Wednesday, July 25, 2012


THE BISHNOI CONTINUE THEIR STRUGGLE - For centuries, the Bishnoi have sworn by the preservation of plants and animals. Some have even lost their lives to defend this cause. The “eco-religion” was founded in the 15th century, when a farmer, who is now known as Guru Jambheshwar, retreated after a long drought and formulated 29 tenets according to which the farmers of the Thar Desert region should live their lives. The word bis means 20, whereas noi means nine. The tenets revolve around personal hygiene, basic health, social behavior, the worship of God, biodiversity and good animal husbandry. They include a ban on the felling of green trees.   “To lose one's head is better than to lose a tree,” according to a Bishnoi proverb. 
“The Bishnoi are a caste within the Hindu caste system,” explains Dr Pankaj Jain from the University of Texas. “They are strict vegetarians and do not kill living beings. Nature is holy to them.” However, the lives of the half million or so Bishnois who live in India's western state of Rajasthan are currently under threat due to the fact that the textile industry is polluting India's rivers.

The hundreds of small and medium-sized textile companies in the city of Jodhpur have polluted the Loni River, which is essential for keeping the sacred forest of Khejarli green and allowing the wild animals that are central to the Bishnois' beliefs to graze. “Nothing grows here anymore,” complains Balaram Bishnoi, a farmer from the village of Doli. “The land is dead. I had vegetables, crops and sesame - all kinds of things. Now not even grass grows anymore. The land has dried out completely.” He and several other farmers have filed a suit against the region's textile industry and are currently awaiting a verdict. 
Two centuries ago, at least 364 Bishnois died trying to protect the trees of Khrejarli.  Shivdas Shastri, the village priest, relates the story: “Some 200 years ago, the king ordered the forest to be cleared to build a palace. When the king's men came to fell the trees, the Bishnoi from the surrounding villages protested. 'We will die, but we won't allow the trees to be felled,' they shouted.” 
The villagers live in very close proximity with animals such as deer, antelopes or even peacocks. If hunters kill a fawn's mother, it is nursed by Bishnoi women.

For over half a millennium, the Bishnois have evolved their life-style into a religion that fiercely protects the environment, but today, the textile industry in Rajasthan is menacing their future. They are also in conflict with poachers whose activity is threatening the region's endangered species. However, it is modernization that is most difficult to combat. "It is difficult to stay true to our ideals," says the community's leader Faglu Ramji. "If we see how fast the world develops, we often feel as if we are losers," he says. The examples of ecological activism set by this communities are more effective than many governmental initiatives.

The spiritual, ethical, individual and collective dimensions of human life constitute a continuum, encompassing the whole of the Indic heritage and transcending all segments and fragments. The Vedic, Upanishadic, Jain and Buddhist traditions perceived this and together built an enduring spiritual, intellectual and cultural foundation for an environment-friendly value system and a balanced lifestyle. ... The Sikh, Vaishnava and Bishnoi traditions and numerous other Bhakti denominations in mediaeval India - which give spiritual joy, comfort and guidance to millions of people in India and abroad - are fine examples. The Indic environmental ethos declares that all aspects and phenomena of nature belong together and are bound in a physical as well as metaphysical relationship, and views life as a gift of togetherness and of mutual accommodation and assistance in a universe teeming with interdependent constituent.

RH. E. Dr Laxmi Mall Singhvi :
Former President of the World Congress on Human Rights
“The East is green” - August 1996.

Published by dasavatara das - "Vedic Views on World News"

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