Reforming 'Criminal' Minds of Jhabua Bhils
dates back to the dawn of civilization. Down the ages many methodologies
were coined to stem this given negatives. However, Ram Naam remained a time tested panacea which
can not only cure but also takes care of the society from below. Modern
Jhabua is one such place which is often stigmatized by the society as
den of 'Criminals'. In recent past local media has done some reporting
on the impact of Ram Naam in Jhabua as a sacred tool for societal
reformation. Dr. Gautam Chatterjee visits the interiors of Jhabua
District of Madhya Pradesh to investigate the 'criminal' minds of Bhil
Tribes and fathom the Glory of Ram Naam which acts as a silent
It was a
summer afternoon in a small village in Jhabua district of Madhya Pradesh.
One Adivasi Bhil youth came back home after doing day long labour and
demanded food immediately from his bhabi(sister-in-law). Bhabi
replied that she would serve food after five minutes. 'Why the delay of five
minutes?' The big question troubled the mind of the youth. He was enveloped
with inhuman rage and took up a darati(an axe) and chopped off the
hands, legs and finally the neck of his Bhabhi. After committing this
heinous murder, the youth went straight to the Police Station to confess the
Sub Inspector incharge of Alirajpur
Police Station which tops the crime graph of Asia, was taken aback. Police
investigation revealed that the youth killed his bhabi out of sheer
hunger and anger as the 'delay was too much for him'. The police officer
lamented that in this region Adivasi Bhils do commit crime on the
provocation of no logical reason. He narrated another incident where a youth
chopped off his friend's head just because his friend deprived him of a biri.
Interestingly, the youth after killing his friend took the murder weapon in
one hand and the head of the victim on the other hand and went straight to
the police station to report and confess his crime.
While interacting with several strata
of people it was found that the Bhils who are neck deep in debt and live
below poverty line are heavy drinker and kill people on trifling issues
because those illiterate lot never know the implications of crime. Yet, they
are simple innocent folk as they do not try to run away from the 'crime
spot' or evade Police after committing the crime. There was an interesting
story when in connection with some murder case twenty people were to be
arrested but the Police Station never had that big a rope to tie all of them
and present them before the Magistrate. So the Constable asked them to
present themselves before the Court next day. All of them complied with the
order of Police and presented themselves before the court next day. An
unheard and unbelievable incident in the modern society. It should raise
many eyebrows of city dwellers who commit the crime but are devoid of
innocence and morality of the Jhabua Bhils.
'Innocence' remain the mainstay of
Jhabua Bhils who are often stigmatized as criminals living in the criminal
belt of Madhya Pradesh. During a Special field investigation we have found
of late that
Ram Naam is creating a
wonderful impact on those Bhil population of Jhabua who got Ram Naam
Diksha in recent past from Dr Vishwamitterji Maharaj, Head of Shree
Ram Sharnam, New Delhi. The saint was presented with mythological 'arrow
and bows' and in return Dr Vishwamitterji gave them woolen rosary beads
which slowly steadily easing the given 'negatives' of the innocent mind of
Bhils and they on their own have began living a pious life.
The dawn of new light on the Jhabua
Bhils with 'Ram Naam' need to be understood from a broader
perspective with a hind view of Mythological/historical past to the
anthroplogical recent past which is now getting manifested with the idea of
'involuntary reformation' through Ram Naam Simran.
Since hoary past traditional people or
Tribal Bhils lived a life of seclusion enjoying their own life style. Later,
with the dawn of modern civilization they got exposed to outside influence
which resulted in manifestive amalgamation of social practices. The ancient
belief system remained entrenched in the inner core of their mind yet their
vision and horizon underwent a change with the perspective of changing time.
The socio-cultural dynamics at the ritualistic level kept its presence where
'unknown' dwells. The world of black magic at one level made the society
superstitious while on the other level changing economic scenario from bad
to worst forced them to follow up the given negatives of the society. The
society in turn stigmatized the Bhils as 'criminals' - the traditional
people of this region.
The etymological meaning of Bhil is
'bow' which is the traditional weapon of the tribe. The first reference of
Bhil seems to eb found around 1400 years Before Present. R.V. Russell
recorded in 1916 : 'It has been suggested that the Bhils are the pygmies
referred by Ktesias (400BC) and Phyllite of Ptolemy (A.D.150). The Bhils are
recognized as the oldest inhabitants of Southern Rajputana and part of
Gujarat, and are usually Kolis, who inhabit the adjoining tracts. The origin
of Kolis is that they are western branch of the kol or Munda tribe who have
spread from Chota Nagpur through Mandla and Jubbulpore, Central India and
Rajputana to Gujarat and sea. If this is correct the Kolis would be a
The Histro-anthropological context
remains a debatable issue. However, in the Aitareya Brahman we find
the reference of Palinda who are perhaps Bhils. The direct reference of Bhil
is found in the classical era in the context of Anhilvada war of
While delving into the subject
concerning the origin of Bhils and the eternal relationization of 'Ram
Naam' I came across an interesting reference made by the celebrated
writer Kamladevi chattopadhyaya. She pointed out that Valmiki, the author of
the great epic Ramayana was a Bhil bandit named walia. He got the
blessings of saints and goddess Saraswati which subsequently transformed the
'Bandit' into a Saint who wrote the masterpiece epic--Ramayana.
Again, in Ramayana, we find the
reference of Sabri who happened to be the daughter of Bhil Raja and served
the Rishis in very silent manner. Even Sri Ram while spending his
fourteen years exile in the forest visited sabri's house which he referred
as ashram and ate the Ber from her. In another epic Mahabharata
we find Eklavya also a Bhil the famous archer who mastered the art of
archery himself keeping in front of him the icon of Dronacharya -- the Guru
who rejected his formal admission to his Gurukul. Again Eklavya gave the
most revered Guru-dakshina in the terms of his thumb. Thus we find through
these references that Bhils dominated the mythological scenario by being in
the forefront of character transformation, piousness, innocence and capacity
of doing supreme sacrifices.
In order to understand the various
Pauranic references let us examine understand the summing up of a historian
Dr Bachan Kumar who traced the mythological sources and wrote that: 'The
origins of the Bhils from the thigh of Vena son of Angra, a descendant of
Manu Swayambhua, Vena was childless and the sage, therefore rubbed his thigh
and produced a man like a charred log, with flat face, and extremely short.
He was told to sit down (Nishada). He did so and since then they were known
as Nishada, from whom sprang the Nishadas dwelling on the Vindhya mountain,
distinguished by their wicked deeds'.
Now after several millennium Bhils are
ironically still stigmatized by their 'wicked deeds' as Jhabua figures top
in the criminal map of Asia. Yet, Bhils of Jhabua are also known for their
valour as these were the people who helped the famous Rana Pratap while in
hiding and fighting from the woods. The guerrilla fights are still remain in
vogue among the Bhils though now utilized for criminal activities as a
judicial officer commented.
In order to understand Jhabua and the
Bhils better who account for 85% of population of the region we undertook a
journey into its interiors. Jhabua Distt. Of Madhya Pradesh is situated in
the extreme west of the State hemmed with Rajasthan, Guajarat and
Maharashtra. There are about 1760 villages in two sub-divisions, 5 tehsils
and 12 blocks of Jhabua.
The terrain of Jhabua is generally
hilly and the soil is light not suited for cultivation. The vegetation over
the hilly terrain has been indiscriminately cut in the past causing complete
denudation of hills resulting in serious soil erosion.
This given deterioration of soil
condition had dislodged the practice of the Bhils' Jhum cultivation
which was in vogue even some fifty years back. Most of those Bhils are now
under heavy debts and unable to sustain themselves. Sociologically speaking,
the illiterate tribes men with no positive help from the society are often
becoming victims of spontaneous and organized crime. They are heavy drinker
of local liquor and idle away their time in the woods. During the harvest
season they do labour in the day time but the night they often keep for
From the standpoint of criminology it
was ascertained that the Bhil tribal often use Bamboo, bow and arrows and
Gofan as weapons to enact crime. One Ex DSP Sunderlal Mahajan of Jhubua said
that the weapon gofan is most powerful which consist of a string of cord and
whose end has a knitted bag where they keep small pebbles. These are first
swung in the air and on the target the stones are released effecting not
only have 100% accuracy but even faster than bullets. The police officer
commented that nobody would be able to know wherefrom it came and hit and
would not pass the test of evidence in the court of law. Generally, on the
roadside groups of Bhils keep themselves hiding in the darkness and each of
the group do communicate with light and human sound before selecting the
crime. One Magistrate referred that they often say 'Tume Din Ka Raja
Hamre Raat Ka raja' (During day time you are the king and at night we
rule). This is no simple sociological expression but also an indication of
selection of night time for their modus operandi.
Several ex-criminals who have now
become sadhaks of 'Ram Naam' recalled that the head of the team
used to decide the 'prey' and the other group positioned nearer the road
used to attack. While talking to a Judge, who requested anonymity said,
'they would not loot anybody without roughing-up the person as they feel
that if they don't beat up the victim they are not doing justice to their
act of crime. They often say crime remains their tradition and it is a
matter of pride for them.' Generally, these Bhils loot buses and private
vehicles and escape with valuable under the cover of darkness. Police
authorities over the years could not stem this criminal activity and only
tried to provide escorts in some areas like 'Kali Ghati'.
In order to have an insight into the
barometer of crime infected roads we travelled from Jhabua to Para via
Khardu -- a total 18 kms. stretch. One local Vivek said that from Jhabua to
Para nobody dared to come out after the sunset. And organized crime was in
vogue. Bhil people used to drink and assemble in the hideouts near the road
and indulged in organized crime.
Of late several Bhils got 'Ram
Naam Diksha' in the twelve km. Stretch from Jhabua to Khardu
and it is amazing that in this area the 'criminal behaviour traits' have
passed into oblivion. People now feel safe to travel along this 12 Kms.
Stretch from Jhabua City to Khardu. More so people here have started
reforming themselves by not taking to drinks any more and some are in the
process of leaving this habit which actually prompts 'crime behaviour'.
Again while talking to several people on the road side villages another
contrast is found.
From Khargu to Para the message 'Ram
Naam' has not spread and people here have not got diksha. In this
stretch of area 'crimes are committed' and even villagers never dare to go
out after the sunset to travel from Khardu to para which is a 6 Km.
stretch. Thus we find that on the behavioural plane 'Ram Naam'
Dikshit people are involuntarily being subjected to
reformation and on the other hand non-dikshits still dwell in the
criminal world. This subtly introduces the glory of Ram Naam which
strangely reforms the people from within and piouness becomes the obvious
On further investigation on Jogiya a
Bhil revealed ' people after Diksha realized that Daru(Liquor)
is poison and kills the self. And once they have left drinking they do not
attack others and enact crime. All these have changed our lifestyle and we
have started saving and taking care of the family as well. In the Khardu
village for long there was no incidence of theft in any house.' Another Bhil
confessed that 'I used to steal goats, cow etc. and I was scared where to
keep them. Today I do not steal so others need not fear and I myself am
spared of fear'.
Another gentleman Amar Singh of Umria
Salam recalled that his father was a dacoit and killed two person and was
jailed where he finally died. His mother brought him up and made him
Graduate from Para. Yet he became drunkards and under the pressure of the
peer group he took to their traditional crime. Fortunately, after the 'Ram
Naam' Diksha a realization has dawned upon him to enable him to
lead a normal life and influenced his peer group as well.
Amar Singh further said 'Daru, Joru
and Jamin were the main causes of rivalry and people got themselves
entrapped in 'revenge' from generation to generation. This seems to have
stalled and people now try to settle things amicably after taking 'Ram
Radhu Damor is another Bhil who used
to drink 3 to 4 bottles a day and take up fight with people with no rhyme
and reason. Killing animal or 'Jeev Hattya' was part of his daily routine.
He used to drink from morning to evening and was very ferocious and
neglected his family of 8 children and wife. One year back he got diksha
and reeled under repentance of his past deeds. 'Ram Naam' chanting
had not only stopped his drinking habit but also he became a good father and
husband. He had saved around 365 animals from being killed through 'Jeev
Hatya' which was once his routine pastime. He even left non-veg food and
none of the traditional Bhil family members objected to it. Again at social
level he never visits his relations or kutumb who take to drinks and
non-vegetarian food and engage in nefarious activities. Now he is imposing
'social boycott' on them who were his yester year's friends and accomlice.
It was a great occasion to have lunch with the family Radhu Damor and I felt
the sacredness dwelt there which are otherwise regarded as 'stigmatized'
neglected hutments for city dwellers.
In Umria Salam I was fortunate to
interview an aged lady Bodhi Bai who has lost his son recently and yet
remained an ardent sadhak or Ram Naam. She gave an insight into the
world of female as 'torture of female' was a daily routine in most
households of Bhils prior to Diksha. Physical unwanted capitulation and
dwelling in the world of rituals remained one of the primal factors in the
lives of Bhil women. Let's try to understand the subject with more details
which are gathered during series of interviews during our traverse in Jhabua
Within the dynamics of traditional
tribal culture of Bhil women there remained a strong corner pillar of their
own ritualistic cultural corridor. Their belief system revolve around 'world
of Evil and empowered demi gods called Devi'. Literacy has not dawned here
at all. Yet some awareness has created an inroad to their psyche. Women do
all the chorus and hard work and takes care of animal husbandry of their
home. Poverty remains the factual file sheet of their lives and deprivation
roots deep in their lifestyle.
Generally speaking these Bhil women
belief that everything is happening in the context of 'devi shakti' and
'evils or ghosts'. Being deprived of Doctors the traditional 'Witch priest'
of badwa remian the source of information and probable solutions of all
physical, mental and environmental problems.
These Badwas are the 'Male'
traditional magicians who play with some grains and gesticulates the
'trance' state with their head roving. While diagnosing the socio-physical
problems they drink and chant mantra to influence the onlookers. And
finally they come out with a solution with an order of scrifice be it a goat
or chicken and demand liquor. They also create 'fear psychosis' among the
people to extract anything --even the physical exploitation of female.
It was learnt that at times, these 'Badwas'
work as a tool for social vengeance as well. If a Badwa singles out a
weakening female and that too without physical protection of a male member
he tries to induce her and makes an amorous advance. In case she does not
became a victim the badwa plants and projects her as an 'evil' soul and
declares her a Daikini. Then the whole tribe hunt for her and kill
her. Now this heinouse process is still practiced though in a subdued
I got an opportunity to talk to two
ex-Badwas who confessed of having no knowledge either about 'magic' or
traditional medicine' and they simply did their job to earn a livelihood.
Moreover, the most attracting aspect of their profession remains the drink
and flesh which come fee through the ritual of 'sacrifice'.
When a girl is born in a Bhil family
they become happy as she would bring money from the bridegroom as the Bhil
custom. Even if a lady goes away to another man then also the case is
settled amicably within the society with exchange of money. I recall a life
convict Brahmar Singh told me that while he was in Indore Central Jail, his
wife went to another man. And when finally Brahmar Singh came out of Jail
after serving the term of imprisonment she was paid handsome money by his
wife's 'new' husband. Such sort of cases are settled within the society with
no interference from outside.
With a view to better understand the
traditional belief system of Jhabua womenfolk and the transformation
undergone by the women who have got 'Ram naam diksha' a series of
interview was undertaken. It was revealed that most of them today do not
face torture as their husbands no longer takes to drinks. So post 'liquor
consumption' fight have become a thing of the past in their lives. Women
no longer go to Badwas or give away themselves as offerings because they now
believe Sri Ram is residing in them. The concept of Shanti or peace
was equivocally responded by large section of women. Elder women have taken
the lead and pious influence is befalling all.
Umria Salam village is one of the most
backward village where black magic looms large and crime remain one of the
most disturbing factor. Today around 60% residents of village are 'Ram
Naam Dikshit' and as a result new enlightenment has dawned on the
lifestyle of the people. While visiting several villages like Biodev,
Khagela, Jhambua we were stunned to see the changed scenario. Once these
villages were den of criminals and every evening was a drunk and crime
session. Those backward poverty stricken huts now house 'Sri AdhistanJi'
and plea has become a regular feature every evening around 7:30 P.M. which
was once earmarked for 'drinks and crime'. It is interesting to note that
in Shree Ram Sharnam school of thought nobody is forcefully made a
'non-vegetarian' rather everybody is told to install the sound icon of Ram
Naam in the heart and the inherit effacing power would automatically
wipe out the given negatives.
Many startling confessions we
have heard from many Bhil tribes and crime and criminality of their
trait now remain a bad dream of the past and today most of their
huts have become Ram Durbar, Japa and Simran has taken away their
foul languages and transformed behaviour pattern. The feeling of
compassion and love is dawning on them. In Jhabua in the tiny
hamlets of Bhil tribes many Valmikis are in the making and Ram
Naam the time tested celestial sound is working out its wonder
silently in the midst of woods away from the hustle bustle of the
Ram Ram Jai Jai Ram.