-Somyajulu, Joint organising secretary, Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram
Formed in 1952 by the late Balasaheb Deshpande with inspiration from Shri Guruji, the second Sarsanghchalak of RSS, the Akhil Bharatiya Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram is today the largest voluntary organisation working for the uplift of seven crore Vanvasis of the country. It has service projects even in the remotest Vanvasi areas of the country. Begun as a boys´ hostel in Jashpur Nagar (Chhattisgarh) with the objective of bringing Vanvasis into the mainstream and also to make them self-reliant, Kalyan Ashram is working for education, health, economic development and promotion of rural sports in Vanvasi areas. A total of 1,204 full-timers with the help of local people run over 11,661 service projects at 9,000 places.
Beginning from Jashpur Nagar, it has now reached up to 43,000 Vanvasi villages of the country. Out of the total 467 Vanvasi communities living in 301 districts, the Kalyan Ashram is working among 431 communities in 260 Vanvasi districts. Unlike other organisations, it works with local support without changing the lifestyle and basic values of Vanvasis. ?We believe in promoting local leadership. We are not using them for our support, but we are there to support them. We are not changing their ways of worships but are helping them preserve them. This is the reason they have welcomed us and rejected the missionaries. They clearly say we are Vanvasis, let us live as Vanvasis. Don´t destroy our identity in the name of development,? said Shri Somyajulu, joint organising secretary of Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram.
Before joining the Kalyan Ashram six years back, Shri Somyajulu was Andhra Pradesh Prant Pracharak of RSS. He was recently in Delhi to oversee the arrangements for the concluding ceremony of Kalyan Ashram´s golden jubilee celebration being held all over the country in two phases. The concluding ceremony will be held from October 6 to 10 in the form of a workers´ meet. About 2,500 Kalyan Ashram workers and representatives of all Vanvasi communities will participate in the meet. Organiser representative Pramod Kumar spoke to him to know the Kalyan Ashram activities in this golden jubilee year and also to know about the preparations afoot the concluding ceremony. Excerpts.
What have been the activities for celebrating the golden jubilee year?
We had decided to celebrate the golden jubilee in two phases. The first phase (from December 2002 to December 2003) was devoted to strengthening and expanding the organisational network. During this year we have successfully registered our presence in 260 districts out of a total 301 Vanvasi districts and we constituted district committees there. In the remaining 50 districts we have registered our presence. Secondly, there are about 450 Vanvasi communities in the country. We have reached 400 communities and established contact with other remaining communities also.
In the second phase, which began in January 2004, we launched a mass contact drive in order to establish contact at the village and city-level in the Vanvasi areas. The prime objective in the second phase has been to develop and strengthen contacts, meet people, discuss their problems and apprise them of the Vanvasi culture, traditions and their heroes. We have distributed a specially prepared calendar to every family to raise their asmita. The calendar shows the picture of Bharat Mata with a garland of 20 great leaders of the country, including 16 Vanvasi heroes. Through the calendar we have explained the contribution of the Vanvasi heroes in the freedom movement and also the great works done by them for the country. Since there have been different eminent persons from different states among the Vanvasis, all the people do not know about them or their contribution. A Vanvasi living in Rajasthan generally does not know the contribution of Rani Gaidinilu of Nagaland. Similarly, a person living in Jharkhand does not know the contribution of Kellakal Chandra of Kerala.
We want to instil the feeling of glory among the Vanvasis by describing the great works done by the Vanvasi heroes. We also distributed pamphlets containing the works and activities of the Kalyan Ashram. We also provided several lockets of local gods whom they worship. In this contact drive we have so far been able to develop contact with over 12 lakh Vanvasi families. The response has been quite overwhelming. People have said that it is for the first time that they received information about their glorious past. Even those families that have converted to Islam or Christianity were moved on seeing the calendar.
The golden jubilee year celebration has connected Vanvasis and nagarvasis. The concluding ceremony will be organised in Delhi from October 6 to 10 in the form of the workers´ meet.
Vanvasis are against continuing the benefits of reservation and different government schemes to those who have embraced Christianity or Islam. In fact, such people are drawing double benefits-from those who convert them and also from the government under the reservation.
Do you remember any particular incident in this regard?
Yes, in Vidharbha, several Bhil families have embraced Islam. When our activists reached them with the picture of Shabari Mata, they happily accepted it saying that Shabari Mata was their ancestor and they would install the picture in their homes. Similarly, in Munda Vanvasi area where most people have become Christian, when given the calendar with the picture of Birsa Munda, they became quite happy and said that they would hang it in their homes. The calendar helps develop the feeling of oneness among Vanvasis just as we wanted.
What important activities have been organised at the local level?
We organised over 600 block-level Vanvasi sammelans. There were thousands of Vanvasis at one sammelan. Preservation of Vanvasi culture and discussion about their problems were the prime topics in those sammelans. We also organised three major sammelans in different parts of the country. The first sammelan was organised in Ranchi (Jharkhand) on February 1, this year in which over 1.25 lakh Vanvasis participated. The then Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, RSS Sarsanghchalak, K. S. Sudarshan and Pejawar Swami Vishveshtirthji Maharaj were among the prominent personalities who attended the sammelan, which left a lasting effect on the Vanvasis. The second sammelan was held in Dumka (Bihar) on February 20 in which Shankaracharya Swami Vasudevanand Saraswati, RSS Sarkaryavah, Mohan Bhagwat and Heraka Vanvasi leader from Nagaland, N.C. Zeliang, were present. The third sammelan was organised in Bhubaneswar. These sammelans successfully infused a sense of self-confidence into the Vanvasis.
What were the main activities in the north-eastern states?
Apart from the regular activities, we took up some special activities in the north-eastern states. Undoubtedly the seven sisters are facing many problems. In order to apprise the countrymen of the real situation of these states we organised tours of prominent people of the north-east to different cities of the country. A total of 12 groups visited different cities and highlighted the situation and problems of their areas. At the same time, these groups also highlighted the activities of the Kalyan Ashram among different Vanvasi communities of these states.
The golden jubilee year celebration has connected the Vanvasis and the nagarvasis. We have been able to develop a feeling that Vanvasis are part and parcel of our society. If a part of our body faces any problem, the whole body gets affected. The concluding ceremony of the golden jubilee will be organised in Delhi from October 6 to 10.
Would you like to elaborate on the preparations for the concluding ceremony?
The concluding ceremony will be organised at Seva Dham in Delhi in the form of a karyakarta sammelan. It will have representation of all the 450 Vanvasi communities of the country. Besides the three office-bearers, each from all the 260 districts in which we established contact during the special mass contact drive, the district organising secretary, Mahila Pramukh and other senior workers will also attend the meet. Leaders of various organisations, working among Vanvasis, have also been invited to take part in the meeting, enabling them to understand the Kalyan Ashram closely. There are also people who are well-wishers of Vanvasis; they have also been invited. By and large, both Vanvasis and nagarvasis will sit together to discuss the problems of Vanvasis. About 2,500 people are expected to attend the meet.
There will be discussions on various problems of Vanvasis including land reforms and whether the benefits of reservation should continue to those who have embraced Christianity or Islam. The Hindu Vanvasi is against continuing these benefits to those who have renounced Hinduism. In fact, such people are drawing double benefits-from those who convert them and also from the government under the reservation. The sammelan will be open to general public. Besides an exhibition on Vanvasi life, there will be special cultural programmes in the evening every day.
How do you evaluate the 50 years of Kalyan Ashram?
Formed in 1952 with a small project in Jashpur Nagar, we have covered 260 Vanvasi districts and 43,000 Vanvasi villages. We spend over Rs 12 crore every year on different projects and the money comes from the society. I feel Vanvasis have become aware of education. They want their children should be educated. There are over one lakh Vanvasi children who study in our schools. We also run 180 hostels where students from different parts of the country continue their higher education and develop good samskars. Christian missionaries are still converting the innocent Vanvasis by adopting different fraudulent means. But with our efforts, a large number of people have retuned to their original roots. The visits of senior saints to Vanvasi areas have strengthened social harmony among Vanvasis and they are able to face the onslaught of missionaries and other anti-national elements.
How many people have been brought back to the Hindu fold in the last 50 years?
In fact, the homecoming ceremonies are held by the local Vanvasi communities. The Kalyan Ashram helps develop the feeling of oneness. Wherever the Kalyan Ashram reaches, the people automatically return to their roots.
What are the major changes you see among the Vanvasis today?
Vanvasis are proud of their tradition and culture. National feeling, community participation in developmental activities, feeling of forest protection are the basic changes we see among them. Vanvasis are now serious about their children´s education and in having small families.