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Ram Naam  Reforming 'Criminal' Minds of Jhabua Bhils

Dr. Gautam Chatterjee


'Crime' 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 reformer.

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 crime.

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 Kolarian Tribe.

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 mythological days.

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 crime.

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 fall out.


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 Naam'.

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 district.

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 manner.

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 mad cities.



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