In the predominantly Adivasi Chhattisgarh state, Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel and his father Nand Kumar Baghel seem to be headed for a confrontation. The chief minister wants to build Ram Van Gaman Path (Ram’s forest trail) in the state. However, his father is against the idea. On 18 May 2020, the senior Baghel visited Tumarkhurd village in Dhamtari district. With the help of the villagers, he removed the board put up by the state government designating the site for a Ram temple – one of the many on the proposed trail – and installed another board that says that a Buddha Vihar will be built. He also laid the foundation stone of Budhadev Ayurvedic Chikitsa Anusandhan Kendra (Budhadev Ayurvedic Medical Research Centre) at the site.
Tumakhurd is one of the 52 places in the state chosen by the government as part of the Ram Van Gaman Path with a view to boost tourism.
Senior Baghel issued a formal press statement declaring that Budhadev Ayurvedic Chikitsa Anusandhan Kendra [Budhadev (Bada Dev in Gond tradition) Ayurvedic Treatment Research Centre] would be established at Tumarkhurd. The statement said that the foundation stone for the Kendra was laid on 18 May in the presence of members of Matdata Jagriti Manch and social activists. It said that Gond Tribals had long been demanding that a research centre be established for studying the herbs, roots, etc used by them for treatment. The statement also claimed that the Gond Tribals were part of the Indus Valley Civilization and were enslaved after the arrival of the Brahmins in India about 5,000 years ago.
Baghel has been running a cultural awareness campaign for the past two decades. He has also written a book titled Brahman Kumar Ravan Ko Mat Maro
Nand Kumar said that a large number of social activists, besides Gonds and other Tribals, were opposed to the decision of the state government to build a Ram-Laxman temple at Tumarkhurd and that is why they had put up a board saying that Buddha Vihar would be built there.
Senior Baghel’s move has divided the people into two camps. Shyama Devi Sahu, a former member of the Dhamtari district Panchayat says, “I was not aware that Ram, along with his brother Laxman, had visited Tumarkhurd village. A spot in the village was known as Ram Tekri. Some time ago, a few researchers from Ayodhya came to the village and told us that Ram and Laxman had visited the place. It was after this that at my initiative, the place was identified under Ram Van Gaman Path scheme. On 18 May, Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel’s father came here and held a meeting with the locals and installed the board for the Buddha Vihar. I have made a written complaint to the local administration in this regard.”
R.N. Dhurve, national secretary of Akhil Bharatiya Gondwana Gond Mahasabha, said, “I was present in Tumarkhurd village on that day. Nand Kumar Baghel wants the Budhadev Ayurvedic Chikitsa Anusandhan Kendra to be established at the place where the government is keen to build a temple in the name of Ram Van Gaman Path. Baghel believes that the herbs and roots found in Bastar can be very useful in medical treatment. But research is needed to properly identify them. This can be done in consultation with the local administration. It will be in the interest of everyone. In any case, we have nothing to do with Hinduism. Moreover, the government has no evidence that Ram and Laxman had visited Tumarkhurd.”
(Translation: Amrish Herdenia)