Traditional and tribal communities are custodians of a great deal of knowledge. Their healthy lifestyle, food habits and conservation methods is not only known to be insightful, but also inspirational.
The Bishnoi community from western Rajasthan is one such. Recognised for their collective mobilization of people, the community was the first to introduce the concept of hugging trees to protect them. In the 18th century, Amrita Devi along with her army of Bishnoi women gave up their lives to stop the felling of trees. This incident laid the foundation of the Chipko (which means - ‘to hug’ in Hindi) movement in Uttar Pradesh (later Uttarakhand) in 1973.
As a sect, Bishnoism has 29 tenets that its followers are expected to abide by. Living self-sufficiently and in harmony with nature (also called Jeev Raksha) is one of them.
With the coronavirus pandemic still looming large and migrant workers getting back to their hometowns, food security is being threatened. However, this is not the case along the periphery of the Thar desert.
The Bishnois have been relying on their own produce not just during the ongoing health crisis, but since time immemorial. The community members are known to cultivate wheat and harvest Sangri - a fruit from the khejri tree to meet most of their daily needs.
Sadram Vishnoi, the Zilla President at a village 70 kilometers from Jaisalmer, explains this further.
“We will give up our lives, but not let them cut the khejri trees. These trees sprout a fruit named sangri, which we usually cook along with other vegetables since it is rich in protein. Besides this, we cultivate green grams, sesame seeds, millets and cluster beans. Producing our own food - both for personal consumption and sale is an age old practice,” he says.
The Bishnoi community are often called the protector of wildlife and environment for the effort they put in towards the cause. In 1998, a bunch of committed members took the Bollywood actor Salman Khan to court for allegedly killing two blackbucks during the filming of a movie. After two decades of legal battle, they won the case.
“Jeev Raksha, which means ‘conservation of nature and all its components’ is an integral value system that we stick to and pass it on from generation to generation. We obtain foliage, firewood and other materials from trees, and provide nourishment to them in return. In addition to cattle, we welcome deers and other animals to graze on our land. Every life form is precious,”
Some resources to help you learn more about the Bishnoi community: