A Bishnoi Reveals Why His Community Stood up to Salman’s Stardom
RK Bishnoi talks about his community’s undying commitment to wildlife conservation even in the face of death.
It has been a tough battle for the Bishnois, a community to which I belong, to register, pursue and fight the case against Salman Khan, as it required tenacity, integrity, time, money and of course, courage.
Those who filed the case against Salman and demanded justice were ordinary farmers, without political connections, support and money to spare. Where they live and do their daily business in the Thar, there is a shortage of irrigation canals and water resources, primarily on account of scanty to no rainfall in the region, making their very existence a struggle.
Along with their daily struggle to make ends meet, it certainly is no mean task to spend time, energy, and resources for wildlife protection. In addition, there is always the threat of poachers or hunters, who are in constant conflict with the community.
Many Bishnois have taken a bullet or two for the sake of protecting the wild, and after their death, naturally their families suffer, having lost a breadwinner.
Despite continued pressure, coercion, temptation of bribes, and even threats from political and bureaucratic authorities to withdraw their case against Salman, the gumption and moral rectitude of the Bishnois, and their respect for their guru Jambhoji, made them committed to the cause.
What Message is a ‘Hero’ Like Salman Sending to his Fans?
Many friends and supporters of both Salman and the Bishnois requested the latter to forgive Salman Khan because ‘forgiveness’ is also a part of the Bishnoi philosophy. But since there was never an appeal for forgiveness from Salman himself, the Bishnois never considered this request. In many other similar instances, the Bishnois have forgiven hunters/poachers, and let them off with a nominal fine, written apology and a promise to never hunt or poach animals.
When I watched Salman Khan’s court appearances on media, I wondered how a star, a role model to so many, could kill innocent and harmless animals like deer for fun. A poor hunter/poacher killing to sustain himself is a different matter altogether.
But for a powerful person of Salman’s stature, to simply kill for sport, is inexcusable. What message is he sending to his fans? It seems odd that nobody from either our community or others, would have informed Salman of the laws in the region. It is unlikely that his hosts would have not informed him of wildlife protection laws during his stay. But due to his stardom and power, Salman might have thought he’ll get away with this.
Following the blackbuck poaching incident, my family and I stopped watching Salman’s films. I am sure a lot of other Bishnois did the same.
The Bishnoi Way of Life
Yes, I have interacted with Mahipal Bishnoi (the prosecutor in the blackbuck poaching case) regarding this case and other similar social causes.
We Bishnois, including Mahipal, are committed to the cause of wildlife protection. This obsession isn’t something we are indulging in now, in the case of a celebrity conviction, but it is an issue we care about in all instances of damage to wildlife.
Since our elders have sacrificed their lives to protect flora and fauna, we too put wildlife before our own lives, without fear of death.
It is our religious, social and moral duty to protect wildlife. It is part of the Bishnoi principle of ‘Jeev Daya Plani, runkh lilo nahi ghave’ (Be compassionate towards living beings and don’t cut green trees). We don’t castrate bulls, we drink water only after filtering/sieving it, to avoid killing even the tiniest of living things, we use fuel (cow dung or dry wood) only after shaking and cleaning so that insects don’t get killed in the fire, despite being Hindu we bury the dead just to avoid felling of trees for wood.
So you can imagine how livid we would be if someone destroyed flora or fauna in our area. Our women are known to have even breast-fed abandoned fawns (whose mothers have died/been killed) just to save their lives.
While working in India, I used to plant trees and water plants along the road every day. In fact, in this endeavour, I met with a serious road accident (was hit by a speeding vehicle) in 2011 while watering plants in Delhi along the roadside. This commitment did not die when I moved out of the country. In Dubai too, where I live currently, I continue to plant saplings and water trees.
This is testimony to my community’s devotion towards wildlife conservation.
(The author is a member of the Bishnoi community and is an environmental activist based in Dubai. He tweets @bishnoirk. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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