The untimely demise of Jagdevram Oraon ji, the national president of Akhil Bharatiya Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, the country’s largest organisation dedicated to the cause of tribal communities through 20,670 projects, is indeed a major loss to the entire 10 crore tribal population of the country. In his passing away, the tribals have lost a friend and family member who was dedicated to preserve their tribal identities and bridging the gap between tribal and non-tribal. He was the personality who always, in every moment of life, thought about the tribals only. I am fortunate to enjoy a close association with such a great soul even before he became national president of the Kalyan Ashram. Every time I found him thinking for the tribals. The words used by Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi in his Tweet on July 15, 2020 portray his personality in a truer sense. The PM said: “His was a life devoted to serving the tribal communities. He was known for his kind and hardworking nature.”
Jagdevram Ji Oraon with President Ramnath Kovind (File Photo)
The first time, I came in contact with Jagdevramji was in 1989 when I started my career in journalism with ‘Vanbandhu’, the magazine of the Kalyan Ashram dedicated to tribal issues, At first sight, he looked like a typical tribal. His dress, style of speaking, simplicity, etc all were tribals. He maintained this identity even after gaining high popularity as head of the world’s largest organisation working for tribals. He met bigwigs including the President of India, Prime Minister of India and even foreign delegates, but never compromised on his tribal identity. After gaining high popularity the leaders are normally fond of getting their photos clicked, published everywhere, but Jagdevramji was an exception. He never liked getting his photos clicked. When we sought his permission for any photo for publication, he always insisted to publish the photos of tribals. However, he was always ready for a photo when the photograph was to be clicked with the workers of the organisation. My 31 years association with him makes me realise that he practiced what he preached. If we want to see how should a Kalyan Ashram worker be we can cite the life of Jagdevramji.
I interviewed him over a dozen times, the last one was in November 2018. In every interview, he was eager to focus more on tribal issues and the organisational perspcetive and not on his personal views. He was eager to expand and strengthen the Kalyan Ashram work in all tribal pockets of the country. The Kalyan Ashram started expanding the work at national level after 1978 and Jagdevramji played a key role in strengthening this work. After the early 1990s, when the Kalyan Ashram founder Shri Balasaheb Deshpande gradually started withdrawing on health grounds, Jagdevramji increased the nationwide tours and expanded the organisational work up to north-eastern region, the Andamans and the dense forests of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, etc. During the 1990s, I attended the national executive meeting of the Kalyan Ashram in Yamuna Nagar (Haryana) and very closely experienced how Jagderam ji along with Shri K. Bhaskar Rao did a meticulous planning to strengthen the organisation. Jagdevramji also kept a close watch on the anti-national activities among the tribal communities. It is because of his leadership and expansion of Kalyan Ashram work that we can today notice a substantial decrease in the anti-national activities in the tribal pockets. The unabated conversion of tribal forced Shri Balasaheb Deshpande to form Kalyan Ashram and now Jagdevramji, through the same Kalyan Ashram, effectively curbed the conversion avtivities by the Church among the Scheduled Tribes . The experiments of Janjati Hitraksha and Janjati Suraksh have proved very useful in mobilising the tribals and educating them about their rights.
Karyakartas of Kalyan Ashram thronged at the Jashpur
headquarters to pay tributes to Jagdevram Ji Oraon
Even though there is a close watch on conversion activities in tribal areas, some anti-national activities still continue there in different forms. For example, there are sustained efforts for several years to divide the tribals and non-tribals in the name of ‘International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples’ observed on August 9. Initially, people in India were confused about it, but the Kalyan Ashram gradually educated the people about the evil designs behind it. Also, in May-June 2018 a conspiracy was hatched to defame some tribal traditions like Patthalgarhi in Bihar, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh. When the Reang tribals were ousted from Mizoram in 1997-98, Jagdevramji was in the forefront to make arrangements for them in Tripura and got their voice heard in New Delhi. What most people do not know is that in those days some Reang youth were planning to take up arms, but Jagdevramji and other Kalyan Ashram leaders told them clearly that they would not help them if they opt for any violent path. If the Reang refugees did not take up arms and followed the path of dialogue is because of the firm stand taken by the Kalyan Ashram led by Jagdevramji. He stood against all such conspiracies among tribals and foiled them substantially.
The association of Jagdevramji with Kalyan Ashram surely helped the organisation win the trust of the tribals. Being himself from a Scehduled Tribe, he could connect with their issuess and concerns in their language. He was the first full-timer of the Kalyan Ashram, departing from the tradition of full-time workers provided by the RSS. Today we there are over 1200 youth (both tribal and non-tribal) conducting some out of the box experiments in the filed of education, environment, culture and employability among Scheduled Tribes. Jagdevramji always thought about tribals and was always open to new ideas. Any worker or outsider visiting him could share his/her feelings freely and he used to to give very encouraging response. Though he was facing with some heart and lungs related issues, his sudden demise at the age of 71 years has shocked the Karyakartas of the Kalyan Ashram. Since 1958, he served the cause of Janjatis till his last breath. The big dedicated team of workers that has come up in the Kalyan Ashram during all these decades is ready to carry on his vision as a tribute to that visionary.