The Bishnois of Rajasthan: The First Environmentalists

Khamu Ram Bishnoi fights against the pollution carried by discarded plastic bags in India since 2005. Every year during Mukam festival, the Bishnois, his community, must bring sand on top of dunes to solidify them and block the advance of the desert.  Lately pilgrims had taken the habit of collecting the sand in plastic bags, causing a widespread pollution in the Thar desert. To protect the landscapes and the animals who regularly ate plastic bags, Khamu Ram started to demonstrate noisily to educate his community about alternatives to plastic bags.

In 2008, he was invited to talk at a series of environmental conferences in  France. When looking at the street dustbins in Paris, Khamu Ram had the idea of a mobile public dustbin.  Since 2010, he installs these dustbins complete with jute bags in public places, during festivals, pilgrimages, and organizes their collection. Last February Khamu Ram Bishnoi received the award of “Extraordinary man of India” in Jaipur, Rajasthan.

If Khamu Ram Bishnoi is an extraordinary man, he’s also part of an extraordinary community. He is a bishnoi.

The Bishnois were the first treehuggers. Since the 15th century their faith aims at living in symbiosis with nature. The kill of animals on their territory is punished by law, they leave 10% of their plantations to wild animals, they don’t fell green trees. In 1730, the maharaja of Jodhpur required wood for the construction of his new palace. Men were sent to cut trees in the nearby region of Khejarli, filled with the large number of trees. When Amrita Devi came to know about it, she rallied other Bishnois and they opposed the king’s men. Amrita and 363 other Bishnois died saving the Khejarli trees. And their insurrection caused the maharaja to create a legislation protecting the Bishnoi territory.

French photographer Frank Vogel has worked extensively with the Bishnoi for the last ten years. To learn more about their culture click here to view his report “The Bishnoi, the first ecologists” :

He also made a documentary named The Bishnoi, here is the trailer:

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