Though I could not meet Naren Hansda, the esteemed teacher, yet, but I have heard stories regarding him from friends and also read some articles on him; and hence I am not hesitant in using this hashtag #stand_with_naren_hansda.

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Photo Courtesy: Ayna Soren (Facebook)

Naren Hansda is an unusual man. Naren Hansda is not only a Santali folk singer – Starting from giving shelter to a few orphaned children in his area he is now looking after 30 orphans, and running free school for hundreds. And besides learning those orphans and their teacher, as if by their songs, have awakened the barren earth there. Slowly a forest is coming up. A report on him was published in Better India website: Meet ‘Dada’ & His Team Of Kids, Who Are Turning 40 Acres Of Barren Land Into A Mini Forest. Another recent article on his effort was written by Gopa Bhattacharya and was published in Get Bengal website: Naren Hansda – Pied Piper of Purulia.

tree planting saplings adivasi

Photo Courtesy: Sido-Kanhu Mission

To mobilise help an organisation was set up, Sido Kanhu Mission, in 2014 and it also got itself registered. It operates in Bhalidungri, Arsha, West Bengal, 723201. That site it very near the famous Ajoddha Hill (Ajodia Buru in Santali). Just before a few months the students took a novel initiative – they painted walls of clay walled houses of the village.

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Photo Courtesy: Naren Mahata (Facebook)

Quite recently a disturbing news came to notice via social network. The Forest Department has issued a notice to Naren Hansda for ‘illegal construction’ of rooms which house the Sido Kanhu Mission inside ‘notified forest land’. Friends of the mission were shocked. There were many houses, resorts, hotels and even temples in that area but sparing those this initiative, this little shelter of orphans who turned barren tracks into forest, was notified to vacate the place!

Instead of getting rewards for their exemplary works, this initiative of giving shelter to homeless orphans, centre of learning, afforestation drive, this man and the mission is facing eviction.

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Photo Courtesy: Ayna Soren (Facebook)

Can the Forest Department not reconsider, and in its place reach out with more help, give more land to this venture to promote this spirit? After all, these tribe people do not want the land as their ‘personal property’ and make profit from it.

Personally, Naren Hansda, is a Santali folk singer and such persons can spend their entire life in a minimalist way, they do not bother about ‘property’. Nature took care of such people for thousands of years. Not very far from this place historical-archaeological evidence of ‘civilisation’ of megalithic era was discovered some years back – people are there for at least 25,000-30,000 years, and there were no forest department even before 250 years. Before some 2500 years or so, Chanakya in his Arthashastra mentioned that the state or the king has limited ‘right’ over the forest, to that extent that was needed to feed elephants for his own/army use and some for fuel. The people of these areas fought the British colonialist invaders. And only after the British established their rule, the forefathers of today’s departments came up under that government. Not surprisingly that govt did not bestow any land ‘right’ to the people who were inhabitants here for centuries. Till now many tribe people do not have govt ‘papers’ and also there are tribes in India who still practice communal farming without any personal property ‘right’ or ‘title’ over land.

But legality, morality etc are separate questions. More important is – what will be the new address of the orphans if they get dislodged? What will be the address of the free school of hundreds of students? Will the initiative get strangled?

Readers are requested to mobilise support for Sido-Kanhu Mission and request the Forest Department to make necessary arrangements for smooth functioning of this great initiative.

Sandeep Banerjee  is an activist who writes on political and socioeconomic issues and also on environmental issues. Some of his articles are published in Frontier Weekly. He lives in West Bengal, India.  Presently he is a research worker. He can be reached at sandeepbanerjee00@gmail.com


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