By Devlal Nareti, Raipur, May 28 : A peaceful battle is being fought in Chhattisgarh, in the Indian heartland notorious for violent clashes between the Naxalites and the State. But this struggle, owned by neither of these two groups, is not a new one. And yet it remains virtually invisible, shadowed by the gravity of the notorious ‘Red Corridor’ that has been the malaise of many Indian states for years now.
The onus of this silent battle has been borne solely by the tribal communities of the region, and the wealth being fought for is their ancient culture. What drives this unlikely band of warriors is the fervent hope that they can draw attention back to their urgent socio-cultural concerns, woefully forgotten in the intense clashes in this Naxal-affected region.
Transpiring two hundred and forty kilometers from the state capital Raipur in Damkasa village near Durgkondal block in Kanker District, one such initiative is being led by a seventy-year old retired teacher, Shiv Singh Anchla, who has dedicated his post-retirement life to the conservation and promotion of the Gondi language and culture.
Blessed with abundant natural resources, the ethnically-rich state of Chhattisgarh is inhabited by a diverse group of tribal communities, with the Gond community, which Anchla belongs to, dominating in numbers. In the richly-forested hills of the Bastar region insouth Chhattisgarh, the Gonds have been significantly known for their culture and social mores.. In recent years, though, the vibrant colors of this rich civilization have been fading away, failing to catch the attention of the State from its other “important” pursuits.
The Gond community, like other adivasi communities, is woven into a symbiotic relationship with the environment. They worship Nature that, in turn, helps these indigenous communities sustain their socio-economic and cultural lives. Their care and concern for their natural heritage is well reflected in their customs wherein every single community is entrusted with protecting one of the rare trees and animals and no one is allowed to harm them at any cost.
If someone harms that animal or tree, he is bound to be punished by the community. This way, the balance between man and his environment is maintained. The advent of external factors has weakened the sanctity of such practices. Anchla understands that, to save their heritage, be it natural or cultural, tribal communities moving ahead towards development have to come together and protect their ancestral anchor.
“Adivasis have always been environment-friendly because they believe that the trees, stones and forests are their God. Alarmingly, in the last few years, trees are being cut ruthlessly, indicating that Adivasis are forgetting the importance of their life-giving forests,” shares a visibly worried Anchla, who is working hard on various levels to realize his dream.
To restore respect for Mother Nature, Anchla has established ‘Jango Raitaar Vidya Ketul’ after the name of a local deity Jango Raitaar, revered as the Goddess of language of the Gond tribe. Set in five acres of land donated by Anchla himself, this nature park is home to rare herbs, plants and trees which otherwise are likely to become extinct with few even recognizing the loss.
Anchla is also planning to establish an ‘International Divya Gyan Research Institute and Gyan Mani Shiksha Dweep Vilakshan Vidyalaya’ and sees it as a step forward towards preserving the environment. This institute will train people who share the common interest of exploring the history of local adivasi culture, their deities and their unique relationship with forests.
This visibly-determined old man sensed the looming threat during his teaching days and began to share with his students the intricacies of their natural as well as cultural heritage to ensure that the next generation takes responsibility for the cultural wealth they have inherited from their forefathers.
Anchla has never opposed the merits of a contemporary education. In fact, he believes that every form of education that develops or increases the knowledge of mankind should be promoted. He maintains that this should not, however be at the cost of sacrificing their own traditional culture.
Anchla created a generation of students that grew up to become the mirror of tribal society and culture. Besides academic knowledge, he imparted cultural and moral education to his students. Today, many of his students are in public service, an achievement that has given this tribal community much to be proud of. Anchla, whose only goal in life is to bring back vitality to the lost culture of his society, finds it difficult to imagine his state without the identity of Gond culture and language. To save the traditional Ghotul practices, spoken language and their festivals, he organized a Rath Yatra in November last year to make people aware of their culture and join hands for its preservation.
Leading a humble life and preferring a low profile, Anchla is also the religious head of the Gond tribe in the state of Chhattisgarh. Besides, he is a skilled medical practitioner (vaid) and successfully treats many ailments using natural herbs. In his Ashram, one could find various rare species of vegetation. Often, people prefer coming to him than the local State-run sub-healthcare center, drawn by their faith in natural therapy, significantly cheaper and more effective.
According to Shams Tamanna, Hindi Editor of Charkha Development Communication Network, “In this age, when his peers wish to spend a restful post retirement life, this wise man has chosen the road less travelled. His love and desire to work for the community is unmatchable. Instead of calling him an old man, I would rather call him a 70 year-young man.” Anchla, who is proactive in helping people recognize their goals, prefers to continue in his efforts, unfazed by the difficult conditions caused by the conflict between the Naxalites and the State. May his tribe grow! CortesyANI