|Seeds of Protest|
|Tribal Protests & Rebillion|
|Origin of 'Chhattisgarh'|
The name Chhattisgarh is not ancient and has come into popular usage in the last few centuries. In ancient times the region was called Dakshin Kosala. All inscription, literary works and the accounts of foreign travelers, call this region Kosala of Dakshin Kosala. According to Hari Thakur, the contest between Jabalpur and Chhattisgarh for the name Mahakosala is settled beyond doubt in favour of Chhattisgarh in the light of available evidence. Even during the reign of the Mughals, it was called Ratanpur territory and not Chhattisgarh. The word Chhattisgarh was popularized during the Maratha period and was first used in an official document in 1795.
A British Chronicler, J.B. Beglar provides and interesting story explaining the origins of the name Chhattisgarh. It becomes very relevant in the context of contemporary caste consciousness and the caste configuration of the region. According to Beglar "the real name is Chhattisghar and not Chhattisgarh. There is a tradition saying that ages ago about the time of Jarasandha, thirty six families of dalits (leather workers) emigrated southwards from Jarasandha's kingdom and established themselves in country, which after them is called Chhattisgarh". Another common explanation regarding the origins of the name Chhattisgarh is that it denotes the number of forts in the region, which are supposed to be thirty six in number. However, experts do not agree with this explanation, as thirty-six forts cannot be identified in the region. An explanation popular with the experts and historians in that Chhattisgarh is the corrupted form of 'Chedisgarh' or the political seat of the Chedis.
|History of Chhattisgarh|
According to a mythological legend, Ram, during his Vanvas stayed in Dakshin Kosala. Which is modern day Chhattisgarh. The unbroken history of Chhattisgarh or of South Kosala can be traced back to fourth century AD and its mythological history goes back as far back as the Mahabarata and the Ramayana. About the history of the region the famous historian C.W.Wills writes, 'in the 10th century AD a powerful Rajput family ruled at Tripuri near Jabalpur, Issuing from this kingdom of Chedi (also known as Kalchuri dynasty) a scion of the royal house by the name Kalingraja, settled about the year 1000AD, at Tuman, a site at present marked only by a few ruins in the north east of the erstwhile Laphazamidari of The Bilaspur district. His grandson Ratanraja founded Ratanpur Which continued as the capital of a large part of the country now known as Chhattisgarh. This Rajput family called themselves the Haihaya dyanasty. This dynasty continued ruling Chhattisgarh for six centuries about the 14th century it split into parts, the elder branch continued at Ratanpur, while the younger settled in semi-independent state at Raipur. At the end of 16th century it acknowledged the suzerainty of the Mughals, In Bastar, in the middle ages, Chalukya dynasty established its rule. The first Chalukya ruler was Annmdev, who established the dynasty in Bastar in 1320 .
The Marathas attacked Chhattisgarh in 1741 and destroyed the Haihaya power. In 1745 AD after conquering the region, they deposed Raghunathsinghji, the last surviving member of the Ratanpur house. In 1758, the Maraths finally annexed Chhattisgarh, it came directly under Maratha rule and Bimbaji Bhonsle, was appointed the rule. After death of Bimbaji Bhonsle, the Marathas adopted the Suba system. The Maratha rule was a period of unrest and misrule. There was large-scale loot and plunder by the Maratha army. The Maratha officials were openly surrendering the interests of the region to the British. As a result of this, the region became extremely poor and the people began resenting the Maratha rule. Only the Gonds continued to resist and challenge the advances of the Marathas and this led to several conflicts and much animosity between the Gonds and the Marathas (Captain Blunt, 1975). The Pindaris also attacked and plundered the region in the beginning of the Nineteenth Century.
In 1818 Chhattisgarh came under some sort of British control for the first time. In 1854, when the province of Nagpur lapsed to the British government, Chhattisgarh was formed into a deputy commissionership with its headquarters at Raipur. Historian C.W. Wills, writing about Chhattisgarh says, Chhattisgarh presents the remarkable picture of a Hindu government continuing till modern times outside the sphere of direct Mohammedancontrol. The British made certain changes in the administrative and revenue systems of Chhattisgarh, which adversely affected the people of Chhattisgarh. The intrusion of the British was resisted strongly in Bastar by the tribals and the Halba rebellion which lasted nearly five year (1774-1779) was the first documented rebellion against the British and Marathas in Bastar.
The First war of independence in 1857 was spearheaded in Chhattisgarh by Vir Narain Singh who was a benevolent jamindar of Sonakhan. The British arrested him in 1856 for looting a trader's grain stocks and distributing it amongst the poor in a severe famine year. In 1857 with the help of the solders of the British Army at Raipur, Vir Narain Singh escaped form prison. He reached Sonakhan and formed an army of 500 men. Under the leadership of Smith, a powerful British army was dispatched to crush the Sonakhan army. The British succeeded after a prolonged battle and Vir Narain Singh was arrested and later hanged on the 10th December, 1857. He became the first martyr from Chhattisgarh in the War of Independence. Vir Narain Singh's martyrdom has been resurrected in the 1980's and he has become a potent symbol of Chhattisgarhi pride.
|Social Structure and Configuration|
Women in Chhattisgarh have traditionally enjoyed a kind of freedom denied to women elsewhere in the country. This position of women continues to be very much the same even in modern times. This comes out strongly from available data and from the general Development index in the Human Development Report (1998) of the Government of Madhya Pradesh. The districts of Chhattisgarh fare much better and rank higher in the Gender Development Index than most other districts of Madhya Pradesh. The relative freedom to women is evident in the local traditions and customs. The Pardah system, present in one form or the other in many parts of India is not present in Chhattisgarh except in a few Brahmin and Bania Communities. According to another local custom, women, other than those of these caste can choose to terminate a marriage relationship and through a custom called Chudi pahanana, it she so desires. However, a mention of these progressive local customs, in no way suggests that the ideology of female subservience does not exist in Chhattisgarh. On the contrary, in spite of this male authority and dominance is seen quite clearly in the social and cultural life of Chhattisgarh11.
The population of Chhattisgarh is notable for the high proportion of Scheduled Tribes and for specific Sects primarily constituted of Schedule Castes. Of the total population of Chhattisgarh, tribals constitute at least 32.5%, which is a significantly high percentage. In the last few decades, the demographic profile of tribal dominated areas has undergone a change. This is a cause for concern as it represents large-scale intrusion of non tribals in tribal areas. This changing demographic profile is strongly evident in Bastar, where the proportion of tribals has decreased in the last few decades. The tribal areas of Chhattisgarh have witnessed several rebellions starting from 1774 onwards against the intrusion by outsiders, primarily the British, in the domain of traditional rights and the tribal way of life. Interestingly, since the 17th century, the social history of the non-tribal areas of Chhattisgarh has been marked by reform movements such as the Satnam sect. Kabir Panthis and the Movements of share croppers and agricultural labour. Despite presence of a high tribal population and religious reform movements, the region is also the domain of classic Hindu culture (although in some rituals the impact of tribal rituals can be identified), in which the cult of Ram assumes an essential and central role. Impact of this domination in evident and has its manifestations in the growth of sectarian formations is contemporary politics.
In India, the combined population of the Scheduled Castes and Tribes is 23.6% of the total population and for Madhya Pradesh; this figure rises to 37.1%. The combined population of Scheduled Castes and Tribes in Chhattisgarh is significantly higher at 44.7% and this is largely due to a high proportion of tribal population, Although the Scheduled Castes do not constitute a very high proportion of the total population they are critical for understanding the social history of Chhattisgarh, which has been deeply influenced and effected by the religious reform movements.
|The Movement for Prathak Chhattisgarh|
The demand for a separate Chhattisgarh state was first raised in the early twenties. Similar demands kept cropping up at regular intervals; however, a well-organised movement was never launched. Several efforts were made by individuals and organisations towards highlighting the Chhattisgarh identity and expressing the sense of perceived marginalisation. There were certain protests with mass support but these were limited and sporadic. There were several all-party platforms formed and they usually resolved around petitions, public meetings, seminars, rallies and bandhs.
A demand for separate Chhattisgarh was raised in 1924 by the Raipur Congress unit, and later on also discussed in the Annual Session of the Indian Congress at Tripuri. A discussion also took place of forming a Regional Congress organisation for Chhattisgarh. Sporadic attempts to give a call for a separate state for Chhattisgarh continued in the years immediately following Independence. In 1955, a demand for a separate state was raised in the Nagpur assembly of the then state of Madhya Bharat.
When the State Reorganisation Commission was set up in 1954, the demand for a separate Chhattisgarh was put forward to it, through this was not accepted. It was reported that the State Reorganisation Commission rejected the demand for Chhattisgarh on the grounds that the prosperity of Chhattisgarh would compensate for the poverty of other regions of Madhya Pradesh.
The eighties were a comparatively quiet phase in the demand for Chhattisgarh. The 1990's saw more activity for a demand for the new state, such as formation of a state wide political forum, especially the Chhattisgarh Rajya Nirman Manch. The Late Chadulal Chadrakar led this forum, several successful region-wide Bandhs and rallies were organised under the banner of the forum all of which were supported by major political parties including the Congress and the BJP. The rallies of the all party forum were attended by leaders from most political parties.
The Congress Government of Madhya Pradesh took the first institutional and legislative initiative for the creation of Chhattisgarh. On the 18 of March 1994, a resolution demanding a separate Chhattisgarh was tabled and unanimously approved by the Madhya Pradesh Vidhan Sabha. Both the Congress and the Bhartiya Janta Party supported the resolution. The election manifestos of the Congress and the BJP for both the 1998 and the 1999 parliamentary elections as well as the Madhya Pradesh assembly election of 1998 included the demand for creation of separate Chhattisgarh. In 1998, the BJP led Union Government drafted a bill for the creation of a separate state of Chhattisgarh from sixteen districts of Madhya Pradesh. This draft bill was sent to the Madhya Pradesh assembly for approval. It was unanimously approved in 1998, although with certain modifications. The union government did not survive and fresh elections were declared. The new National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government sent the redrafted Separate Chhattisgarh Bill for the approval of the Madhya Pradesh Assembly, where it was once again unanimously approved and then it was tabled in the Lok Sabha. This bill for a separate Chhattisgarh was passed in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, paving the way for the creation of a separate state of Chhattisgarh. The President of India gave his consent to The Madhya Pradesh Reorganisation Act 2000 on the 25 of August 2000. The Government of India subsequently set the First day of November 2000 as the day on which the state of Madhya Pradesh would be bifurcated into Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. Many political observers have commented on the relatively peaceful manner in which the Chhattisgarh state has been created.
There is no single factor responsible for the creation of Chhattisgarh. It is in fact a complex interplay of a combination of factors that paved the path for a separate state. The long standing demand and the movement for Uttarakhand and Jharkhand which led to the acceptance of separate states for these two regions, created a sensitive environment for the Prithak Chhattisgarh demand. Therefore, the creation of Chhattisgarh coincided with the creation of these two states and became a concurrent process. Another important factor leading to the creation of Chhattisgarh was that there was clear acceptance, within Chhattisgarh and outside that Chhattisgarh had a distinct socio-cultural regional identity that had evolved over centuries. A consensus had evolved and emerged on the distinctiveness of Chhattisgarh. The people of Chhattisgarh accepted this and saw Prithak Chhattisgarh as giving expression to this identity. A sense of relative deprivation had also developed in the region and people felt that a separate state was imperative for development to take place in the region. In a democratic polity, the people's demand has a high degree of legitimacy and weight. Therefore the people's demand voiced through democratic channels was heard and contributed immensely to the creation of Chhattisgarh.
The consensus regarding the distinctiveness of Chhattisgarh did not remain limited to its socio-cultural identity. All over Madhya Pradesh, the consensus on a need for separate Chhattisgarh was also carefully developed. This consensus cuts across geographical regions castes, classes and political parties. A strong reflection of this consensus was evident in the unanimous passing of the Chhattisgarh bill in the Madhya Pradesh Vidhan Sabha. This consensus is a pointer to the high degree of maturity of Madhya Pradesh polity and the smooth passage of the Prithak Chhattisgarh bill resulting in the peaceful and unanimous creation of a new state a tribute to this maturity.
|Seed of Protest and Change|
<- Guru Ghasidas and the Satnam Panth
Chhattisgarh primarily due to its large tribal population has historically not been a part of the mainstream and has therefore remained underdeveloped. Critical indicators for education and health have remained low. However, as stated above, the region was influenced by mainstream traditional Hindu culture as the overaching organising principle despite the presence of a large percentage of Scheduled Castes and Tribes. This oppressive, hierarchical social and religious order was not accepted, and from the 17th century onwards, the social history of Chhattisgarh is marked by the process of questioning and protests in the form of a number of socio-religious reform movements. These movements established a tradition of protest and have played a critical role in creation of the identity of Chhattisgarh, Initiated by sects like the Satnam Panth, the kabirpanthis and the Raedasis spread over all over Chhattisgarh, they carried the message of equality. Often the spread of these movement was within the boundaries of Chhattisgarh and therefore these movements contributed indirectly towards creating a regional consciousness.
An illustrative case would be the Satnam Panth, which emerged as sectarian formation, primarily reconstituting a small number of dalit groups by incorporating them as Satnamis, The Satnam Panths was an attempt to negotiate and cope with the cultural and economic processes in Chhattisgarh in the nineteenth century. It was a new sect, formed primarily amongst the poors of Chhattisgarh in the second decade of the nineteenth century and was led by Ghasidas, a humble farm worker. This community constituted a significant proportion, a little less then one sixth, of the total population of Chhattisgarh. They either owned land or were sharecroppers and farm workers. The new sect was given the name of Satnam and its followers were expected to believe only in the formless - Satnam or the true name. Gradually, the followers of this sect were given the name satnamis. Satnamis abstain from meat, liquor, tobacco, certain vegetables and red pulses. Satnam Panth rejected the deities and idols of the Hindu pantheon. The panth preaches a casteless order. Guru Ghasidas initiated a Guru parampara in the sect, which became hereditary. The main religious centres of the sect in Chhattisgarh are Bhandar and Girod.
In the nineteenth century a new system of property rights and revenue collection known as the malgujari settlement was intorduced in Chhattisgarh. The new system was implemented with the sole purpose of expropriation and exploitation of marginal farmers, sharcropers and farm servants by the upper caste Malgujars. Satnam Panth and its followers responded to this exploitative system through various strategies. In several cases the Satnamis deserted villages or continued with the process of Lakhabatta or the periodic redistribution of land, despite the implementation of the new system. Their united challenge to the upper caste Malgujars over the issues of rent and loss of land in the last decade of the nineteenth century was a reflection of the solidarity of Satnamis . This form of protest and response to the new system or property rights and malgujari settlements was widespread among the Satnamis of Chhattisgarh.
The primary concern of the Anglo Maratha politics in the Nineteenth century was of expropriation and consolidation of power. Guru Ghasidas the founder of the Satmani sect realised this. He believed that the politics of the Anglo-Marathas was deprived of morality. He worked towards uniting all downtrodden persons to morally oppose the immoral politics of the British The people of Chhattisgarh realised the potential threat of the British and were terror struck by the exploitative nature of their policies. Despite this, they were unable to unite under one flag to oppose the British. It was at this juncture that Ghasidas made efforts to unite the people of Chhattisgarh through the ideology of equality and non-violence.
Other sects emerged in response to the hierarchical social order and linked Chhattisgarh to other social reform movements in the country. However the regional specificities of these sects remained unaltered.
Kabir Panthis for example, are largely recruited from dalits and have a substantial presence in Chhattisgarh. The followers of this sect adhere to the teachings and principles of Kabir, the revolutionary social reformer saint poet of the sixteenth century. The centres of Kabir Panth activities are monasteries which are placed in the charge of Mahants. In Chhattisgarh, Kabir Panthi monasteries are in Kudurmal, Kharsia, Champa, Hardi, Bangoli, Banni, Dhamdha, Panda, Tarai and Ratanpur. The Kabir Panth does not believe in caste hierarchies. However in contemporary times the Panth has been divided along caste lines. The only time that they do not adhere to caste hierarchies is in the presence of the Chief Guru on the birth anniversary of Kabir. All who desire to become members of the Panth are required to renounce polytheism and to acknowledge their belief in only one god. The Kabir Panth of Chhattisgarh are descendents of Dharmadasa, one of the disciples of Kabir who established the Panth in Chhattisgarh. There fore the branch of the Kabir Panth in Chhattisgarh is also known as Dharmadasa or Bhai branch.
The Ramnami Panth is small sect in Chhattisgarh with a membership primarily from the dalit community. This sect propagates the cult of Rama among the dalits and does not believe in Brahmins as a medium for worshipping god. Ramnamis are found chiefly on the southern side of the Mahanadi in Chhattisgarh. This sect is easily distinguishable as they carry a flute and put peacock feathers around their caps. Ramnamis as the name suggests chant the name of Ram. They of ten get their bodies tattooed with the name of Ram.
The social religious reformer Ramananda had a committed dalit follower from Chhattisgarh. His name was Ravi Das or Rae Das. Gradually, the followers of Rae Das formed a separate sect and started calling themselves Rae Das Panthis or simply Raedasis. A striking similarity between all these sects is that the followers are drawn mostly from the Dalit communities. Secondly all these sects spread the message of equality.
The most widespread and important rebellion was the Bhumkal rebellion of 1910 that spread to 46 of the 84 parganas of Bastar. The term Bhumkal is significant as it refers to the social solidarity of the members of a clan that binds them to each other and to their specific Bhumor land. The basic reasons listed for the Bhumkal rebellion by historians clearly reaffirms the findings from earlier rebellions. It continued the tradition of tribal struggle for preserving and defending their traditions and their way of life and for reasserting their traditional rights on forests, land and natural resources. One of the main reasons for the rebellion is given by Standan dispossession of traditional forests and land resources had been the most important cause of the Bhumkal rebellion. In 1908, the forests were first made reserved forests and the contractors given rights to take timber and wood for railway sleepers. This deprived the tribals of one of their main sources of their livelihood. Leasing out of liquor monopolies also aggravated the situation, as the locally made country liquor was declared illegal. The introduction of education and schools was seen by the tribals as an attempt by the State to subvert their culture and therefore became a precipitating factor. Finally, the brutality and exploitation by the police, which included begar by the officials culminated in the Bhumkal rebellion.
|Tribal Protests and Rebellions|
<- Bhumkal in Bastar (1910)
Chhattisgarh is generally perceived as a tribal dominated state. Although this is factually incorrect it does reflect the significantly high proportion of tribals in the region. It also underscores a fundamentally important point that the tribals in Chhattisgarh have been able to retain their culture and traditional way of life despite the all pervasive influence of forces of modernity. While tribal people constitute 7.8 % and 23 % of the total population of India and Madhya Pradesh respectively they constitute 32.5 % of the population of Chhattisgarh. According to the 1991 census the tribal population in the then districts of Chhattisgarh was Durg -12.6 %, Raipur -18.6%, Rajnandgaon -25.3 %, Bilaspur -23.4 % Surguja -54.8 %, Raigarh - 45.5%, Bastar -67.7 %. The various tribes in the Chhattisgarh region are Gonds, Muria, Bhumja, Baiga, Kanars, Kawars, Halbas etc. A few of these tribes particularly the Gonds have influenced by the Hindu tradition and have in turn influenced local practices in the Hindu tradition as well. Other tribes like the Kamars and the Baigas have largely been untouched by the mainstream and have retained more of their traditional culture and way of life.
Chhattisgarh has withnessed several tribal rebellions starting from the late 18 century through the 19 century to the first few decades of the 20 century. Some of these tribal revolts were localised while others were more widespread. Geographically too, the rebellions were not centered in one region, in some of them precipitating factors were immediate and local in nature and in some the revolt took its time to brew. However the central narrative of these rebellions remained largely common and unchanged. All these rebellions were focussed and asserted the traditionally inalienable right of the tribals on the local resources land and forests. Often the mobilisation was around the issues of tradition culture and the tribal way of life. These rebellions were also protest against an alien system of governance and an alien political, economic and social order that had been forced upon them by the British. These tribal rebellions, although they predominantly took place in Bastar were spread across the various tribal areas of Chhattisgarh as well. The assimilation of this tradition of protest and rebellion by the tribals will be critical in any attempt to forge a Chhattisgarh identify and for evolving a vibrant and inclusive Chhattisgarh ethos. An understanding of these rebellions and integrating them in the new Chhattisgarh ethos will contribute to the future and the success of the new state. In this section we shall briefly discuss the tribal rebellions of Chhattisgarh. The key tribal rebellions are listed:
Halba rebellion (1774-79)
Bhopalpatnam Struggle (1795)
Paralkot rebellion (1825)
Tarapur rebellion (1842-54)
Maria rebellion (1842-63)
First Freedom Struggle (1856-57)
Koi revolt (1859)
Muria rebellion (1876)
Rani rebellion (1878-82)
The Halba rebellion is a very important event in the history of Bastar as it was responsible for the decline of the Chalukya dynasty, which in turn created circumstances that first brought the Marathas and then the British to the region. The rebellion was initiated in 1774 by the governor of Dongar, Ajmer Singhwith the intention of establishing an independent kingdom at Dongar. The Halba tribe and Halba soldiers supported him. However, the fundamental reasons for the rebellion were economic in nature. There had been a prolonged famine, which had severely affected the people who had very little cultivable land. The presence of Maratha forces and the terror caused by the East India Company in these adverse circumstances precipitated the rebellioin. The stronger armies of Bastar supported by the British and the Marathas crushed the rebellion. A massacre of Halba tribesmen followed the defeat of the Halba army. However, the revolt created conditions for the decline of the Chalukya dynasty which in turn significantly altered the history of Bastar.
The Paralkot rebellion was representative of the resentment felt by the Abujhmarias against the invasion of outsiders, primarily the Marathas and the British. This rebellion was supported by the Abujhmarias and was led by Gend Singh a fellow Abhujmaria. One of the objectives of the rebellion was to establish a world free of loot, plunder and exploitation. The presence of the Marathas and the British threatened the identity of the Abujmarias and they resisted this through organising the rebellion of Paralkot in 1825. The rebels were opposing the taxes levied by the Maratha rulers. In essence this rebellion was directed against the foreign interference and control of Bastar and wanted to re-establish the freedom of Bastar.
The rebellion of Tarapur (1842-54) was once again the assertion of the tribals against the invasion of their local culture and the tampering with their traditional principles of social, economic and political organization. It started with an opposition to taxes levied under the pressure of Anglo-Maratha rule. For the tribals, these experiences of coercive taxation were alien and new, and therefore they opposed them. The local Diwan became a symbol of oppression and bore the brunt of tribal anger.
The Maria rebellion, which lasted nearly 20 years from 1842 to 1863, was seemingly in favour of an inhuman practice of human sacrifice. In reality the revolt was against the insensitive and intrusive handling of tribal faith. The Anglo Maratha combine did not hesitate to enter and pollute the temple of Danteswari. The facts clearly indicate that this rebellion was more defensive in nature and was waged by the tribals to protect their land and tradition. Furer Hamendorf (Aboriginal Rebellions in the Deccan, Man in India, No.4,1945, PP 2089) writes all these rebellions were defensive movements, they were the last resort of tribesmen driven to despair by the encroachments of outsiders on their land and economic resources What is surprising is not the occurrence of uprisings, but the infrequency of violent reaction on the part of the aboriginals to the loss of their ancestral lands and to their economic enslavement. Hutton extends the analysis and writes (as quoted in H.L. Shukla, Baster Ka Mukti Sangram, p 118) early days of British administration did great detriment to the economic position of tribes through ignorance and neglect of their right and customs.
Bastar was also actively involved in the First War of Iindependence of 1857 with Southern Bastar as the centre of the revolt. Under the leadership of Dhruvarao a batle was waged against the British. He belonged to one of the Maria tribes called Dorlaon and was supported by his tribesmen.
Later in 1858, the Gonds challenged the British in several battles. In 1859 a very important rebellion began to take shape in Southern Bastar with the tribals refusing to let contractors undertake cutting of Sal trees. The people of these Jamindaris were called Kois. This rebellion was against the decision of the British to give contracts for cutting forests to contractors from Hyderabad. These contractors were also responsible for the exploitation of the tribals. The local tribals in 1859 decided that they would not allow the felling of a single tree. The British took this as a challenge to the might of the empire and used coercive methods to continue the felling of trees. This rebellion was loud and clear assertion by the tribals of their inalienable rights of the tribals on their forests and natural resources.
In 1867, Gopinath Kapardas was appointed the Diwan of Bastar State and was responsible for large scale exploitation of the tribal population. Tribals from different parganas jointly requested the King to remove the Diwan but the King did not concede to these demands. This led to the Muria Revolt of 1876 The rebelling tribals surrounded Jagdalpur on 2 March 1876; the King with great difficulty was able to inform the British forces. Finally a strong British army sent by the Resident of Orissa, crushed the rebellion.
|Emerging Identity and Socio-Cultural Spaces|
New Chhattisgarh in New India
The socio-religious reform movements and the tribal rebellions, contributed, although indirectly to emerging consciousness in the region. Guru Ghasidas clearly articulated the need to consolidate and create regional consciousness and solidarity to fight against exploitation. Similarly, other sects with their message of equality and solidarity also influenced the unfolding regional narrative. The tribal rebellions deeply affected the political, social and economic discourse of Chhattisgarh. The issue of people's rights over local resources was brought centre stage.It also raised the fundamental question of identity and preserving traditional culture and way of life. The evolution and formation of a formal Chhattisgarh identity coincided with the national movement and it was in this period that the process of crystallisation of a Chhattisgarh identity was initiated and a distinct identity started emerging and taking definite shape in the social and cultural sphere.
Pandit Sunderlal Sharma, Thakur Pyarelal Singh and Khub Chand Baghel were members of the Indian National Congress and some of the prominent leaders of the national movement in Chhattisgarh. These leader did not confine themselves merely to political activity; they were involved in initiating as well as actively participating in socio-cultural reform movements. These leaders also reiterated the fact that Chhattisgarh had a distinct socio-cultural identity and used this as a base for reform encourage the formation of a Chhattisgarhi consciousness amongst the masses through literacy drives cultural activities and social reform programmes.
The literature of the period also reflected the search for and an attempt to establish a distinctive identity. As early as 1901, M R Sapre from Pendra Road published a magazine called ' Chhattisgarh Mitra' which focussed on the region. Khub Chand Baghel who was waging a struggle against untouchability wrote plays called 'Jarnail Singh ' and 'Unch Neech' . During this period, leaders were also writing plays that focussed on social issues in the context of Chhattisgarhi identity. Pt. Sundarlal Sharma wrote ' Daan Lila ' and R.C. Deshmukh wrote ' Naacha ' and ' Gumbad'. Vaman Rao Deshmukh , an important cooperative leader of the times was specifically writing about the identity of Chhattisgarh.
Pandit Sundar Lala Sharma who was one of the most prominent leaders of Central India , fought against the caste system and worked continuously for an improvement in the condition of dalits. In 1917, he broke the forest laws in Sihawa with the support of the tribals. Three years later, in 1920, Pt. Sharma initiated the Nahar Satyagrah in Kandal village, Durg district, against the tax on water. In 1925, he entered a temple with a group of dalits. Thakur Pyarelal Singh, also known as the father of the cooperative movement in Chhattisgarh, was a Gandhian with a reformatory zeal. He organised the first labour movement of Chhattisgarh in Rajnandgaon in 1920. This movement was started to demand a fixed number of working hours. Later in the same region, the second and the third labour movement of 1924 and 1925 were also organised under the leadership of Pyare Lal Singh.
By the time India gained Independence in 1947, the discourse on regional identity had changed its focus from social reform movements to the issue of exploitation of Chhattisgarh. Multiple channels of expression of this demand were used. A journal called ' Chhattisgarh Chhatisgarhion Ka or Chhattisgarh belongs to the people of Chhattisgarh was started by Khub Chand Baghel. Another journal called ' Chhattisgarh Atma Ki Pukar' or The voice of the Soul of Chhattisgarh which also dealt with the same issues was also published and is especially looked into the significance of possessing a cultural identity and initiated a movement for establishing pride in Chhattisgarhi culture. In 1956, Chedi Lal Barrister with the support of Khub Chand Baghel organised the Chhattisgarh Mahasabha at Rajnandgaon. This meeting was attended by members of all parties and was supported by various caste groups and associations of Chhattisgarh. It is reported that the Mahasabha was attended by more than 50,000 people. The Mahasabha passed a resolution stating that the 'Art and Culture of Chhattisgarh should get fair opportunity to grow'. A decision to launch the journal ' Chhattisgarh' was taken. The Mahasabha unanimously resolved to work towards solving the problems of the region as well as to struggle for the rights of Chhattisgarh.
The movement for consolidating the Chhattisgarh identity has continued through the decades. It would become dormant for some years and then against erupt in some other district. It is therefore, impossible to create a linear pattern of the creation of Chhattisgarh identity. However, it is important to underscore that the multilayered and multilateral process of formulating and expressing Chhattisgarhi identity took place over a long period of time. Various other political and non-political formations have, within the framework of their ideological positions and worldview, been working towards the formation of an identity for Chhattisgarh.
Chhattisgarh Samaj an organisation formed under the umbrella of the Proutist Sarva Samaj Samiti has working for the development of a political, social and cultural consciousness of Chhattisgarh. Since the late sixties the Samaj has been publishing a weekly news paper in Chhattisgarhi through which they have been working for the growth of the Chhattisgarhi language. Through the different wings of the Samja, an attempt is being made to spread regional consciousness which they believe will then translate into the development of Chhattisgarh. A diametrically opposite non-party political formation struggling for the identity of Chhattisgarh is Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha or the CMM.
This mass based peoples movement started as a trade union movement and then moved on to link the exploitation of the region to the fact that its cultural identity had been suppressed. Gradually the movement started focussing on the struggle of Chhattisgarh against the exploitative oppressive and hegemonic mainstream.
On 19 December, 1979, in an attempt to link the tradition of struggle to the ethos of Chhattisgarh, the CMM then the CMSS, initiated the tradition of observing Shahid Vir Narain Singh's date of execution by the British as martyr's day.
The identity of Chhattisgarh has been created and evolved through a complex process that has largely charted its own course. A combination of cultural historical social economic and political factors have contributed to this process. The wide pluralities of cultures, traditions, histories and customs existing in the region have combined to form a unique mixture that has fed into the development of the Chhattisgarh ethos and identity. However, the key point is that the identity of Chhattisgarh cannot be viewed as separate form the people of Chhattisgarh. It is important to note that the Chhattisgarh identity has been asserted in different forms and has become more pronounced in adverse circumstances manifesting itself especially as protest against exploitation. Dr H L Shukla distinguishes between self image and other image for a more holistic understanding of Chhattisgarh identity and ethos. It is imperative to synthesize and blend the two images to understand the priorities and challenges facing new Chhattisgarh. The identity of Chhattisgarh is an inclusive identity, in spite of the movement for Prathak Chhattisgarh. There exists in the Chhattisgarh identity while being sensitive towards as well as protecting and preserving the plurality of customs, traditions and cultures.
Source - "Chhattisgarh - A State is born", Sanket Bhopal.