A selfless service for Birhor tribe

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 06 Jul 2018 12:36:44



By Abhinav Mishra

HAVING a passion for Tribal welfare, Jageshwar Ram Yadav of Jashpur District epitomizes dedication and sacrifice, as he spent his whole life working selflessly and indefatigably for the holistic development of Birhor tribe, which is one of the ‘Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups’ (PVTG) in the country. Chhattisgarh Government duly recognised the magnanimity of Jageshwar Yadav towards Birhors by bestowing upon him the highest award of State Government in the field of Tribal development called ‘Shaheed Veer Narayan Singh Award’.Mahatma Gandhi strived for the emancipation of under-privileged community.

In consonance with the spirit exhibited by ‘Father of Nation’, Jageshwar Ram also toiled hard for including Birhor Tribe into the mainstream of society. This unsung hero is 63-years-old, belonging to ‘Mahkul’ caste, and hails from tiny village Bhitghara in Bagicha Block of Maoist-hit Jashpur District. He was so attached with Birhors that during his childhood, he spent most of the time with the tribe who resided at the vicinity of his village and always enquired from his parents about the plight of the tribe. His parents never appreciated his affinity with the tribe. Not only his parents, but also his fellow caste people did not entertain his affection for the tribe. Resultantly, he was threatened by his community for social boycott, which made the situation worse and he was in dilemma.

But he was not dissuaded by the warning of social boycott and as he completed his class 10th examination, he decided to dedicate his entire life for ameliorating the lives of Birhor and quit his further studies. When he was around 25-years-old, he renounced his home without informing anybody, and moved deep into the jungle to interact with other Birhor people.Recollecting his initial experiences, he said, “At the beginning, it was not easy for me to mingle with other Birhors who did not know me, as they were apprehensive about me. They thought that I have come to hypnotize them for human-sacrifice. Slowly but surely, they started confiding in me. Since I was well versed in their language ‘Birhoduk’ and acquainted with their culture, they started reposing faith in me”. Elaborating his journey of meeting with all the Birhors who were residing across the jungles of Chhattisgarh, he said, “Birhor population was not confined to Jashpur district only, but they resided across the jungles of Korba, Bilaspur and Raigarh districts also.

It was not a cakewalk to meet all of them, as sometimes I had to travel about 50 kms per day on foot to meet them. I used to stay in their huts for months at a stretch. As most of the Birhor male went out for hunting during daytime, I had to wait till evening and sometimes night for conversing with them. I used to enquire them about the whereabouts of their other relatives and friends, and getting their location, I travelled tirelessly jungle to jungle. Those days, the jungles of the region were infested with many dangerous wild animals like tigers, leopards, bears, elephants, venomous cobras etc., but this did not deter me to quit my journey. I met each and every Birhor of Chhattisgarh, which was a hard nut to crack!!”

Throwing light on the socio-economic lives of Birhor in those days, Jageshwar Ram said, “Birhors were traditionally nomadic and thus landless. Their primitive subsistence economy was primarily based on nomadic gathering and hunting, particularly monkeys. They were fond of monkey’s meat, and sold its skin, which was used in making musical instruments like ‘dholak’. They also made a special kind of rope out of the fibers of a particular species of vine, which they sell in the nearby markets. Their infant and maternal mortality rate, health, education and overall living standard were absolutely pathetic. They were highly superstitious and were mostly in inebriated state. And on top of that, their population was not officially included in any survey, which meant that outside world was unaware about their existence”.

He proudly elucidated his efforts that significantly contributed in making Birhors an entity to be reckoned with in society. He said that he wrote a letter to the then Prime Minister of India Rajiv Gandhi, met Members of Parliament and Members of Legislative Assembly including Pushpa Devi, Dilip Singh Judeo, Nand Kumar Sai and Vishnu Dev Sai and several bureaucrats of various departments, urging them for taking effective steps for the overall development of Birhors.Moreover, he embarked upon various campaigns amongst Birhors like (inter alias) de-addiction, vaccination, mass marriage, sanitation and plantation. He made several appeals to State Government for providing Birhors with‘Van Adhikar Patta’, oxen (Bail-jodi), essential agricultural equipment and other infrastructural facilities.

He drew attention of the Government towards their poor health and education. He also proposed that any Birhor who has passed class 8th should be straightway given a Government job so that he can become a role model for his juniors.In the course of time, his efforts paid rich dividends. Government of India gave Birhors the special status of ‘Primitive Tribe Group’ (PTG) or ‘Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group’ (PVTG), also called as ‘adopted children’ of President of India. Subsequently, this tribe was added in State Government’s ‘Pahadi Korva Development Agency, giving it a new nomenclature as ‘Pahadi Korva and Birhor Development Agency’, which enabled this tribe to avail the benefits of various welfare schemes of the Government.

 Furthermore, socio-economic surveys especially for Birhor were conducted in the State. Many schools called ‘Ashram Vidyalay’ earmarked for Birhor children were opened. At districts Korba and Bilaspur, this tribe was considered as ‘Manjhi’ tribe, not Birhor. With the efforts of Jageshwar Yadav, they are presently regarded as ‘Birhor’ at those districts.Hats off to the outstanding endeavours of this benevolent man, which has paved the way for Birhors to attain self-sufficiency, as most of them are presently involved in cultivation, thus ceasing to be nomadic and landless, and their health, education and standard of living has improved significantly. Moreover, majority of them have also shunned their age-old practice of eating monkey’s meat.

Dr Mithilesh Kumar Mishra, who was recently entrusted with the task of conducting a socio-economic survey of Birhors by Tribal Research Institute (TRI) Government of Chhattisgarh said, “During the survey, I found out that Jageshwar Yadav is considered as mentor, friend, philosopher and guide of the Birhor community. His contributions for the welfare of this tribe are immense”.