In the remote forests of Uttarkhand, -where Chipko activists battled to save trees from the axe, one voice strove for many years to bring them cheer and to boost their morale: Ghanshyam Raturi Sailani, writer, composer, and singer of Garhwali songs, and a social activist in the Gandhian tradition.
Sailani was born on 18 May, 1934 in Charigad village (Kebhar Patti of Tehri Garhwal district) to a priest family. Though learned in scriptures, the narrow confines of traditional religious practices could not contain young Sailani’s rebellious and crusading spirit. When he learned that Gaur Das, a low-caste drum beater who provided his services at all the religious functions was, however, not permitted to observe the ceremonies at Sailani’s home, Sailani went and read the scriptures in the home of Gaur Das. For his defiance Sailani was badly beaten by the village elite. He responded by joining the movement against untouchability in the princely state of Tehri, and by 1960, he was fully involved in the Sarvodaya movement.
It was during the anti-liquor movement in the late sixties when the capacity of Sailani’s songs to mobolise and inspire the Garhwal villagers began to be noticed. By the following decade, Sailani was travelling extensively in Himalayan regions with the message that forests should be protected. He participated in several long foot-marches – “Padyatras” – to spread the message of the Chipko movement, and was often in the thick of several confrontation sites of the movement, or engaged in singing songs, once from the roof of a bus.
Sailani’s songs urge citizens to take their future in their own hands by joining movements to save the forests and against liquor. His songs always celebrate the beauty of the Himalayas on one hand, while expressing deep anguish at the present conditions of disadvantaged people, especially women, in this harsh beauty. The songs also advocate progressive thinking and protest against narrow prejudices. Sometimes they are songs of joy and hope in the social movements in which he is fully involved; at other times they express the pathos of his peoples’ tragic lives.
Sailani went to jail and experienced trials in the course of his life as an activist singer, and in recent years his health has deteriorated. A period of respite arrived when he was selected to represent India at Bangkok’s international festival of songs dedicated to ecological awareness.
What followed is the recent publication of a collection of his songs entitled “Ganga Ka Mait Biti.” Priced at only Rs. 15 this 116-page book is available from Sarvodaya Kuti, Uttarkashi, U.P., India. Accompanying the songs are brief summaries in Hindi of most of his Garhwali songs and there are also English translations of four songs.
To weave garments for barren earth
Plant new trees and make new forests.
To save the earth from Impending danger
Come one come all and get together.
For forests are our life and soul
They are the sources of rivers all.
Rains and springs are created in them
The soil, water and air are because of them.
Trees are blessed even by God
He came once to save them from the odds.
They are worshipped by mankind
Without considering their safety all planning is blind.
Apricot, apple, walnut are their treasure
We derive from them fodder wood and water.
Once Uttarkhand was Heaven on earth
Where in deep forests, Vedas and Purans took birth.
To drive away the ruthless cutters
Come on, come all and get together.
Now it has become our religion
To save the forests from destruction.
B.Dogra is editor of the Delhi-based News from the Fields and Slums (NFS), which provides news features from the grassroots in India.