This Ashram-cum-social laboratory is working towards sustainable living of the tribes in Bengal
Dr Prabodh Kumar Bhowmick set up Bidisa, a place which 100 Lodha families now call home.
Most people living in urban and rural areas today have access to basic amenities and opportunities alike, but tribal people cannot say the same when it comes to basic facilities. There still exist nomadic tribes and communities who lead destitute lives because the current society fails to understand these people and their way of live.
There still exist tribes who choose to live within themselves and are scared to even interact with the outside world. This fear stems because of the fear of unknown and more importantly because of they have led isolated lives. Bringing them to the fore, working towards their sustainable uplifting of these communities is the need of the hour.
The story behind Bidisa
Late Prof. Prabodh Kumar Bhowmick, who had understood and realised this very aspect, worked towards the uplifting of the Lodhas in the Medinipur region of West Bengal.
Prof. Prabodh, who did his BSc (Honors) in Anthropology in 1949 from Bangabasi College, and then his MSc in Anthropology from Calcutta University in 1951, went on to complete his PhD in Anthropology on the topic Socio-Economic Life of the Lodhas of West Bengal.
Turning his study into a centre for change, he set up the Samaj Sevak Sanga and then the Institute for Social Research and Applied Anthropology in 1955. The centre, which was called Bidisa, was set up for working towards the uplifting of the Lodhas with particularly, bringing about a change in the criminal tendencies of the Lodhas.
Prof. Prabodh dedicated his life towards economic amelioration, educational progress and sustainable living of the tribes, and uplifting of the tribal people particularly Lodhas of the area.
In 2003, Dr Pradip Kumar Bhowmick, Associate Professor, Rural Development Centre, IIT, Kharagpur, filled in the place of honorary Secretary, after the demise of Prof. Prahodh.
After a journey of about six decades, Bidisa is now home to about a hundred tribal families, including the Lodha, Santal, Munda, Mahali, Kora, and Bhumij tribes.
Journey towards tribal development
“Within the ashramic folds of Bidisa, a social laboratory exists where research on tribal welfare, tribal development takes place. The social laboratory mainly concentrates on working with tribal communities towards their integration into the society, imbibing in them the values of the middle class, and teaching them various skills for sustenance,” says Dr Pradip.
Bidisa is working towards bringing social transformation in undeveloped, nomadic tribes by rehabilitating them and giving them space and opportunity to learn and sustain themselves.
The effort began when late Prof. Prabodh, along with the government, was involved in the distribution of agricultural land to 20 families of the Lodha tribe, in Daharpur. Thus, Bidisa began with an aim to inculcate in them social values and facilitate them with formal and vocational training, as part of the rehabilitation process.
Various training programmes, seminars, and workshops are conducted to teach the tribes skills and methods such as bee keeping, vermicomposting, mulberry cultivation, and tussar cultivation.
A bio-gas unit and a vermicompost plant were installed to impart training facilities to the local tribal youth to provide a means of sustainable livelihood to the local people. Recently, the District Sericulture Board established a Tasar-cum-Mulberry cultivation, training-cum-production unit at Bidisa for employment and income generation in Paschim Medinipur.
“Through various training activities, the people here are forming self-help groups to ensure their self-dependency. During 2006-08, we executed a project called ‘Empowerment of Tribal Women through Batik Print: Training cum Production’ sponsored by Department of Science & Technology, Government of India. As a part of the project we trained 90 tribal women belongs to various tribal communities in and around Bidisha. In view of their show interest we formed nine self-help groups,” says Dr Pradip.
A holistic approach
Bidisa strives to preserve the tribal art culture of the tribes, at the same time tries to teach them skills to survive in today’s world.
Bidisa is currently running three Ashrama Hostels – two for boys and one for girls – exclusively for Lodha children. Ashrama Hostel provides free food and lodging facilities to the children. The tribal children study at the Daharpur Junior High School.
Bidisa also houses an eco-museum and a library, Prabodh Kumar Bhowmick Memorial Library. Bidisa publishes a biannual journal on social sciences called, ‘Man & Life,’ which has been running for the past 37 years.
“With the aim of revival of tribal art and culture, Bidisa organises the Navanna Utsav every year. At this annual event, different tribal communities perform various cultural arts and dance forms. Our institute is putting its endeavor to provide a platform where the missing tribal cultural traits are being staged and this happens to be the eye opener before younger generation of various communities as a source of motivations and challenges,” says Dr Pradip.
Bidisa has now become a place for research for students of anthropology, rural development, and sociology, who come from all parts of the country. While tourists do come to Bidisa for visits, a lot of students come here for research, to study the model of Bidisa, and its role in the welfare of tribal communities.