About a quarter century after lifting of Emergency the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram (VKA) took a long leap forward in 1977 as its work gathered momentum and reached all corners of the country.
There could be no accurate or statistical evaluation of Kalyan Ashram work then or even now, firstly because of no bench mark and secondly its founder Bala Saheb Deshpande was least interested in such exercise and also that he shunned publicity all his life. Still the varied activities of the VKA impacted in changing social, moral and economic life around its projects. Moreover these helped in developing confidence, leadership and talent and decreasing isolation of the community.
Assistance of Neogi Committee
Though an infant, a challenging task came Kalyan Ashram'sway, a god sent opportunity to prove its worth and matrix. It was the appointment by the Madhya Pradesh Government in 1956 of an enquiry committee?Christian Missionary Activities Enquiry Committee?the first and probably the last probe of its kind by any state or Central Government in the country. Bala Saheb and his small team worked very hard to collect evidence for the committee. They would tread miles on foot, bicycles or on ramshakle buses to collect affidavits and persuade missionary-fear-stricken Vanvasis to appear before the Committee for oral evidence. Big demonstrations to welcome the Chairman were also arranged. Justice Bhawani Shankar Niyogi appreciated the labourious contribution of Bala Saheb and Kalyan Ashram in his committee'sarduous task.
Besides, he not only took on the white Christian missionaries physically but also dragged them to courts, which was unthinkable earlier and which dispelled the aura of godhood they had acquired in the eyes and minds of the simple Vanvasis. Cause of the Vanvasis, though was his first lone, he made his mark in professional and public life and was elected unopposed Chairman of Jashpur Nagar Municipality and held the post for several years.
Beyond National Boundaries
United Nations? sincere concern for the indigenous populations in different parts of the world was being unashamedly exploited by some Indian agents of the church and white nations of the west, who, making use of the discarded Aryan invasion theory, were labouring to prove that Hindus being the descendents of Aryans were an oppressive and persecuting class and dalits and Vanvasis were the original people of India and whose fate was no different from the ?Blacks? and the enslaved original people of America, Canada and other colonial countries.
The U.N. General Assembly had decided to observe 1995-2004 as International Decade of the World'sIndigenous Peoples and a Draft Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples was on the amid for consideration of the General Assembly during the said decade. Certain vested interests in the west and some so-called champions of Vanvasi cause in India were trying to define the Vanvasi population of India as indigenous peoples with the right of self-determination meaning right to secede from the country at will. The same controversy over the use of terms ?populations? and ?peoples? was raised in two I.L.D. conventions. As stated lobbies? local and foreign?interested in the division of Hindus were insisting on the use of peoples, while the representatives of the Government of India with other Asian-countries were emphatic about the term populations as it defined the Indian reality, where no such division indigenous and foreigners or conquerers ever existed.
Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram while supporting the official Indian stand stressed in a well documented memorandum presented to the Prime Minister Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee, that Hindu Vanvasis and non Vanvasis are one by virtue of race, culture, history and destiny. A similar memorandum was also submitted to Prime Minister Shri P.V. Narasimha Rao in July 1992 exposing the nefarious designs of Indian Council of Indigenous and Tribal People (ICITP), World Council of Churches and other groups to Balkanise India in the name of rights of the indigenous people.
An approach paper on the problem of Vanvasi and indigenous labour was also added to the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh'sdetailed reply to the ILO'sdocument
Legal and Rights Fight
Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram is not concerned with constructive work among Vanvasis alone. It has fought tooth and nail against any injustice to them in lower courts to the Supreme Court and against violation of their natural and other rights in National Human Rights Commission to Geneva based U.N. Human Rights Commission. A case in point is that of the Reang (Bru) Vanvasi refugees driven out of Mizoram?like Kashmiri Pandits from Kashmir by fanatic Muslims?after state engineered or connived ethnic and communal riots by the majority Christian community in September-October 1997, since sheltered in six refugee camps in the forests of neighbouring Tripura. The another was petitioned in Delhi High Court twice, and the Supreme Court thrice. Once through the leaders of the Reang community and twice by the author himself. The last petition for the return, rehabilitation and resettlement of the over 30,000 Reang refugees to Mizoram, admitted on January 13, 2005 is still pending with the apex court.
Vanvasi as President
Bala Saheb, about a decade before his death, relinquished the presidentship of the organisation in favour of a Vanvais, the present president Shri Jagdev Ram Oraon, a product in the VKA'sown training and samskars. This proved that the institution really believes that the index of its success is that the Vanvasis are enabled to look after their own affairs in totality.
The VKA today runs about 13,464 projects at 9,559 places. It includes hostels 192, inmates (boys and girls) 6,355, education centres 2,483, beneficiaries 1,02,045, games and sport centres 1719, dispensaries and hospitals 3,269, beneficiaries 5,40,933, agri and craft training centres 1,233, beneficiaries 20,315, Sharaddha Jagaran Mandals etc. 4,622, folk art promotion centres 415, village committee's11,430 villages contacted 48,112 and wholetimers 1,028.
It is not possible to provide a quantum statement of VKA's impact on the life and affairs of the Vanvasi areas, but no independent observer or anlyst can ignore that besides overall surge of Hindutva in the country, the work spread of the organisation is also a contributory factor in the electoral success of the BJP in states having sizeable Vanvasi population.
A question often asked is: Why is it that VKA'swide spread work among the Vanvasi is unable to contain the Maoist menace around them. A short answer to my mind is: voluntarism cannot face guns.
(The author is veteran Kalyan Ashram worker.)
(Akhil Bharatiya Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, Jashpur Nagar, Chhattisgarh.)