The Mutuality Of Life
By Goldy M George
10 March, 2005
Chhattisgarh a large number of communities and people have been living
by sustaining the mutuality of life. Chhattisgarh is the name given
to the collection of south-eastern districts of the erstwhile Madhya
Pradesh. Scholars have different opinions about its nomenclature. It
is believed that it is the land of thirty-six castles, once situated
on the bank of river Shivnath by which it is named as Chhattisgarh.
However an historical
analysis of this region will bring out the aspects like sustainability
and mutuality from the very life and style of the people's intimacy
with their surrounding environment and eco-system. Proper understanding
and study of the people's history is essential to know the basics of
creativity of life and to take inspiration and impulses for future action.
Some of the basic aspects that I would like to mention here from my
experience and understanding are noted below in brief.
1. The balance
between nature and culture
Probably the original
inhabitants of this region are Gond, Kumhar, and Halba towards the south
of Bastar and Oraon and other Adivasi communities in the north-eastern
parts of this region. In the plains of Khalsha, i.e. some portions of
Raipur, Drug, Bilaspur, Rajnandgoan, Mahasamund, Dhamtari & Kawardha,
it was mostly different Dalit communities, out of them a major section
turned out to be the follower of Guru Ghasidas who preached the Satnami
religion an alternative to the Brahministic religion or Hinduism.
That is why there is a sizeable proportion of Satnamis. They constitute
more than 80% of the total Dalit population.
The life of a community
is sustained through nature and cultural modifications, which are done
by human beings on the basis of mutual dependency. Nature sustains human
beings and human beings sustain nature. The mutuality is so intense
that it is impossible for one to live/exist without the other. The balance
based on the mutuality between nature and culture has been continuing
since pre-historic period, particularly among the Adivasis in the region.
Reflection of this
sustainable life practice could be observed from the very aspect of
their faith and worship of forest. An elder man from a village once
told me, "Forest is our mother. Our forefathers lived on it. It
takes care of us. We worship her, give offerings, and pledge to protect
her from all external invasions. It is also our livelihood. However
the so-called drama of forest department disrupts our life style, our
co-existence with forest. Community life will wither away and the land
of our ancestors will become alien to us."
The faith that the
forest and people are mutually responsible for the well being of each
other itself implies to the fact of the balance between nature and culture.
the people of this region had an accommodative history where they allowed
various cultures to enter here and thrive. Population of many ethnic
groups have entered here from different directions within the country,
during the last 2000 years, having brought with them their own religions
faith and culture to in and provide space has undoubtedly done a lot
of damage to the communities of this hinterland, but on the contrary
this also represents their openness towards others and their concern
for humanity and human beings. Further it is also a part of their mutuality
and sustainability that these reserves are not only for them, rather
all human being have a right on it.
It is here the Sangam
of Adivasi, Dalit and other cultures. For example Dalits living in a
Adivasi village has their freedom to celebrate their customs, faith
and festivals. Both of them join each other in such celebration, although
there was not much of social interaction. Perhaps, one reason of evolution
of common festivals like Karma is due to this Sangam only.
based economic system
Till recent times
the economic system among the people was more a community-based one,
rather than private property, according to which land, forest and water
are community resources and every member in the community has a right
to use it based on this need. Hence a need-based assessment of utilisation
existed rather than a greed-based assimilative economy. Briefly speaking
the whole community is based on a sharing, caring and co-operation instead
of competition, consumption and market.
For example the
forests, which have immense resource potential, people consume what
they require for their living but also preserve it for others. There
is no concept of surplus and accumulation among them. No storage system.
Even today among most of the people surplus and accumulation of wealth
are not widely recognised and appreciated ideology among the majority
policy based on consensus
This has been one
of the oldest regions in the country where a federal system of administration
has been in existence for long. Every village had its own village mukhiyas
(leaders), most of the Adivasi villages were almost independent republics,
although there were kings and castle kings and princely states. Hence
a federal system of governance existed in this region of the country
until the arrival of the British. In some parts it started changing
with the interaction with the Marathas, otherwise it was utmost affected
by the British empire.
One could easily
observe various things suggesting the space of ordinary people including
women in each community. For example the Dalit women in Chhattisgarh
have more space than the upper caste women even today. This is not a
spontaneously sprouted phenomena. It has a longish history of people
living in small groups and community in Chhattisgarh. Resembling to
this is the case of the Adivasi women, who enjoy more freedom than the
mainstream communities. They used to control the economy. Even important
decisions like marriage in the family were never taken without the consent
of women. This is very crucial when looking at the human-human relationship
from a sustainable culture of life and practice.
5. History of
resistance against oppression
got a lot to speak on resistance to oppression in the past. One of the
tremendous movements of the nineteenth century was the Guru Ghasidas
movement. It was absolutely a movement against the upper caste oppression.
He championed the cause of the Dalits and gave an open call for to quit
the Brahminical Hindu religion and join the casteless movement. This
procured immense support from the people.
In this process
the then British government observed this very militant character of
resistance and revolt of the Satnami community for which they gained
the grade of a criminal community. In other words the British were also
frightened with the sort of militancy of the Dalits.
other movements led by Adivasis of Chhattisgarh against external domination
of invaders are there. One has to acknowledge the indispensability of
such movements to sustain the very life and existence of a community.
The Present Situation
Now coming to the
present situation, things have changed a lot from the earlier days.
The political segments in India, by and large, strive and thrive to
cater the global and national capitalist market. Targeting the resources
is one major strategy of this and this itself is a direct assault over
the benevolent communes. Also this is coupled with Hinduisation of faith,
culture, beliefs, customs, culture, art forms, etc. Altogether it consummates
them to problems like large scale of displacement and migration, heavy
loss of land and resources, robs them of their rich tradition and culture
and lead to the irreversible and perpetual loss of natural livelihood
aforesaid instincts are still there deep in the abyss of their life
and culture. One has to search and find it for better understand and
analysis. Given a chance with proper space and perspective these communities
could retrieve their earlier stature of nature-friendly, however that
is not possible in the present context. I would like to place a few
examples of the instincts of sustainability and sustainable livelihood
practices in recent past/history.
In Bastar for more
than 30 years the people of 40 villages have been protecting the forests
without the support of the forest department officials. There have been
numerous attempts from the forest officials and other revenue departments
to fell the trees from the forests, but they have not moved back. This
is a crucial example even today.
Another is the example
of people who wound themselves on the trees when the forests were planned
to be reduced to a monoculture pine plantation in Bastar. This was a
project being funded by the World Bank. Mitkibai, an old Adivasi woman
was the one who initiated it. People here started getting organised
and eventually it grew into a big movement and the World Bank's pine
plantation project was scrapped.
People in Jashpur
and Surguja are mostly engaged in organic cultivation. They have been
doing it without any NGO guidance. It is a natural phenomenon. It evolved
among them only due to their close involvement and emotional attachment
with the environment. Even today the shifting cultivation is practised
among the Baiga and Korva primitive tribes. This is very crucial when
they leave the land for a few years, after cultivating it for 3-4 years,
for regeneration of the quality of soil. This prevents the soil and
preserves the water and further exemplifies the amicability towards
On the other hand
people in this hinterland are fighting against the forces of casteism,
globalisation and fascism. These are rays of sustainable practises and
development in Chhattisgarh. Hence sustainability doesn't only connote
an eco-friendly way of life but also it is the impulses of a community
in fighting against oppression and injustice.
# This paper was presented by Goldy M. George during the Asian Conference
of FIMARC.Goldy M. George is a Dalit-Adivasi activist working as the
Convenor of Dalit Study Circle. He has to his credit many articles,
papers and writings. Also he is the General Coordinator of Dalit Mukti
Morcha. He could be contacted by mail on [email protected]