The soil brimming with nutrients, a canopy of thick forests, and sun rays penetrating through lush green leaves – this what the Jhabua district of Madhya Pradesh once looked like, before its woods were cut down for industrialisation.
It’s an issue the whole world deals with – progress in the industrial sector negatively affects the environment massively. While those of us residing in the urban areas skirmish climate change and water scarcity with our air conditioners and water reservoirs, the rural population suffers.
Tribals of Jhabua and Alirajpur districts of Madhya Pradesh encountered the same struggle, but decided to deal with it differently – through their ancient ‘Halma’ tradition the tribe started conserving water independently.
In the past decade, they have constructed 3200 big ponds in 225 villages in Jhabua district alone.
With the aim to make the area green once again, the tribe dug contour trenches around hills, planted trees, repaired handpumps and built big ponds.
Bhil social activists joined the tribe in 2005 to support their cause of environment conservation
Under a banner called Shivganga Abhiyan, five social activists started a drive in 2005 to offer support to the cause of the Bhil tribe.
The Logical Indian spoke to one of the activists, Harsh Chauhan, who told us about the progress of the initiative.
Under the Shivganga Abhiyan, Bhil tribes received training on water conservation.
“Through the halma tradition, villagers in both districts identified the growing need to conserve water as deforestation had left many areas barren. The villagers with a basic education were given direct training – Gram Engineer Prasikshan – which was then spread to the rest of the village”, said Chauhan.
Halma is an ancient tradition of the Bhils where the villagers gather together to discuss problems faced by the community. The problem can be both an individual issue or a predicament of the entire community. Following the identification of the problem, the community works together for a solution.
“Once every year, around 10,000-12,000 people from the entire district gather together in a particular village to construct contour trenches,” said Chauhan.
Out of the 3000 villages of the region, 225 villages have elevated their water retention capacity without any government aid.
People across India recognise the success of the movement
“Around 700 people – villagers, farmers, social activists and students – across the nation attended the halma organised in the Jhabua district last year. The movement has spread to different areas of Madhya Pradesh and is being taken up by other States as well”, revealed Chauhan.
Until last year, tribes people had planted more than 11,000 trees in 110 villages, repaired more than 250 hand pumps and dug more than three dozen big ponds in the region.
The numbers keep increasing every year as work continues regularly.
Every villager who takes part in the conservation drive does not directly benefit from it. Despite that, the entire community is working toward the cause to establish their districts sustainable.
Chauhan said the drive has been going on in more than 800 villages in the two districts and more than 20,000 Bhils have planted trees to conserve environment and water.
Additionally, many villagers tour the districts to spread the message of halma.
Environment conservation is not the responsibility of the government alone. As community members, it falls upon us to leave our surroundings in the best possible state for our future generations.
The success story of the Bhils serves as an example of tremendous achievement through community participation.
The Logical Indian acknowledges their efforts and hopes that the districts of Jhabua and Alirajpur achieve complete sustainability in the coming years.