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Mammoth Vanvasi youth convention on indigenous faith

Mammoth Vanvasi youth convention on indigenous faith

Author: Jyoti Lal Chowdhury
Publication: Organiser
Date: October 29, 2006
URL: http://www.organiser.org/dynamic/modules.php?name=Content&pa=showpage&pid=154&page=12

Introduction: The story of Rama in north-east has developed in a way as to suit the imagination and cultural ethos of the people of north-east. There are significant translations of Ramayan in Khasi, Jaintia and Garo languages.

Vanvasi of north-east are subject to ever mounting atrocities by disruptive forces in order to subvert their culture and religion and to evict them from forest land. With a view to bringing about reawakening among the Vanvasis for preservation of their hoary tradition and adopting unified stand against the dark forces, a five-day mammoth meet of Vanvasi youths of north-east has been planned at Guwahati from December 24 to 28 under the banner of North-East India Janajati Faith and Culture Protection Forum.

Yadav Acharya, all-India publicity and campaign secretary of Akhil Bharatiya Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, told this scribe, "Massive campaign has been launched to represent each Vanvasi block and tribe of the region at the biggest ever convention". Vanvasis are facing exploitation in most cases due to their isolation and inaccessibility. "They have to be awakened to contain and resist the divisive elements", Acharya pointed out.

He recalled the glorious and chivalrous tradition of the Vanvasis of north-east and sacrifices of their leaders for the freedom of the country. The portrait-gallery of north-east tribals has the illustrious and heroic names of Bhim Singh Deuri, Tugan Sayno, U Tirth Singh, Rani Galdinlui, Sambhu Dhan Phanglusa, Jadunang, Ratan Mani, Talum Rukbe, Mizo Rani Pupuilianei and many more. It was at their insistence that the British Government introduced inner line permit in order to regulate the entry of outsiders and to protect the indigenous identity of the Vanvasis.

Despite proselytisation during and after British raj, Yadav Acharya pointed out, Vanvasis continue to preserve their indigenous faith and culture. In the last annual assembly at Shillong, 40, 000 Seng Khasis reiterated to protect their identity, he said. "One should not forget Ramayan tradition has vastly influenced the Vanvasis of north-east", he revealed. Heroism of Ram as well as his nobility of character are well embodied in the lives of Mizo chiefs like Vanapa and Taitesena. Pawii (Chin) Mizos were the heroes of Kurukshetra war as is evident from the verses of Mahabharata who fought under Bhagadatta, the Asura king.

"There is strong oral tradition about Ramakatha in north-east", Acharya asserted. Among the many Ramakathas, Chabin Alun, the Karbi version, and Khena Leh Ramate Unau Thawnthu, the Mizo version, prove the point. The story of Rama in north-east has developed in a way as to suit the imagination and cultural ethos of the people of north-east. There are significant translations of Ramayan in Khasi, Jaintia and Garo languages.

In the 16th century, one comes across characters like Narottam Atta, a Naga, Govinda Ata, a Garo, Balai Ata, a Mikir, and several others who spread the message of Ramayan in their respective hills. Quite interestingly, Arunachal was the homeland of Rukmini, Manipur is associated with the abode of Pandavas in distress and Nagaland is the place where Arjun's Ulipi was born. It is also Mahabharat tradition that has influenced the Vanvasis. Acharya said in Nagaland and in the North Cachar Hills of Asom, Zeliangrong Herakka Association inspired by the legendary Naga Gaidinlui is active to bring back the Vanvasis misled by the missionaries to their original root, besides protecting their indigenous identity.

Most importantly, the convention will be sieged of traditional rights of the Vanvasis on forest land. The clarion call will be for enactment of the Scheduled Tribes (Recognition of Forest Rights) Bill 2005. The Bill when in force would benefit the forest dwelling scheduled tribes. Besides recognising their natural rights over forest land, it would also remove from their psyche the threat of eviction or removal form the forest land.

Mass petitions will be sent to President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, urging him to modify the Presidential orders under Article 342(I) of the Constitution "to deschedule a Vanvasi as ST who has given up his indigenous faith and has embraced Christianity or Islam". For the indigenous Jaintias, Yadav Acharya said, the Supreme Court judgement delivered not long ago, negating the making of a Christian-convert as gaon bura or daloi (head of the village) has come as a great boost for them, in fact, for all the Vanvasis who are committed to their traditional faith and culture.

From all reckoning, the Vanvasi youth convention is going to be an important event, which will set new dimension and vision.

(The author can be contacted at jlchowdhury@yahoo.co.in)

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