the-south-asian Life & Times               July - September 2010




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Bishnois of Rajasthan

– ‘Followers of 29 Commandments’

A Bishnoi woman
Photo copyright - The South Asian Life & Times

Gudha Bishnoi is a sleepy village, about an hour’s drive from Jodhpur. The Sarpanch (Village Headman) of Gudha Bishnoi recently won the coveted title, defeating a rival woman candidate. He spent a huge amount (Rs 1 crore by his own estimate) on his election campaign, and so did the lady (who spent 75 lakhs). For a sleepy little village of 15,000 residents in the shrubland of Jodhpur district, and with an electorate of just 6,500 that was an enormous sum.

The Bishnois are a proud community and prospering too. Traditionally agriculturists, many among them in the villages now seem to be making their money from opium trade. Though the Bishnois are almost intolerant of ‘nasha’ or intoxicants – opium to them does not classify as one. It is culturally accepted to offer opium granules as a gesture of friendship, or to offer it to guests on special occasions such as weddings, naming ceremonies, etc. - and by default to trade in it. They are also intolerant of poachers and shikaris – for they are staunch, almost fanatic, environmentalists. They love their wildlife and what little they have of vegetation – so much so they don’t cremate their dead – they bury them – it is perhaps the only Hindu community to do so. More than three hundred people of Bishnoi community, led by women, died protecting the khejri trees in 1847 from the king’s army sent to fell trees. Such is the passion for their environment.

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