Bishnoi: World’s only community to follow ‘eco-religion’ founded in 15th century

In this award-winning photograph by Himanshu Vyas from Hindustan Times that won IFRA Gold Award for News Photography, a Bishnoi woman is suckling a fawn.

For centuries, the Bishnoi have sworn by the preservation of plants and animals. Some have even lost their lives to defend this cause. Today, the textile industry in Rajasthan is threatening their future.

“To lose one’s head is better than to lose a tree,” according to a Bishnoi proverb.

The “eco-religion” was founded in the 15th century, when a farmer, who is now known as Guru Jambheshwar, retreated after a long drought and formulated 29 tenets according to which the farmers of the Thar Desert region should live their lives.

The word bis means 20, whereas noi means nine. The tenets revolve around personal hygiene, basic health, social behavior, the worship of God, biodiversity and good animal husbandry. They include a ban on the felling of green trees.

“The Bishnoi are a caste within the Hindu caste system,” explains Dr Pankaj Jain from the University of Texas. “They are strict vegetarians and do not kill living beings. Nature is holy to them.”

However, the lives of the half million or so Bishnois who live in India’s western state of Rajasthan are currently under threat.

The hundreds of small and medium-sized textile companies in the city of Jodhpur have polluted the Loni River, which is essential for keeping the sacred forest of Khejarli green and allowing the wild animals that are central to the Bishnois’ beliefs to graze.

“Nothing grows here anymore,” complains Balaram Bishnoi, a farmer from the village of Doli. “The land is dead. I had vegetables, crops and sesame – all kinds of things. Now not even grass grows anymore. The land has dried out completely.”

He and several other farmers have filed a suit against the region’s textile industry and are currently awaiting a verdict.

Read the full article in DW: India’s first environmentalists continue the struggle

India’s First Annulment Case- Child Bride Laxmi Sargara

Laxmi holds up her hard-won annulment.

Laxmi holds up her hard-won annulment.

“Now I am mentally relaxed and my family members are also with me,”

said Laxmi, who beamed as she held up the annulment document for photographers. She plans to continue her education in hopes of landing a job so she can maintain her independence.

“It is the first example we know of a couple wed in childhood wanting the marriage to be annulled, and we hope that others take inspiration from it,”

said, Kriti Bharti, the social worker who orchestrated the annulment.

At an age when most kids are learning to walk, Laxmi Sargara was already married. Her husband, Rakesh, was just three-years-old when family sealed the deal on their fate. She was one.


How a child bride finally made her escape
Now seventeen years later the couple have set a history-making precedent by having their marriage annulled. But the real hero of this story is Laxmi, now 18, who took remarkably brave steps to reverse the archaic tradition and opened the door for more child brides to follow.

Though technically illegal in India, poor families living in rural areas often rely on these types of partnerships, using kids as pawns in order to provide more financial stability to those who can’t afford to feed their children long-term. The fall-out is hardest felt for child brides, plucked from their parents’ homes in their teens and forced to live with the husband they wed as a toddler and his family. The girls are expected to play the role of obedient wife and daughter-in-law, and in some instances, are beaten into submission by members of their new family.

Just days ago, Laxmi’s was informed of her own marriage obligations, promised almost two decades before by her Rajasthani elders, and given a move-in deadline of April 24 from her in-laws.

“I was unhappy about the marriage. I told my parents who did not agree with me, then I sought help,” said Laxmi.

She reached to a social worker in Jodhpur who advocates for children’s rights through an organization called the Sarathi Trust. The social worker contacted the groom, who was prepared to go through with family arrangement. After some persuading, he finally changed his mind and agreed to an annulment, influenced by the fact that he’d be marrying a woman risking everything to live without him.

Courtesy: kracktivist

A joint legal document signed by both Rakesh and Laxmi made it official and provided a road map for other young brides to do the same.

In India, where an estimated 50 percent of girls are married before they’re 18, opponents of arranged child marriages can face serious threats, including gang rape, beatings and maiming. On the same day as Laxmi’s annulment became official, protesters trying to stop a mass child wedding in Rajasthan were attacked and injured by villagers. When a 13-year-old refused to wed her arranged husband in 2009, her parents withheld her food for two weeks. Amazingly, the young girl prevailed and gained international attention and support for her stance. This week Laxmi moved the needle even further; hers is the first legally-binding child marriage annulment in India’s history.

Child marriages are a worldwide phenomenon, particularly in rural areas with high poverty rates and closely-guarded ancient traditions. In parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, The Middle East and even the U.S. underage children are forced into marriages at the behest of their families. In recent years, American officials have cracked down on fundamentalist polygamist sects in Utah and Texasknown to pair adult grooms with child brides. Other countries provide less legal clout needed to protect young girls. In Yemen where, there is no punishment for families who marry off an underage daughter, about half the country’s brides are under 15. In Saudi Arabia, there is no minimum age for marriage at all. An 8-year old girl found this out in 2009, when the Saudi courts denied her annulment request. At the time, her husband was 58.

Akshaya Tritiya: Auspicious for performing child marriage in India!

Akshaya Tritiya, also known as Akha Teej is a Hindu and Jain holy day, that falls on the third Tithi (Lunar day) of Bright Half(Shukla Paksha) of the pan-Indian month of Vaishakha. Auspicious for performing child marriage in India!

This DAY is considered AUSPICIOUS and is the most Famous / Chosen day for PERFORMING Child Marriages…CHILD MARRIAGES is a common custom in Indian Villages and some cities, Its a custom, a tradition of sorts, and even the cops are Helpless against it

UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children 2012 report says that more than 40 per cent of the world’s child marriages happen in India.

So why is this day SO CHOSEN … Why is it considered for conducting CHILD MARRIAGES ? .. .it’s not that child marriages are not carried out on other DATES … Then why did I choose TODAY ???

"Akha Teej is considered an auspicious day, when one does not have to
 consult any astrologer. This is the best time for marriages ...
 Even our epics mention about child marriages. 
There is no harm in performing it, as the children do not live together 
and stay together only after attaining adulthood."
- Priest in Rajasthan

“In many communities where child marriage is practiced, girls are not valued as much as boys – they are seen as a burden,” Laura Dickinson, communications officer for Girls Not Brides said.

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