By Pramod Kumar
When 800 women of Delhi went to the Sewa Dham with eatables and shared with thousands of Vanvasis, it moved the Vanvasis to tears. They felt that they were not alone, but the whole country was with them. It also helped to wipe-out the misconceptions of some Delhiites regarding Vanvasis and their culture. In brainstorming sessions lasting for five days, the Vanvasi leaders, including 550 women, in a frank discussion highlighted their problems and challenges to find out solutions. The immediate problems raised by the rank and file of the Kalyan Ashram included onslaught on Vanvasi culture and faith by the Christian missionaries and their divisive role to create perennial strife and unrest in different Vanvasi areas. The exhibition put up at the Sammelan successfully highlighted the Vanvasi'sway of life and progress of the Kalyan Ashram work.
Onslaught on their culture, identity and existence as well as the impact of the imposition of new forest laws on them was clearly visible on the faces of Vanvasis. ?We have come here to tell the government to look into our problems,? said Kailash Oraon, who came from the Andamans spending about 20 days on his journey. He said that six Vanvasi communities of Andamans (Jarava, Greate Admanists, Sentalists, Shompen, Yongi and Nicobari) were on the verge of complete extinction. Nearly 17 other Vanvasi communities from Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Orissa have settled there. ?Vanvasis are being forcibly evicted from the land that they had been cultivating for over four decades. The special package announced by the Vajpayee government has not yet been implemented due to opposition by the local Congress leaders,? he said adding that since the Kalyan Ashram started working there they proudly call themselves Hindu.
Kailash Oraon further said, ?There is no malnutrition in the areas where Kalyan Ashram has taken up work in Maharashtra. We have also successfully developed several model projects for economic development.?
Babu Siddi of north Kannada district (Karnataka) was worried at the forceful eviction of the villagers from the forest land by the Forest Department but expressed happiness that the people from his village who were converted into Islam and Christianity were returning to their original roots due to the 16 years of dedicated work by the Kalyan Ashram workers.
Shri Luihingzeme of Senapati district of Manipur was highly impressed with the education provided at the Kalyan Ashram hostels. ?These students have helped in preserving our traditional culture and identity,? he said.