Naman Bansal

Naman Bansal

Research Associate | VIF

We visited Jhabua, a district where Bhil tribes (Vanvasis and not Adivasis) have been residing for centuries. This community is self-inspired and have affected me in ways more than one. In Jhabua, I spent a few of my days (as part of a yearly VIF rural immersion programme) living the life of the Bhil tribal community listening to the stories that the various members of the community had to share. From Valmiki, the author of Ramayana, and Shabri, a Bhil who offered ‘Jhoothe Baer’ to Bhagwan Ram, the Bhils now take immense pride in their own history. They worship both Lord Ram and Shiv but you’ll listen them address you with ‘Ram Ram’ when you first meet them.

Another fascinating thing about the Bhils is the practice of reverse dowry where a boy’s family gives dowry to the girl’s family. Interesting, isn’t it? Jhabua is also the place of Kadak Naath, an all black- coloured chicken whose meat is very soft and is known for the high nutritional content. It is sold at around 1200 Rs per kg in the cities. Also, I had the fortunate bliss of eating freshly cooked Makke Di Roti and Udad Daal during my entire stay in the houses of various Bhils we visited.

I also met various people during my stay and witnessed how Dharma can unite people to save the environment. In the mainstream media, you will listen as to how religion is used to divide people but Jhabua is one of the places where you see a clear distinction between an organised religion and the practice of the real meaning of ‘Dharma’. Meeting and discussing with Mahesh Sharma Ji, the man behind the movement of ‘Halma’ was a wonderful moment, something that I will cherish for a very long time to come. Before coming to Jhabua, I personally have been trying to understand how to involve people with my work of education back in Mathura-Vrindavan. His suggestion of identifying people who have ‘Parmarth’ within them struck me the most. On asking how can one identify those people who exhibit ‘Parmarth’, he gave a very simple solution, ‘Go around the village and collect the names of those people who always come forward to help people in their times of need. Those are the people who really want well for the people.’ After this discussion, I remember I had become calmer and had something with me to implement back at work immediately. I also realised that involving the right people with good work is not going to be a one-day task. It is going to take months and maybe, years. But that is what we must do if we are thinking of bringing sustainable, long-term changes in the society and its people.

It is in Jhabua only that I met Maan Singh Ji, a first generation social entrepreneur, who even after belonging to a ‘tribal’ community runs a successful business today of repairing irrigation motors. Meeting him was the highest point of my Yatra because in him, I saw myself.

Deprived of means to ‘succeed’ in the modern sense of the term, he chalked out his own path by failing innumerable times. As a child, his family owned an irrigation motor unlike other families in his neighbourhood. And just because of this one little difference, he went ahead and started to learn how to operate the motor and then went against his family’s will to learn the skill of repairing motors under the guidance of different masters. After his hunger to learn was satisfied and he became highly skilled in his job, he decided to take the plunge into social entrepreneurship.

Coming from a community which for centuries have faced alienation from modern ‘development’, he is an inspiration for many like him. Maan Singh ji is 45 years young today and the spark that you see in his eyes is what I would like to have when I turn his age. We won’t see this glitter in many people’s eyes even in their early 20s today. It’s because somehow, somewhere, people have undiscovered themselves. Maan Singh ji has discovered himself and meeting him gave me the conviction that I surely will find myself on the path that I have chosen for myself, and with the same glitter in my eyes.