A chance encounter with Dr. Janaki Sinha, an octogenarian, in The Art of Living International Centre, Bangalore, reinforced the faith in me that age is only a number if you have the passion and commitment to serve. Altruism requires giving back to society all the good, and more. Dr. Sinha struck me as a perfect example of altruism. A retired professor from S.B.L.N.T.M College (Vinoba Bhave University, previously known as Ranchi University), Jharkhand, Dr. Sinha exudes warmth and friendliness with a steely resolve to complete her mission of uplifting the people of Deogarh, the 5th largest city in Jharkhand.
Deogarh district has a large tribal population known for its folk art, music, drama, dance, culture, temples, and medicinal herbs. Various species of medicinal plants are present in Dumka, Hazaribag and Gumla districts of Jharkhand. Deogarh is the main city of Deogarh district in the Santhal Parganas division of the state of Jharkhand. It is an important Hindu pilgrimage centre with the Baidyanath Temple being one of the 12 Shiva Jyothirlingas and also one of the 51 Shakthi Peethas in India. Also known as Baidyanath Dham, Deogarh has a remarkable history. It goes back to the times of Lord Rama in Treta Yuga. In the 8th Century A. D. the last Gupta emperor, Aditya Sena Gupta, ruled this region. The Baidyanath Dham temple is famous since then.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar ji, the founder of one of the world’s largest NGOs, the Art of Living Foundation, travels extensively in India and abroad for the up-liftment of the society with the single most motto ‘to see a smile on every face’. People around the world and in India eagerly await his visit to their homeland. Gurudev will be visiting Baba Baidyadham Teerth in Deogarh on 1st March 2017 for the darshan of the Jyothirlinga.
Dr. Sinha who is going ahead of Gurudev to Deoghar to prepare some youth to become leaders and to seek blessings of Gurudev says, “It’s my sankalpa (resolve) that Gurudev meets the tribals of the area who are waiting for Him since a long time”.
There is a history of 30+ years of hard work of Dr. Sinha for the betterment of the tribal community and yet much is left to be done. Stoic in her countenance, wisdom that comes with age, Dr. Sinha has been patiently waiting for the time Sri Sri Ravi Shankar ji blesses Deoghar with His presence and guides the people there. Her frail body belies the strong person that she is.
Her eyes sparkle as she recounts the story of her journey.
Let us hear in her own words –
“The Centre for Women’s Studies was registered in 1985/86 in Bihar. The idea was given by Smt. Phulrenu Guna, then MP from West Bengal 1984-89, in one of the conferences of Women’s Association at Kanpur. She made us understand that when society has given us so much love, affection, and everything, we have to also contribute something good to the society. Dr Vina Mazumdar, the founding Director of the Centre for Women’s Development Studies (CWDS), an autonomous organisation established in 1980, was my teacher in the university. Thus we started the work along with Smt. Sulekha Dua. I was the Director and Sulekha was the Deputy Director. I was assigned by the Chairman to work in the tribal fields santhal parganas. We were concerned about the up-liftment of the Santhal tribal society on the whole. Our area of work was from Deogarh extending to a few villages in remote areas. The people of these villages belong to Paharia tribe who live in the mountains and their main source of livelihood being forest produce. “Now, their race is fast diminishing”, says Dr. Sinha with wistful eyes that look far away.
“Why is it diminishing?” I ask her with curiosity.
“There are about 30 tribal groups in Jharkhand. Paharia forms 1% of the tribal population. Paharias live in more interior pockets which are generally inaccessible and with declining sources of sustenance they become more vulnerable to hunger, starvation, malnutrition and ill-health. Some of them are even on the verge of extinction”, says Sinha with pain in her voice.
“As a result of unrest, naxalism and alcoholism is also on the rise which needs to be curbed.”
Dr. Sinha wants to address 3 main issues – to preserve the race; to preserve the culture; and to preserve the cultivation of medicinal herbs.
It is interesting to note that the area was once known for traditional folk art, music, dance, drama. Dr. Sinha added that the tribals were experts in making stone pottery, bronze sculpture, carpets from rags and exquisite paintings on the walls. “Every home was painted by the family and it was a feast to the eyes.”
Because of difficulty in finances and marketing, this rich heritage is in the danger of becoming obsolete. The present youth needs education and awareness to value, revive and sustain their culture. They have to learn to take pride in what their ancestors handed down to them. Dr. Sinha hopes to accomplish this through the help of the volunteers of the Art of Living. She is a great believer in YLTP program that brings out the leadership abilities in the youth who will in turn take responsibility for their community.
“We worked in Paharia villages of Dumka district. They were famous as centre of culture because they were experts in the field of traditional music, dance and drama. Since forestry and agriculture was the main occupation, people including children were very innovative with the available resources. Once I happened to see a bunch of children picking and carrying home huge bundles of grass. I asked them what they intended to do with it. They said they would use them to make musical instruments! The culture of music was so predominant” says Dr. Sinha with amusement and amazement.
I found it intriguing that the children in the area practised the art of making musical instruments such as violin using grass!!! How I wish to see one such instrument!
The third issue is the use of medicinal herbs for the welfare of community at large. Dr. Sinha relents the fact that the medicinal herbs grown in the area is utilised for personal use, to treat illness in the family. A large variety of herbs that grow abundantly which can be formulated into herbal medicines does not happen. The tribals use medicinal plants by traditional knowledge. Traditional medicinal practitioners known as vaidays or kaviraj are the primary health care providers in rural Jharkhand. The knowledge of medicinal plants has mainly been gathered by the people in the form of tradition and experiences and inherited over the centuries to the future generation. It is extremely important to save this traditional knowledge of biological heritage and explore new resources.
“I was fortunate to get encouragement for tribal welfare by The Art of Living Founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar ji. A Youth Leadership Training Program (YLTP) was conducted for the tribal youth. The youths who underwent the program are very happy and have developed deep love and faith (shraddha) for Guruji. They are willing to take responsibility for the up-liftment of their community. One of the Yuvacharyas of the Art of Living is now a Mukhiya (Leader) of village Panchayat. She is working diligently for the welfare of the community. However, I am pained to say that because of lack of support from volunteers and follow-up, progress is blocked. I am now hoping and praying that with Guruji’s visit to Deogarh on March 1, work will resume in full swing. It is my dream to see a flourishing Deogarh reveling in its rich culture and tradition”.
Concluding Dr. Sinha shared that the Government has sanctioned 50 -60 acres of land to Mahila Samiti for plantation. “A Dhyan Mandir for the Santhals can be built in the land” says she with a ray of hope and faith.
We join hands with her mission and hope to hear success stories from the inhabitants of Deoghar.
For when Sri Sri Ravi Shankar Ji steps in, Can there be anything else?!