The 26 km drive from the main city was comfortable. We passed through the bucolic plains of Jodhpur town. We could see the large empty plain fields. On our way we also managed to pass by the same controversial place where the star cast of Hum sath sath hai allegedly hunted the black buck but wait we'll get back to it later.
We arrived at a home of local Bishnoi who greeted us with a reverential Namaste. We sat down and begin to ask them questions about their livelihood and what kind of government schemes they avail, the distance of school, hospitals from one village to another. They were warm and welcoming in answering every question. So we begin to document the actual story we went there to visit. It was gripping tale that had influenced the different cultures and movements from across the world.
It is an interesting story of locals' restraint against the royal orders of the Raja. The story goes like this
The Raja of Marwar Abhay Singh wanted to create a new set of furniture and the best quality of wood that fit the suite was found in the local village of khejrali. The king's convoy of craftsmen and officers were sent to collect the wood but it met a strong revolt from the villagers who worshipped tree as living entities. They raised the voice against the encroachment by public officials. They sent back the serving officials with a strong statement of resentment. This angered the raja and he subjected the people to worst crime by ordering to kill the dissidents on site.
The protest was led by Amrita Devi Bishnoi,The killings were carried out mercilessly, hundereds of people died on the site of protest and continued to defend the trees. Soon the news of killings spread to other villages, bishonis turned up in large numebrs to sacrifice their lives to save trees. The killings were finally stopped as the death toll reached 363. There is cenotaph that lays erected in memory of the people died their while fighting for the environment. This movement gave birth to the much popularised Chipko movement that attracted Gandhians. There is also a temple that is being constructed that commemorates the sacrifice and the strong will of Bishonis.
The Bishonis are the descendants of a Sampradaya that worshipped Vishu. There sense of ecology partakes into every sense of their life. They treat animals with same dignity as it is offered to a human. The widely celebrated photograph of a Bishnoi women breastfeeding a newborn dear also attracted international attention. This is the deeply cultural fabric of India that still continues to live to this day and age of modernity where choice of lifestyles take a precedent over rights and wrongs.
Bishnois are dressed in all white. They wear real gold ornaments. Practise age-old agricultural methods and live with basic amenities. There's a tradition to offer opium to the welcoming guests. Likely so, we obliged and ingested a small bit to taste the opium as mark of goodwill. We saw the living rooms and the kitchen where the women prepared rotis with smeared dough of bajra. After having a hearty meal, we talked to the men and women, clicked pictures and browsed the barn to see the domestic animals. There's little differences in details, how the tribes of Rajasthan eat, dress, dance and celebrate life but it's how deeply these little details are tended to enrich the society with the nobility of Rajasthan.
Bishnois in Present.
Bishnois today are highlighted in media for fighting a case against a film star for killing a black buck in the village where Bishnois live. This legal tussle is still going on but it really makes us question how the cherished values of Bhisnois are seen today in the present world. Where the age old tradition comes in combat with the fast changing life.
On one side there's a fleet of powerful people line up to defend a film star. They can afford to do it because they can always afford to feature in PETA magazines for their hefty contributions to media channels and Social outlets. What is more striking is that the same actor then goes on his TV show and ridicules the idea of being in trouble because of an animal. This is the power they weild over the people when they can run over their imagination with the stardom they possess.
When we compare both stories of the past and present. The conflict seems even more perplexing. It was at a time of monarchy when Bishnois stood up and revolted against the system. On the other hand, Bollywood actors Salman Khan is living in a democracy where he has to live under a law. The real question is when Bishnois didn't retreat against absolute power of monarchy, would they be willing to let a bollywood actor go scott free? Well, tt remains to be seen in a test of tradition against the time.