By Pramod Kumar
When thirty-five Vanvasi families of Dhagewari village in Akola district of Maharashtra requested their Block Development Officer (BDO) to delete their names from the below-poverty-line (BPL) list saying that their economic condition had improved, he could not believe it. At times when people use even some unfair means to get their name added in the list; it was for the first time in his service period that some villagers came to him and requested for deletion of their name, from BPL list. The credit for the improved status of the villagers goes to Shri Bhaskar Pardi, a Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram activist who started several projects in his village in 1992 and brought out a sea-change in the mental attitude of villagers. Bhaskar Pardi received his education from a Kalyan Ashram hostel.
This is just one example of the kind of change Kalyan Ashram has silently been bringing about among eight crore Vanvasis of the country.
Today, Kalyan Ashram is running a number of projects to show them as models. Another Kalyan Ashram activist, Dr Dattardar of Pune successfully improved the yield of rice by introducing several modifications in the traditional method of agriculture. In Banswara, Dungarpur and Udaipur districts of Rajasthan the Kalyan Ashram took up a project for deepening wells and succeeded in doing so in over 1,500 wells. Out of the amount of funds the state government sanctioned for this project, the Kalyan Ashram completed the work in just 80 per cent of the total amount. ?Any honest and sincere effort leads to success and attracts people'sattention and they come forward to cooperate,? said Shri Gunvant Singh Kothari, organising secretary of Kalyan Ashram.
The Kalyan Ashram'sexperi-ment of single-teacher school (Ekal Vidyalaya) has also proved a boon for those Vanvasi villages where no government agency could reach even after 57 years of Ind-ependence. Today Kalyan Ashram runs over 2,260 educatio-nal projects.
Unprecedented Recovery Rate in TB Control
The unprecedented recovery rate in tuberculosis achieved by Kalyan Ashram in Rajasthan has attracted the attention of World Health Organisation (WHO). Normally, the recovery rate of TB in Vanvasi areas is just 5 to 8 per cent and in urban areas it is about 40 per cent. The highest rate the WHO could achieve is 85 per cent. But the Kalyan Ashram workers achieved 92 per cent recovery rate and that too in remote Vanvasi areas. The programme had begun in 1992 in Jhhadol tehsil of Udaipur district and spread to about 250 villages.
?Unlike other medical institutions, we started TB treatment after the patients completely stopped smoking and drinking alcohol. We called the patients every week at a certain place and gave him a course of one-week medicines. We also provided him at least 500 calories of nutrition and remained in touch with him continuously for at least nine months. Some-times if any patient did not turn up on the expected day, our workers would visit his village, walking over 35 kms to give him medicines.
SAI Selected 125 Sportspersons
Sports activities of Kalyan Ashram were launched in 1988. Through these activities it has discovered the Vanvasi talents and some of the players have even participated in the national level matches. Impressed with the result, the officials of Sports Authority of India (SAI) selected 125 players from Kalyan Ashram'sall India sports meets for further training at their centres. One of the players selected by SAI from Kalyan Ashram was also selected for the Olympics.
Creating Social Awareness
The main task of Kalyan Ashram is to create social awareness. In 1948 when Bala Saheb Deshpande, the founder of Kalyan Ashram, visited Vanvasi areas of Jashpur Nagar the local Vanvasis asked him, ?Why don'tour religious leaders visit us, as Christian priests and nuns come here frequently?? Shri Deshpande realised that the feeling of protecting dharma and culture is very strong among the Vanvasis. He requested Gahira Guru to undertake tours who started visiting the Vanvasi areas. His visits energised the people very much. Later, several senior saints including Ram Bhikshuji Maharaj, Sant Prabhudutt Brahmachari, Swami Swaroopanand, etc. also visited the remote areas of Jashpur Nagar. In 1963, Shri Guruji Golwalkar had also visited Jashpur Nagar.
?Kalyan Ashram believes that every Vanvasi community has its own traditional source of inspiration and their confidence cannot be raised by ignoring their original source or by introducing any other faith among them. We concentrated on this fact and encouraged their traditional festivals and customs,? said Shri Kothari.
Now people are themselves coming forward to protect their culture, traditions and customs. Conversion has not only stopped, but converted people too have started returning to their roots back. ?After conversion a Vanvasi has to stop following all his traditions and customs. It pains him. A bit of awareness encouraged him to return to his ancestors? roots. Lakhs of people have come back so far. Our about 4,500 Satsangh Kendras, and thousands of bhajan Madlis have played a key role in raising their asmita and also helped them in getting rid of various social evils.
The magnitude of the onslaught that Vanvasis have faced on their culture and identity in north-eastern states, has not been reported from anywhere else. Since one and a half decades, it was very difficult for any nationalist organisation to work there. Kalyan Ashram workers took up this challenge and started work in 1978 when Shri Basantrao Bhat, the then RSS Prant Pracharak of Bengal, set up the Poorvanchal Kalyan Ashram. In 1981 when a group of Kalyan Ashram workers went to the then Congress MLA in Nagaland, N.C. Zeliang, to request him to participate in a Kalyan Ashram convention in Delhi, he was not ready to call himself a Hindu Naga. He somehow agreed to attend the convention but as a ?non-Christian Naga?. After attending the convention he told Deshpandeji, ?I feel that I am also a Hindu and we should form a Hindu Front in north-east.? And he started efforts in this regard. There were several small groups in north-east who were trying to save their identity from Christianity through their own ways, but were not getting outside support. The Kalyan Ashram gave them a voice. ?With the slogan that ?loss of culture is loss of identify?, we entered in north-east and today we have work in all the states. We did not impose anything on them,? said Shri Kripa Prasad Singh, joint secretary general of Kalyan Ashram. In Meghalaya where even 500 non-Christians could not assemble about 15 years ago, with the work of Kalyan Ashram, the presence of over 25,000-30,000 non-Christian Vanvasi surprises one and all today.
Similarly the Kalyan Ashram work began in Arunachal Pradesh. In 1990 when the late K. Bhaskar Rao met the then Arunachal Chief Minister, Gegang Apang and presented him the photo of Dony Polo, he was overwhelmed and gave him Rs 1,000 with a request to take that photo in every home of Arunachal Pradesh.