Monday, 17 March 2014

Sarna Mata- The eco-feminist warrior.

In the roots of east-central India, mainly in Jharkhand, resides the Oraon tribe. Known to worship Sarna Mata, whom the tribe considers as the Goddess of Earth; is believed to reside in sacred groves. The groves typically consist of a cluster of primarily Sal trees, along with a few other species. With constant degradation and degeneration of the groves, caused due to neglect on the part of the tribe to conserve them; Sarna Mata is said to have turned unhappy and dismayed.
According to belief, angered by the state of affairs, Sarna Mata possesses a woman. As the woman she possesses whirls her head in a hypnotic trance, Sarna Mata’s frustration towards the environmental situation finds an outlet. After their trances, the women feeling a sense of connect with the Goddess, are empowered to take religious and political assertions.
As time went by, these trances began to occur more often, the women devotees took upon themselves to start preserving the groves and gave rise to an eco-feminist movement in the forgotten interiors of India.
The movement is peculiar in its case as its origin is from revival of spiritual devotion to the deity. Sarna devi is a pre-sanskritic goddess and has long been understood as the female neighbour of the supreme male deity.
Earlier, women of the tribe were not allowed to enter the sacred groves. They were prohibited from participating in the ritualistic worship of the sacred groves. Breaking the taboos and forming their own rituals, today, the Sarna Mata female disciples conduct rituals in the groves every week. The rituals are held every Thursday, where women devotees enact acts of symbolism, which the women believe has instilled in them an environmental consciousness. The rural women have been successful in acquiring money from the government to build walls around the groves and have implemented rules that prohibit anyone from cutting down trees. In fact, new saplings have been planted that are blossoming under the women’s devotional care. Women have come up with ingenious solutions to carry forward their forestation program. Sal and Karam are the tree species that the women most commonly plant as they have a link with the Adivasi myths and rituals. In order to protect the saplings, the women have started planting Ipomoea hedges – a species that is toxic to grazing animals. Women in the villages have come up with several economical methods to protect the groves.
What is significant of the movement is that, groups of women who care for the groves that are in every village cluster have decided to move forward with more of such afforestation programs. Socio-economic empowerment of women seems to be the foremost objective of the movement. Organizing themselves into groups and forming self-help groups and NGOs, the women from these villages have also taken to micro-enterprises such as sale of handicrafts and other activities. One such group of Sarna Mata devotees has reportedly achieved great success with their mushroom cultivation program. The Sarna movement is also using the re-sanctifying of natural sites to reclaim the land that was once used by marginalized communities.
Vandana Shiva, an environmental activist, claims that a woman has a special connection with nature.  Her daily bread, fuel, fodders and home is obtained from nature and hence she feels a stronger urge to protect it. With several rural women taking the responsibility of saving the environment, India is seeing an emergence of several tribal eco-feminist warriors.