The International Day of Forests (IDF) is celebrated worldwide every year on March 21. The theme of this year is ~ Forests and Education. A report by “Forests trends and Eco-agriculture partners” recognised community forest management as “an essential means to sustainably manage forest resources while supporting local livelihoods and cultural values.”
It is a shame that instead of rewarding the forest dwellers for their outstanding contribution towards protecting the forests of our country, there is an effort to jeopardize their symbiotic relationship with the forests. Forest dwellers preserve forests not just as their habitation but as God. They worship the ecosystem as a spiritual being.
Now, let us focus on the Bishnoi tribe of Rajasthan. They derive their name from the set of 29 (bish = 20 + noi = 9) rules which they are supposed to honour. Some of these rules showcase the spiritual relationship between them and the forest like don’t cut green trees (runkh lila nahi ghave) and provide a common shelter for all abandoned animals so that they are not slaughtered (amar rakhve that). Felling trees and killing animals are treated as crimes in Bishnoi society.
The Bishnois are rightly called the first environmentalists of India. They build water storage tanks that can store rain water for humans and animals. They bury the deceased instead of following their religious tradition to cremate the dead body. They do it to avoid wastage of firewood and air pollution.
To minimize the use of green trees, they use cow dung cakes as fuels for cooking. They only collect dead wood. Even a carpenter waits patiently for a tree to fall. Bishnois have been fighting court cases and poachers no matter how big the suspect may be ~ even if he is as famous as Mansur Ali Khan of Pataudi or Salman Khan of Bollywood.
Indeed, the environment and the lives of the forest dwellers got improved in less than three per cent of the forest cover of India where traditional inhabitants became managers of their forest land. Undoubtedly, we need to immediately implement the 2006 Forest Rights Act in the remaining 97 per cent of the forest area.
Sujit De, Kolkata
Need to immediately implement the 2006 Forest Rights Act