author visits the interiors of Jhabua District of Madhya Pradesh to
investigate the `criminal' minds of Jhabua Bhil tribes and explore
how Ram Naam diksha (initiation) acts as a silent reformer.
was a summer afternoon in a small village in Jhabua District of
Madhya Pradesh. An Adivasi Bhil youth returned home after a long
day's work and demanded food immediately of his sister-in-law. She
replied that it would take a few minutes. "Why the delay of five
minutes?" This troubled the youth. He was enveloped with rage
and took an axe and chopped off the hands, legs and finally the neck
of his sister-in-law. After committing this heinous murder the youth
went straight to the police station to confess the crime.
inspector incharge of Alirajpur police station which tops the crime
graph of Asia, was taken aback. Police investigation revealed that
the youth killed his sister-in-law out of sheer hunger and anger as
the "delay was too much for him". The police officer
lamented that in this region Adivasi Bhils commit crimes "on the
provocation of no logical reason". He narrated another incident
where a youth chopped off his friend's head just because his friend
deprived him of a biri (rolled tobacco leaf). Interestingly, the
youth, after killing his friend, took the murder weapon in one hand
and the head of the victim in the other and went straight to the
police station to report and confess his crime.
interacting with several strata of people it was found that the Bhils
who are neck deep in debt and live below poverty line are heavy
drinkers and kill people on trifling issues. Yet they do not run away
from the crime or evade the police. There is an interesting story in
connection with a murder case when twenty people were to be arrested
but the police station did not have a long enough rope to tie all of
them and present them before the magistrate. So the constable asked
them to present themselves before the court the next day. All of them
complied and turned up before the magistrate the following day. This
is an unheard of and unbelievable incident in modern society.
remains the mainstay of Jhabua Bhils who are often stigmatized as
criminals. During a special field investigation we found that Ram
Naam Diksha is creating a wonderful impact on the Bhil population.
When Dr Viswamitra Maharaj, Head of Sri Ram Sharanam, visited the
Bhils, he was presented with a bow and arrows. In return he
distributed wooden rosaries and introduced them to Ram Naam i.e.
reciting the name of Ram continuously either aloud or silently
within. This slowly and steadily eased out the `negatives' from the
innocent minds of the Bhils and they, on their own, started living a
more pious life. There was `involuntary reformation' through Ram Naam
etymological meaning of Bhil is `bow' which is the traditional weapon
of the tribe. R.V. Russell recorded in 1916: "It has been
suggested that the Bhils are the pygmies referred by Ktesias (400 BC)
and Phyllite of Ptolemy (AD 150). The Bhils are recognized as the
oldest inhabitants of southern Rajputana and part of Gujarat and are
usually Kolis who inhabit the adjoining tracts. The Kolis are the
western branch of the Kol or Munda tribe who have spread from Chota
Nagpur through Mandla and Jubbulpore, Central India and Rajputana to
Gujarat. If this is correct the Kolis would be a Kolarian tribe".
delving into the origin of Bhils and their reaction to Ram Naam I
came across an interesting reference made by the celebrated writer,
Kamladevi Chattopadhyaya. She pointed out that Valmiki, the author of
the great epic, Ramayana, was a Bhil bandit named Walia. With the
blessings of saints and Goddess Saraswati he was subsequently
transformed from a bandit into a saint and wrote the masterpiece,
in the Ramayana, we find mention of Sabri who happened to be the
daughter of a Bhil raja. During his fourteen years in exile Ram
visited Sabri's house which he referred to as ashram and ate ber (a
berry) offered by her. In another epic, Mahabharata, we find Eklavya,
the famous archer, who was also a Bhil. The story goes that Eklavya
mastered the art of archery keeping in front of him the icon of
Dronacharya, the guru who rejected his formal admission to his
gurukul (school). Eklavya sacrificed his thumb as guru-dakshina as
demanded by Dronacharya. Thus we find through these references that
Bhils dominated the mythological scenario by being in the forefront
of character transformation, piousness, innocence and capacity for
making supreme sacrifices.
order to understand the various Pauranic references let us examine
the summing up of historian Dr. Bachan Kumar who traced the
mythological sources. He wrote, "A descendant of Manu
Swayambhua, Vena, was childless. The sage rubbed his thigh and
produced a man like a charred log with a flat face and extremely
short. He was told to sit down (nishada). He did and since then he
was known as Nishada from whom sprang the Nishadas dwelling in the
Vindhya mountain, distinguished by their wicked deeds."
after several millennium the Bhils are still stigmatized by their
`wicked deeds' as Jhabua figures top in the criminal map of Asia.
Yet, Bhils of Jhabua are also known for their valour as these were
the people who helped the famous Rana Pratap while he was in hiding
and fighting from the woods. Guerilla fights still remain in vogue
among the Bhils though now utilized for criminal activities as a
judicial officer commented.
account for 85% of the population of Jhabua. In order to understand
them better we undertook a journey into the interiors. Jhabua
district of Madhya Pradesh is situated in the extreme west of the
state hemmed with Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra. There are about
1760 villages in two sub-divisions, 5 tehsils and 12 blocks of
terrain of Jhabua is generally hilly and the soil is light, not
suited for cultivation. The vegetation over the hilly terrain has
been indiscriminately cut causing complete denudation of hills
resulting in serious soil erosion. Unable to sustain themselves the
illiterate people, with no positive from society, are becoming
victims of spontaneous and organized crime. Bhils are heavy drinkers
and idle their time away in the woods. During the harvest season they
toil in the fields but the night is for crime.
tribals often use bamboo bows and arrow and gofans (somewhat like a
catapult) to enact crimes. One retired DSP, Sunderlal Mahajan of
Jhabua said that the weapon, gofan, is most powerful. It consists of
a cord. One end has a knitted bag for small pebbles. The pebbles are
first swung in the air and then released on the target. They effect
not only 100% accuracy but are faster than bullets. The police
commented that nobody would be able to know wherefrom it came and
would not pass the test of evidence in the court of law. Bhils
generally hide by the roadside in darkness and communicate with light
and sound before selecting the crime. One magistrate informed us that
they often say Tum din ka raja, hamre raat ka raja (during the day
you are king; at night we rule). This is no simple sociological
expression but an indication of selection of night for their modus
ex-criminals who have now become sadhaks of Ram Naam recalled that
the head of the team decided on the `prey' and the other group
positioned nearer the road made the attack. While talking to a Judge
we were told "they would not loot anybody without roughing up
the person as they feel that if they don't beat up the victim they
are not doing justice to their act of crime. They often say crime is
their tradition and it is a matter of pride for them." Generally
Bhils loot buses and private vehicles and escape with valuables under
cover of darkness. Police authorities have not been able to stem
their activities and only provide escorts in some areas like Kali
travelled from Jhabua to Para via Khardu -- a total 18 km stretch. A
local, Vivek, told us that nobody dared to venture out after sunset
from Jhabua to Para. Bhils drink and assemble in hideouts near the
road. However, several Bhils who had been introduced to Ram Naam
started reforming themselves by becoming teetotalers. Since then the
12 km stretch from Jhabua city to Khardu has had no criminal
activities. In contrast the 6 km stretch from Khardu to Para where
Ram Naam has not spread is still crime infested.
further investigation Jogiya, a Bhil, revealed "people, after
Ram Naam diksha (initiation), realize that daru (liquor) is poison
and kills the self. And once they stop drinking they do not attack
others and enact crime. Ram Naam has changed our lifestyle and we
have started saving and taking care of the family. In Khardu village
there has been no incident of any theft for a long time now."
Another Bhil confessed. "I used to steal goats, cows etc. I was
afraid about where to keep them. Today I do not steal so others need
not fear and I am also spared of fear."
gentleman, Amar Singh of Umria Salam recalled that his father was a
dacoit and killed two persons and was jailed. He finally died in
prison. His mother brought him up and made him graduate from Para.
Yet, he became a drunkard and, under pressure from his peers, he took
to their traditional crime. Fortunately after Ram Naam diksha
realization dawned upon him and enabled him to lead a normal life and
he was able to influence his peer group as well.
Singh further said, Daru joru and Jamin (liquor, woman and land) were
the main causes of rivalry and people got themselves entrapped in
revenge from generation to generation. This seems to have been
stalled and people now try to settle matters amicably -- after taking
Ram Naam diksha.
Damor is another Bhil who used to drink 3-4 bottles a day and get
into brawls with no rhyme or reason. He neglected his family of 8
children and his wife. One year back he got diksha and he reeled
under repentance of his past deeds. Ram Naam has turned him into a
good husband and father. His profession was slaughtering of animals.
He has saved 365 animals from being killed and has become a
Umria Salam I was fortunate to interview an aged lady, Bodhi Bai, who
had recently lost her son. Through her we discovered that torture of
women was a daily routine in most Bhi households prior to Ram Naam
diksha. In the world of Bhil women the belief system revolves around
the world of evil and empowered demi gods called `Devi'. Literacy has
not dawned here at all. The women do all the chores and take care of
the animals. Poverty remains the factual sheet of their lives and
deprivation roots deep in their lifestyle.
speaking, Bhil women believe that everything is happening in the
context of `Devi shakti' and evil spirits or ghosts. Being deprived
of doctors the witch doctor called Badwa is the source of information
and probable solution to all physical, mental and environmental
Badwas are the male traditional magicians who play with some grains
and gesticulates in a state of trance. While diagnosing they drink
and chant mantras. Finally they come out with a solution with an
order of sacrifice of a goat or chicken and demand liquor. They
create a fear psychosis among the people to extract anything. These
Badwas also work as a tool for social vengeance and exploit the
women. If a woman does not succumb to advances made by a Badwa he
projects her as an evil soul and declares her a dikini. Then the
whole tribe hunts her down and kills her.
got an opportunity to talk to two ex-Badwas. They confessed to having
no knowledge either of magic or traditional medicine. They simply did
their job to earn a livelihood.
a girl is born into a Bhil family there is rejoicing because she will
bring money from the bridegroom as per the Bhil custom. Even if the
woman leaves her husband for another man the case is settled amicably
with exchange of money. A life convict, Brahmar Singh, told me that
while he was in Indore Central Jail, his wife went to another man.
When Brahmar Singh was released from jail he was paid a handsome sum
by his wife's new husband.
understand the traditional belief system of Jhabua womenfolk and the
transformation undergone by them after Ram Naam diksha, we conducted
a series of interviews. It was revealed that most of them no longer
face torture as their husbands no longer consume liquor. Post liquor
consumption fights have become a thing of the past. Women no longer
go to Badwas. They now believe that Sri Ram resides in them. The
concept of shanti (peace) received a good response from a large
section of women. Elderly women have taken the lead.
Salam village is one of the most backward villages where black magic
looms large and crime is a disturbing factor. Today around 60%
residents have taken Ram Naam diksha. The result is enlightenment has
dawned on the lifestyle of the people. We visited several villages:
Biodev, Khagela, Jhambua. We were stunned by the changed scenario.
Poverty stricken huts now house Sri Adhistanji and japa (reciting
mantras with a rosary) has become a regular feature every evening
around 7.30 pm. This time was once earmarked out for `drinks and
crime'. It is n interesting to note that in Sri Ram Sharanam School
of thought nobody is forcefully made a vegetarian. Rather everybody
is told to install the sound icon of Ram Naam in the heart and the
inherent effacing power would automatically wipe out the given
heard many startling confessions from many Bhil tribes. However,
today feelings of compassion and love are dawning on them. In Jhabua,
in the tiny hamlets of Bhil tribes, many Valmikis are in the making.
Ram Naam, the time tested celestial sound, is working wonders
silently in the midst of woods.