Why institutions need to learn from tribal community — the leaders of Sustainable future.

Padma Shri Mahesh Sharma — who devoted his life to working with the tribal community — puts tribal people as our Guru “वनवासी समाज कर्म से भारत का गुरु है”. To see it in action, one can visit Jhabua, where the tribal community has achieved what can be called a true manifestation of Sanatan Dharma. With that in mind, I ask the question of why we aren’t learning from the Guru, especially institutions that are frontiers of nation-building, Indic leadership, and so on.
The question is pertinent and must be put through.

Kumar Harsh
6 min readJan 30, 2023

Halma — The Parmarthi tradtion of Bhils

In a month or so, we can witness and become part of one of Bharat’s most significant community-driven environment conservation movements. 40 thousand Bhils from across 1500 villages of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujrat will gather at Hathipava Hills in Jhabua with the pledge to construct 1 lakh contour trenches conserving 60 crore litre waters annually.

A still of Halma 2020.

Before this, they have already built 1 lakh 41 thousand contour trenches on the same hill and 80 reservoirs across the villages, conserving close to 1000 crore litres of water annually. Additionally, they have also planted 1.25 lakh trees by restoring Matavan in 120 villages — a community-protected forest: one of the most sustainable ways of forest restoration. This is the impact of one tradition of the Bhils of Jhabua — Halma.

Hindu Sangam — The foundation

Before we proceed, let us dive a little into the history of this movement. Sometime in 2002, when the tribal Jhabua, was still alienated by design and ignorantly disregarded society, it was fast becoming a breeding ground for missionary conversions and ground zero for planned unrest, a breakthrough event in the form of ‘Hindu Sangam’ punctured all the wild games. The event saw the then-unimaginable spectacle of 3.5 lakh tribal people coming together, expressing in unison, “Behold, we are the protector of Sanatan Dharma” — something Bhils have done with unwavering courage continuously for at least 7600 years.

The flyer that travelled remotest of villages in the tribal belt

Along with the tribal people, the event also witnessed the grit of over 4000 volunteers from Indore who travelled in the villages of Jhabua, as part of the reach-out campaign for the event. The campaign also recorded numerous anecdotes where the urban volunteers were deeply moved by the hospitality and undeterred commitment towards Dharma even in the face of heart-wrenching scarcity. It was also the first time for such a collaboration between the tribal and the urban community. The latter reached out to tribal villagers, shedding their thick-grown prejudices and perceptions.
The impact of the far-reaching tremors created by Hindu Sangam can be fathomed with the fact that even today left cables have to mention it in their shady pieces.

The little lengthy pretext is to understand the scale and intensity of the movement and make sure we crumble any hesitation and are open to seeking.

Shivganga — The Social Movement

The deeply involved process of Hindu Sangam generated proud confidence among both the tribal and urban communities. The tribal youths who had played a crucial role in the mobilization of masses during the Sangam emerged as social leaders. A social movement spearheaded by Shri Mahesh Sharma (Padma Shri 2019), and Shri Harsh Chouhan (SGSITS Indore ’84, IIT Delhi ’86, Chairman-NCST) took its inception. There were no blueprints. As the community got involved, the movement evolved. The tribal community made the revival of their traditions — particularly Halma, the vertebra of change.
According to the local definition, Halma is the tradition of coming together to rescue an individual or community from a grave situation.

Shri Mahesh Sharma in the infant period of Shivganga — in a discussion with villagers.

Bhils, ardent devotees of Babadev (Mahadev), chose Shivganga as a name for their movement and thus, began a Jan Andolan-Jal Andolan. They began organising Halma at Hathipava Hills in 2009 and what started with 2000 villagers, saw the participation of 20,000 villagers in Halma 2020. Halma, once a fading tradition has now become an inducing force behind every little to major community-led change in the villages of Jhabua.

The movement today is much beyond just water conservation. The tribal community has carved a system of social capital generation with 1500 villages, and 10 thousand ground volunteers, touching 2 lakh families annually. It has become a system where new social leaders are continuously shaped. Women, teenagers to adults, we find social leaders, who lead the community into realizing its pain, developing pride in the traditions, building confidence to find solutions through them, and finally, learning the skills to execute the change. Thus, from identifying a problem to accomplishing the solution — becomes a community-owned process. And so, Jhabua has evolved a model process for Holistic Development.

The community embeds “think globally, act locally” with the principle of ‘prosperity through enrichment’ (संवर्धन से समृद्धि). They have transformed Jhabua in a multitude of aspects — most significantly — from a despair-stricken, wrongly perceived society to a self-confident, social-leadership community. It is revered today in the premier educational institutions, social organizations and government affiliates.

Tribal Community — the Guru

What we see in Jhabua today is not merely a social organisation working for a cause, but a vivid and living manifestation of the tribal values — the Sanatan values — which they have carried on for thousands and thousands of years. Such a demonstration is possible only with a tribal community because they live the values of Parmartha that our Vedas reiterate, which we boast of. Upon experiencing Jhabua, one can say with conviction and intuitive consciousness that, if we wish to have a Bhartiya future for our society, it is the tribal community with whom we should learn. That brings me to the pivotal point for this article that educational institutions should make monumental efforts to learn from the tribal community and present their worldview. While these institutions, appear to be making some attempt, the Indic institutions or so to claim should have been leading the course by pursuing the source. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say this: those institutions or organizations who sell themselves with the exclusive motto of ‘Indic Leadership’ or Sanatan Dharma and are not actively learning from the tribal community are either abhorrently ignorant or have dubious intentions. We should be clear that such institutions are not going to produce any public leadership or Indic leadership per se.
To conclude the argument, the Santana principles are universal and so the model process — the process which can be globally implemented — derived by the tribal community has learnings for every institution, irrespective of the sector or the place. Thus, the excuse of ‘different contexts’ is flawed and representative of weak or misplaced ambition, or superficial understanding — both equally dangerous. If we do not learn from the source, we will have another system of egocentrism — Indic in words but nothing in thoughts or actions.

Concluding Note

The tribal community of Jhabua has rekindled the Sanatan Dharma by reinstating an institution of Parmartha, in the modern context. Experiencing the living manifestation of it — Halma — is nothing short of blissful joy.
To conclude, Shri Rajaram Katara, in charge of the implementation of all ground activities of Shivganga, rightly points out that, “Our traditions have no meaning if they are to be kept in records in golden letters. Traditions were an intelligent response of the community against the crisis of its time. These were enhanced with generational wisdom and continued to be a powerful response to distress across different periods. Thus, the impactful way of preserving traditions is to make them relevant to today’s crises and involve society in them.”
Thus, institutions, especially those associated with education have an enormous responsibility, which when realized, will truly put Bharat in its global position of leading towards a holistic future.
Now it is up to us to learn from the tribal community, evolve our institutions, realign our traditions and involve larger & larger Bharat to lead the world to the way of Parmartha — the way of Bharat.



Kumar Harsh

Mostly from experience - of tribal Jhabua, and the struggle of learning 'selfless passionate dedication for people'.