directed compensation be paid for the death of Kale and the Kolkota high court awarded compensation to the widow of Budhan Saber.

"While compensation is welcome and may act as a deterrent, the really revealing thing about these cases is what they say about attitudes towards DNTs," says Dilip D'Souza.

In February 2000, the NHRC recommended repeal of the Habitual Offenders Act, which had virtually replaced the Criminal Tribes Act after Independence. The Habitual Offenders Act has terrorised the tribes, for under its purview members of their communities are summarily picked up whenever there is unexplained crime.

Dr G N Devy, the secretary for the Denotified and Nomadic Tribes Rights Action Group, who is documenting tribal literature, says "None of the brave fights of the tribals against the British has ever been treated as part of the national struggle for freedom. From the Bihar uprising of 1778 to Lakshman Naik's revolt in Orissa in 1942, the tribals of India repeatedly rebelled against the British in the North East, Bengal, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh. In fact, the British had to accede to the demands of the Bhils and the Naiks after their revolt in 1809 and 1838."

Source:Press and People