Conserving tribal culture
Shiv Singh Anchla, a retired teacher and one of the most respected villagers of Damkasa Gram Panchayat, Block Durgkondal in Kanker District in Chhattisgarh has donated five acres of land to his community of fellow Gond tribals. Together, they nurture rare herbs, plants and trees on this land which otherwise are likely to become extinct with few even recognizing the loss.
Tribal communities, which constitute one third of the state's population, share a unique relationship with their natural as well as cultural heritage which unfortunately is dying a slow death .
Shiv Singh Anchla, who has witnessed the past, understands the present and wisely anticipates the future, has not only donated his land for the cause but also roams around the villages to spread awareness. He alerts the tribal communities to the looming threat and shares with them ideas to ensure that the next generation inherits the wealth they have inherited from their forefathers.
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. For example, in tribal culture, every 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 from that community kills that animal or tree, he is bound to be punished by the community. This way the natural balance is maintained.
It is not only Shiv Singh Anchla's efforts but their symbiotic relationship with their heritage that has motivated them to conserve and sustain their legacy. Testimony to their success is the dense forest cover of the region spread over a vast expanse and enriched with immense mineral wealth. Being inhabited by the tribals is the sole reason why, despite close proximity to the main road, the forests stand unharmed. And in return, the forests help these indigenous communities sustain their socio-economic and cultural lives.
Since time immemorial, tribal communities have spent their lives in relative isolation under these thick canopies with harmony, protection and belief , developing a mutual association.
The deep rooted tribal traditions and sentiments are fulfilled by the revered forests environment. Jungles help them lead a simple life. Most of their requirements like wood for building purposes, resins, gums, dyes, firewood, herbal medicines, fodder for cattle, mahua flowers, sal seeds, sal and Tendu leaves, edible roots, tubers, bamboo and wild fruits are met by the forests. For the rest, the Gond tribe, settled agriculturists now, depend on farming.
Besides their prime cultivation of paddy, they grow corn, tilhan, madiya, among other crops. Since they ventured late into agriculture, Gonds lack knowledge of irrigation and other productive techniques.
"At present, every member of the tribal community is allowed to cut as much wood for commercial purpose as one can carry easily on his or her shoulder in one go. This wood, along with other things from the extra stock, is sold at the weekly haat (market) organized in the nearby villages," said Asha Shukla, a veteran journalist. At these haats, one can still witness the existence of the old barter system where villagers barter rice for spices and other essentials.
If someone tries to violate the laws and harm the forests, especially in view of the threat from wood mafias, the Forest Committees constituted by villagers themselves brings these instances to the notice of Forests Officials. They now have the support of the forest department, which in yesteryears was not the case.
The advent of development measures in these interior villages has started taking the tribal communities in a positive direction. Tribal communities are now well aware of Panchayat systems and avail benefits from the state schemes. Anganbadi Kendras, Primary and Medium Schools, are providing education to the young tribal children leading them on the path of progress.
Communication facilities have also reached these difficult to reach areas and today, one can find tribals using mobile phones. The birth rate has also improved and smaller families are now well accepted in the region.
"Chhota Parivar, Sukhi Parivar - We have started realizing the benefits of having two or three children," said Sahdev Gaud, one of the villagers. Issues like health, transport and safe drinking water have not been sorted out as yet but people have faith that they will soon be, feels the Charkha Development Communication Network.
"Today Industrialization and Urbanization has spread its roots. In such a scenario, protecting our natural wealth like forests, minerals, fresh air, water and land becomes critical. Along with society and culture, it is imperative that we save our environment. Tribal culture teaches us to be disciplined as that is the only way to lead a life that is in harmony with our nature," said Shiv Singh Anchla.