Meet the Bishnois – India’s 1st Tree Protectors


The Story
The blue painted houses, the warm weather throughout the year, rich history, hospitality, the regal fort, the four gates, cows happily sitting on the road, and the traffic passing by, with ease. .. that’s Jodhpur for you.. my city, a place where humans and animals happily coexists. Situated at the brink of the Thar Desert in western Rajasthan, Jodhpur was founded in 1459 by Rao Jodha and is a well known tourist destination in Rajasthan. It is also a place of old and firm indigenous ecological thoughts.
Sustainability, the term of today.. we know it, use it and have talking about it a lot recently, but people here have been practicing it since ages. Be it the first “Chipko” (literally translating to hugging close) movement. Or the “Auran” lands or the bird sanctuary at Kheechan.; people here have been active in terms maintaining the ecological balance.
The first “Chipko Movement”
Khejarli/Khejadli is a small village in Jodhpur district, derives its name from the tree Khejari (Prosopis cineraria) which were abundance in the village. In 1730 A.D. 363 people of the “Bishnoi” community laid their lives while protecting these Khejri trees, which were considered sacred, by hugging them. This entire movement was led by Amrita Devi, who gladly sacrificed herself for the protection of the Khejari trees and fuelled the first ever tree hugging movement in recorded history. The Khejari Memorial and shrine bear the testament of those 363 women, men and children who protected the trees from being cut at the orders of the ruler of Jodhpur.
It has been well over 200 years but the people still have the same faiths and ideologies. The ideology of environment protection has been drummed into these people since childhood and it has passed the tests of time and modernization.
The Bishnoi (“Bish” means ‘20’ and “noi” – ‘9’) community totally abide by the 29 tenets of their spiritual leader Guru Jambeshwar. The community since then has been promulgating eco friendly principles and the need of sustainable development.
Gudda Bishnoi, a small village near Jodhpur, is a place where wildlife thrives in peace, all credit to the nature loving people who protect the animals inhabiting the area. It is the best place to spot Black buck, deers and various types of antelopes like the Chinkara. These animals are protected and taken care of, by the local people in their natural habitat. The Bishnois gained nationwide attention when they sued Bollywood superstar Salman Khan for killing a Black Buck, a species they consider sacred.
These people have shown that environmental protection and sustainability do not need elaborate ideas; you just need to be devoted. And in the words of Amrita Devi, the first person to resist and sacrifice her life-“sar santey rookh rahe to bhi sasto jaan” which means, ‘it is worth it, if trees are saved at the cost of one life.’ Today the insidious factors threaten to demolish the peace and security the flora and fauna have enjoyed. Encroachment of the land on the account of development of factories and expansion of cities is resulting in shrieking of natural habitats of these innocent creatures.
It seems as if modernization is taking a toll of human within us. The younger generation needs to learn these traditions so as to know about sustainability in its simplest forms.
Their movement is coming back strong today.  And it is more urgent than ever. Their approach and the images they produce are very powerful – hopefully, more people will follow their example in their efforts for protecting forests, fauna and rivers.
Auran Lands – Philanthropic systems of pasture management: sanctions for sustainability
Most villages here have a tradition, where in common lands with grasses and trees are protected through religious sanctions. These lands are called “auran”, that is land left for gods and goddesses. According to this system, land is donated by people in the memory of their deceased relatives, and they are offering to the gods and goddesses and are left untouched. Any person caught cutting trees on that tract of “auran” is punished accordingly by the village panchayat (a local level of self governance in villages).
The story of one of the sanctions goes like this: Once a person was caught cutting tress on auran land, the village panchayat sat to decide the punishment. After long discussions and a review of various decisions taken in the past, it was decided that the culprit would feed almost 40 kilograms of grain to the birds while standing barefoot in the sun. How does one interpret such a sanction? What would such a penalty do? How would this sort of punishment work?
The answer is simple. Villagers say that such instances provide an opportunity for us to show our empathy with non-human sentient beings like birds. Trees are not just single entities of life… rather they are small spheres of biodiversity, homes to a large number of creatures ranging from insects to birds. And these cases prove to be perfect examples of how important maintenance of ecological balance is, for the local people. It proves the fact that indigenous practices and ideas can prove to be more useful in fulfilling the purpose of sustainable development, the kind of development we want to achieve. No matter how weird theses punishments may sound, the bottom line is that, they so serve the purpose.
It is difficult to improvise such sanctions through modern jurisprudence, and yet we need such strong, metaphorical ways of influencing collective behaviour for conservation of common property resources.
Khichan – the home of the migratory demoiselle cranes
Khichan is a small village situated 140 Kms from Jodhpur. At the first sight, it looks like any other local village in the district but what’s unusual is that, it shelters almost 9,000 migratory demoiselle cranes during their winter stay here. It is a natural sanctuary for the Demoiselle cranes known as “Kurja” in the local language.
Khichan, has established a tradition of feeding wild birds, including Demoiselle Cranes that arrive, year after year during their migration from home lands in Eurasia and Mongolia. What started as a small feeding ground for 20-30 cranes initially, has transformed into an annual spectacle.. “a village thing” with almost 7,000 plus cranes arriving here, adding numbers each year.
The credit of this entire management of bird feeding goes to the local villagers. One such bird lover was Ratanlal Maloo, and he had spearheaded the conservation of thousands of demoiselle cranes that come to the village, and for these tireless efforts that spanned for over 40 years, he was conferred the Salim Ali Nature Conservation Award in the year 2009 by BNHS.
To explain the scale and the enormity of this simple loking act of feeding, lets take a look at the quantity of grains that’s required to feed these birds. It started off initially as a few kilograms of grains in a year and has now become an astromical amount of more than a hundred thousand kilograms annually. Almost 5,000 kilograms (11,000 lb) of bird seed are consumed every day by the feeding birds. In peak season today, an average of around 12,000 demoiselle cranes and can stay from August toMarch , the following year.
At the rate of Rs 40-60 per kg of grains as bird feed, a huge amount of money is required for this local sanctuary to function smoothly and the most amazing fact is, it’s all managed locally, with donations from people all over. They generously donate for these “Kurjas.”
The village, which has become popular among bird watchers, achieved international recognition when it was featured in Birding World magazine in an article titled, “Khichan – the Demoiselle Crane village.”
So… this is it. The story of a region which although not rich monetarily shows how simple acts of generosity and willingness can transform into ecological preservation.

Written by admin

March 6, 2022

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