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Gandhi's followers living in abject poverty

Stringent community norms, poor literacy and unemployment have led to dwindling population of Tana Bhagats that worships the Tricolour.

india Updated: Oct 24, 2010 10:16 IST
B Vijay Murty

They worship the Tricolour. They stitch their own clothes. Tribals they are, but contrary to the general tribal culture and traditions, they are strict teetotalers.

They are firm vegetarians and carry their food, or cook on their own wherever they go. They wear white and staunchly believe in non-violence.

They are Tana Bhagats of Jharkhand, a community truly following Gandhianism in letter and spirit.

But, the survival of this community is in peril. Stringent community norms have already taken a heavy toll on them. Adding to their woes is their very poor literacy rate coupled with large-scale unemployment.

HT visited a small Tana Bhagat hamlet, Khaksi Tola, around 40 km south west of the state capital Ranchi, and found them in a deplorable condition. The 25 families residing in the villages were leading a hand-to-mouth existence. But amid the abject poverty, their struggle to keep alive their harsh culture and tradition continued.

"We are indeed struggling to protect our religion," said the community leader, Khedia Tana Bhagat, 68, grazing cattle on the village outskirts. It's Thursday, and auspicious day for the faithful to hoist the tricolor for worship with complete rituals.

Men and women, dressed in white, were busy preparing for the prayers. The tricolour unfurled high in every household gave the notion for a while that it was some national festival.

At Khedia's house, it was a treat to watch three generations performing prayers with full devotion.

"The government, it seems, doesn't have provisions to provide us caste certificates," he said. Since many of them do not have land in their names-the British government had auctioned their land for refusal to give rent-they do not possess residential certificates. Worse, given that not even one per cent of them are into jobs, they do not possess income certificates as well.

"How will our children study when they do not get privileges meant for tribals in the state," said Etwa Tanabhagat, 35. "Our stringent community laws also prohibit our children from mingling easily with the society."

Tana Bhagats are barred from marrying outside their clan. The violators are ostracized from their community for a period of three years and also penalized between Rs 11 to Rs 101, which is still a big amount for them. "Gandhij ne kaha tha Sada jeewan ucch vichar (Gandhiji had prophesied simple life, plain thoughts). They are still guided by this philosophy.

Traditional Congress voters, the Tana Bhagats have a firm belief that only the Gandhi family can help them join the mainstream. And for that they want Sonia Gandhi or her scion, Rahul to organize a rally for them.

"We see Gandhiji in them," said, state Congress spokesperson, Dr Sailesh Sinha, adding, the Tana Bhagats are highly respectable to the party. His said on the initiative of the party, the Tana Bhagats are now getting their land, confiscated by the British rulers, back after 63 years.