With the founding of the Gondwana Mahasabha by the Koitur intellectuals, the year 1916 marked the beginning of a historic period for the Koitur-Gond social movements of the twentieth century. The initiative was to lead a distinct intellectual discourse for its people divided across (now) seven states and played a key role in mobilising and organising the community, after being denied autonomy and rights over their ancestral land of Gondwana. With the publication of Gondi literature in the 1920s and 1930s, this movement continued to surge forward. After independence, the demand for a separate Gondwana state was raised but unheard by the 1956 state reorganisation committee. The post-independence era saw a historic shift in the 1980s, when Sunher Singh Taram launched “Gondwana Darshan,” a Hindi magazine, in 1986—it was in publication for a continuous thirty-two years, one of the longest running Adivasi magazines in the country. In 1992, the Gondwana movement peaked with the formation of the Gondwana Gantantra Party and about thirty years later, the ongoing resurgence movement among Gonds-Koiturs is a reflection of these histories. The journey of Gondwana Darshan, therefore, begins with the story of Sunher Singh Taram.
“I am a man of the [Adivasi] community. Why do I need a home, property or wealth? Our wealth is the people. There is no money in my account. But friends, family and the people of the community are with me. Even though I could not save money, these people are the real treasure who I have saved in my heart. This is wealth and property for me.”
Born on 4 April 1942, in a Koitur-Gond farmer family in the village of Khajra Garhi in Madhya Pradesh, these words of Taram reflect his life in a nutshell. Serving the literary world was his main goal and he was very fond of reading. Taram wrote that his childhood dream was to, “read a lot of books, write, become an officer, and travel the world.” However, his family’s financial condition was not favourable and his parents strictly forbade studying. “Don’t even think about school, graze the cow, go to the forest, carry wood—this is your job!” he was told in his childhood.
Narrating his life story, Taram wrote, “I kept fighting with the family to study. In seventh standard, I passed with first class and ran away from home. I started working outside. I worked with gardeners in the garden. I ironed clothes. I used to earn one rupee in wages. I also worked as a labourer and took tuition classes for children. I bought books and notepads with my earnings. Like this, I passed matriculation with first class. Later, my father opposed me but I went on to pursue education…sometimes I stayed in hostels, sometimes in five rupee rooms, sometimes I stayed hungry, sometimes I got food. And I graduated. I then worked as a watchman for a library, as I could access books to read. My cousins used to go home during the summer vacation and Diwali holidays and used to return with joy. I, on the other hand, used to work with people from the Dhimar community on the potato fields.”
While working in the library as a watchman, Taram managed to pass the entrance exam and became a government officer. “I worked for ten years, meanwhile I also got married. But my wife turned out to be greedy. After grabbing our property, she put my mother and siblings in jail. She harassed me with false accusations. I managed to get them out of jail and divorced her. She occupied our farmland. Homeless and helpless, I left all my belongings, property, relatives and home in pursuit of knowledge” he wrote.
Accordingly, Taram resigned from his post and went to Delhi. After passing exams for research degree and journalism, he continued to travel across the country to learn more about Adivasi languages, social systems, rituals, religious systems and so on. He met Bhumkas—traditional Adivasi priests, Gawantiya—village heads, zamindars and social workers, and made efforts to gather as much information as possible. He also studied, documented and collected information on Gondwana’s history, religion, culture and society.
Taram did not long for a life of luxury or pleasure when he left his family. He dedicated his life to Gond and Adivasi literature, language, history and culture. Having seen and experienced the pain and suffering of his people, Taram used to say, “It is my duty to retain the honour of our lost history and keep the language, culture, and literature of our community alive.”
In 1980, a conference was organized in Railwahi village of Balaghat, Madhya Pradesh. Labourers, farmers, clerks, officers from the Koitur community participated in the event. It was also attended by Heera Singh Markam, a school teacher and chairperson of the conference—who later founded Gondwana Gantantra Party in 1992—, Kalyan Singh Warkhade and other participants from Raigadh and Surguja region of (now) north and central Chhattisgarh.
After several speeches, a village elder got up and walked to the stage on his stick. With folded hands, he said, “my dear elders and friends, I want you to listen to me and answer.” He continued, “Give me glasses! Show me a mirror!” and stood on the side. The many officers sitting on their chairs sarcastically passed remarks on him. To which the village elder laughed and said, “Oh the intellectuals of Gond community. I am an illiterate village person, and you are mocking me. If you do not understand the seriousness of my words, then please keep quiet. Only a wise person will be able to answer my question.”
Taram got up and said, “Friends! I am not an intellectual but what I understand is—with the mirror, the village elder is drawing attention to the essence of our culture, rituals, our philosophy and literature.” Markam applauded at his answer. Taram further clarified, “Literature can be a mirror for the people. Being able to see the basic and fundamental aspects of society, the good and bad of rituals are the founding principles of any culture.” The hall echoed with applause and Markam added, “There is lack of writers and poets in Adivasi communities and people should come forward.”
“I will not promise but I will definitely try” Taram responded. He was then garlanded and felicitated at the event. Markam introduced him to the crowd and said, “This young man is Sunher Singh Taram, with an MA, BEd, and LLB. Now he is an Area Organizer (Officer).” The gathering encouraged him with another applause.
This incident became a turning point in Taram’s life. He wrote, “I was enthralled by the village elder and I decided to pursue a life in literature. I became determined that I will start my own literary magazine.”
In Vaishakh Poornima, around the summer of 1980, the event of Baavangarh’s ancestral worship was held in Dhamdha, Dharamgarh (now in Chhattisgarh). Taram attended the program. Meanwhile, he also went home and sold his share of an ox-pair that was kept with his brother. After selling it for 1500 rupees, he kept the money safely in a pillowcase, packed a small bed and left in search of knowledge.
Remembering this phase of his life, Taram wrote, “I planned to use this money for publishing the magazine and shared the idea with a few people. While some encouraged me and offered help, others questioned “what will you do by publishing a magazine? How will it contribute to society? Publishing magazines is not a job for a person like you!” But Taram had made up his mind. “On the death anniversary of Sona Khan’s Koitur leader, Veer Narayan Singh, I started the magazine from Bhopal on 19 December 1985,” he wrote. The son of renowned musician and Gond king Chakradhar Singh Porte, Bhanupratap Singh was the chief guest for the event and released the magazine. Several poets, writers, intellectuals such as — Anand Dhurve, Komal Singh Marai, Motiravan Kangali, Kalyan Singh Warkhade, Ramnath Oima, and Ballamsingh Kesar were honoured at the event.
In 1987, the name of the magazine was changed from “Gondwana Saga” to “Gondwana Darshan” and it was registered with the number “RNI/45289/87.”
After this, the Gondwana Darshan ’s readership and circulation started to grow and it travelled from one state to another —Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Orissa, Bihar, Jharkhand and so on. Adivasi writers, poets and intellectuals contributed to it and bundles of letters and literature were sent to the magazine.
“There was a time when I faced deep financial hurdles for publishing the magazine; but due the relentless efforts and good relations with the people, the magazine was able to move ahead in the path of success. People wrote on a range of themes such as Gondi language, totems, Gond history and so on. People appreciated my editorial work and soon Gondwana Darshan had its own editorial board. As new writers started to write about newer issues and subjects, we built a group of literary scholars and writers” Taram wrote, describing the initial journey of the magazine.
Gondwana Darshan was the first tribal magazine in India, published continuously for over three decades. It helped restore and revitalize the roots of tribal culture, language, history and society. And it became a beacon of light for Adivasi literature, that brought a new awakening and consciousness among its readers. This new intellectual discourse created by the magazine became part of various seminars and community gatherings. These included the following Sahitya Sammelan or literature conferences:
1) Sahitya Sammelan, Bhadravati, District – Chandagarh (1988).
2) Sahitya Sammelan, Wardha (1990).
3) Sahitya Sammelan, Pragati Vihar, N.T.P.C. Korba (1991).
4) Sahitya Sammelan, Vadrafnagar, Surguja (1992).
5) Sahitya Sammelan, Ratanpur Badal Mahal, Bilaspur (1993).
6) Sahitya Sammelan, Asifabad, Andhra Pradesh (1994).
7) Sahitya Sammelan, BHEL Bhopal Piplani, (1995).
8) Sahitya Sammelan, Bhilai (1997).
9) Sahitya Sammelan, Gondwana Vikas Mandal, Nagpur (1998).
10) Sahitya Sammelan, Chanda Fort, Chandagarh (2002).
11) Sahitya Sammelan, Digri College, Dudhi U.P. (2005).
12) Sahitya Sammelan, Tangapani, Nagri, Dhamtari, Madhya Pradesh (2006).
13) Sahitya Sammelan, Mylara Temple, Bidar, Karnataka (2008).
14) Sahitya Sammelan, Raje Devasay Atram, Utnurvada (2009).
15) Sahitya Sammelan, Raipur, Tikrapara (2010).
16) Sahitya Sammelan, Shirpur Temple, Police Ground, Betul, Madhya Pradesh (2011).
17) Sahitya Sammelan, Boudh Vihar Temple Ground, Shirpur, Mahasamundar (2012).
18) Sahitya Sammelan, Mavalkar Hall, New Delhi, Gondi Dictionary Publication (2017).
In this manner, Gondwana Darshan, under the leadership of Taram, organised 18 conferences across the states which intensified the resurgence movement of Koitur-Gond identity, language, and culture. With the hardships and sufferings of Taram, this beacon of literature continued to grow. He was a friendly, soft-spoken, humble and selfless person—and that’s why Taram devoted forty years of his life to the service of Koitur Adivasi literature across the country.
In 2015, Gondwana Darshan celebrated its Silver Jubilee in Raipur, the first tribal magazine to have a silver jubilee festival. Taram also founded the Gondwana Gondi Sahitya Parishad and Gondwana Sahitya Prakashan—organisations working towards Gondi language and literature. He always encouraged the people in his community to publish literature. Besides this, he organised discussions, seminars, workshops, community events in several states. For his selfless services, he was honoured with many awards such as Gondwana Ratn, Gondwana Bhushan, Gondwana Gaurav, Gondwana Samaj Sevak and Sahitya Sevak, among others.
The magazine, however, unfortunately went to the wrong hands toward the end of his life. In the January 2017 issue of the magazine, Taram issued a notice titled “Gondwana Darshan Readers, correspondents and agents beware!”, stating that Ramesh Thakur (Khushroo), an Adivasi himself and a resident of Magarlod, District Dhamtari, Chhattisgarh, cheated Taram and had been printing the magazine from Raipur without permission. He had been selling it from 2014 to 2017 and committed fraud of about 60 lakh rupees, by using the names of the real founder and editor of the magazine without permission. Despite there being an independent bank account of Gondwana Darshan, Thakur kept collecting money from readers and advertisers into his personal account. Currently, a case against Thakur is underway in Chhattisgarh High Court on accusations of cheating Taram and violating the Copyright Act. Meanwhile Thakur is currently publishing another magazine named “Gondwana Swadesh” and misleading readers of Gondwana Darshan.
Towards the end of his life, Taram was writing a book about his life journey and the magazine, titled “18 Paath 32 Bahini”, it was unfortunately never completed. Taram was rich with his intellectual and critical writings, poems and stories. In his lifetime, he wrote over 400 editorial columns and 100 articles on diverse issues. In 2008, he underwent an open heart surgery and had three prostate operations. He was given oxygen five times, but his will power won and defied death. He finally passed away on the 7th of November 2018 after a brief illness. (After Taram’s death, the publication of magazine has been temporarily put on hold.)
Reading and writing were integral parts of Taram’s life. In his journey of social and literary service, he also encountered frauds and dishonest people like Thakur, but Taram followed the path of truth and till the end, kept moving ahead! And onward!
The article has been translated from Hindi to English by Akash Poyam.