Short Note on Bishnois of Rajasthan

The Bishnois is a small tribal community belonging to Khejri village in Rajasthan. The religion of Bishnois, is an offshoot of Hinduism, was instituted by Guru Maharaj Jambaji, who was born in 1451 AD in the Marwar region of Rajasthan. Guru Maharaj Jambaji, in his youth, witnessed a severe draught in the region. The people cut down trees to feed the animals. The draught continued for a long time and there was nothing to feed the animals that died. He realized that if trees had been protected then the impact of draught on animals and community would not have been so severe. As a protective moral scheme, he formulated 29 injunctions (This is how BISHNOI name came in place as ’BIS’ is twenty and ’NOI’ stands for nine), like ban on felling of trees, killing of any bird or animal etc. The community consistently implemented these and their land was converted into lush green and dense forest. They practice environmental conservation as a part of their daily religious duty. Their ardent belief is that cutting a tree or killing an animal or a bird is sacrilege. They preserve Khejri trees, Blackbucks, Neelgai, Peafoul and Chinkara.

Bishnois can truly be considered first eco-warriors. Their history is of confrontation with local monarchs who attempted to interfere in their sacred zone. About three centuries back that is around 1700AD, the king of Jodhpur desired to build a palace and soldiers were sent for acquiring timber to the forests where Bishnois dwelt. This met tough resistance of the locals led by women who encircled the trees to protect them with their bodies. The soldiers who were ordered to fetch timber started killing the protesters. Amrita Devi, a female villager could not bear to witness the destruction of both her faith and the village’s sacred trees. She hugged the trees and encouraged others to do the same. 363 Bishnoi villagers were killed in this movement. The Bishnois sacrificed their lives to honour the injunctions formulated by their Guru. When the king was informed about the carnage, he called back the soldiers and provided state protection for the strong belief of the Bishnoi community, forbidding harm to trees and animals. This legislation still exists today in the region.

Later, they organized resistance against the British officials who wanted to start commercial forestry. In 1930s, a number of Satyagraha Movements were organized by the farmers and people living in forests in many parts of the country to protect forests from destruction from the British Rulers. The rebels were varied and comprised of peasants, pastoral nomads, artisans and native hunters. The anti-colonial movement spread in the villages and forests during the 19th century supported environmental causes. They raised their voice for preservation of native heritage, local agriculture and opposed the use of biomass resources.

Even today, the Bishnois follow respect, love and protection of nature with the same zeal. Their sacrifice is an example of Satyagraha for environmental protection and Chipko Movement was greatly inspired by their belief.

The Bishnoi villagers register a complaint against Salman Khan on 2nd October 1998 and his ‘Hum Saath Saath Hain’ co-actors Saif Ali Khan, Tabu, and Sonali Bendre who allegedly hunted down two blackbucks in the Kankani village of Rajasthan. Latter he was arrested in the connection with the poaching of endangered animals, and subsequently, granted bail.

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