In the ongoing protracted battle between the state and the Naxals in the central part of India, the dominant tribal population of this region has become the most prominent victim. Against this background, 240 km away from Raipur — in Damkasa village near Durgkondal block in Kanker district — 70-year-old retired teacher Shiv Singh Anchla has dedicated his post-retirement life to the conservation and promotion of the Gondi language and culture.

The Gond community, to which Mr. Anchla belongs to, is one of the largest tribes in Chhattisgarh. In the forested hills of the Bastar region in south Chhattisgarh, the Gonds have been significantly known for their rich culture. In recent years though, the vibrant colours of this rich civilisation have been fading away.

The Gond community, like other adivasi communities, is woven into a symbiotic relationship with the environment. They worship nature that, in turn, helps these indigenous communities sustain their socio-economic and cultural lives. Their care and concern for their natural heritage is well reflected in their customs wherein every single community is entrusted with protecting one of the rare trees and animals and no one is allowed to harm them at any cost. This way, the balance between man and his environment is maintained. The advent of external factors, however, has weakened the sanctity of such practices.

“Adivasis have always been environment-friendly because they believe that trees, stones and forests are their God. Alarmingly, in the last few years, trees are being cut ruthlessly, indicating that adivasis are forgetting the importance of their life-giving forests,” says Mr. Anchla worriedly. To restore respect for Mother Nature, he has established Jango Raitaar Vidya Ketul after the name of a local deity Jango Raitaar, revered as the goddess of language of the Gond tribe. Set in five acres of land donated by Mr. Anchla himself, this nature park is home to rare herbs, plants and trees which otherwise are likely to become extinct with few even recognising the loss.

Mr. Anchla is also planning to establish an International Divya Gyan Research Institute and Gyan Mani Shiksha Dweep Vilakshan Vidyalaya. This institute will train people who share the common interest of exploring the history of local adivasi culture, their deities and their unique relationship with forests.

This visibly-determined old man sensed the looming threat during his teaching days and began to share with his students the intricacies of their natural as well as cultural heritage to ensure that the next generation takes responsibility for the cultural wealth they have inherited from their forefathers. Not an opposer of contemporary education system, he believes that every form of education that develops or increases the knowledge of mankind should be promoted. He maintains that this should not, however, be at the cost of sacrificing their traditional culture.

To save the traditional Ghotul practices, the Gondi language and the tribe’s festivals, he organised a Rath Yatra in November last year to make people aware of their culture and join hands for its preservation.

Leading a humble life, Mr. Anchla is also the religious head of the Gond tribe in Chhattisgarh. Besides, he is a skilled medical practitioner (vaid) and successfully treats many ailments using natural herbs.

(Charkha Features)