Noted tribal scholar and leader has passed away on September 30, leaving behind a dream for his friends and followers - to unite bring about social harmony which used to be the hallmark of tribal villages and to sing and dance together just as the forefathers did a few decades back.
'Je nachi, se bachi,' (one who dances, will survive) Dr Ram Dayal Munda often said whenever he discussed about art, culture and tradition which is fast disappearing in this age of consumerism. Traditional villages, not only in Jharkhand but in other states of the country as well, villages met at one place where they would share their joys and sorrows of the day and often play the musical instruments and sing.
In Jharkhand, this place is called 'akhra' where the tribal and non-tribal villagers would gather in the evening after day's hard work. If two villagers are at angry with each other over some matter, they would reconcile there and join each other in songs and dance.
This tradition, however, started witnessing hiccups after industrialization and consumerism started replacing the traditional values of the society, thereby breaking the society where villagers shared their joys and sorrows with each other. Ram Dayal, unhappy with the erosion of values, had thought of a way to save the culture. It was through songs and dances at the 'akhra'-the common place of the village.
Born in Deori near Tamar of Jharkhand in 1939, Munda in 1963 went to the US to study at Chicago University, Ram Dayal was an associate professor at department of South Asia Studies in Minnesota University when the then Vice-Chancellor of Ranchi University Dr Kumar Suresh Singh decided to open a Post-Graduate Department for Tribal and Regional Languages at his varsity. In 1982, Ram Dayal left USA, where he taught for nearly 17 years and decided to come back to Jharkhand. He set up an akhra at the Tribal and Regional Language department of Ranchi University with sakhua and karam trees in the middle.
His dream was to modernize the akhra in the Jharkhand villages equipping them with facilities like computers, library and meeting halls. He has donated Rs 95 lakh from the Rajya Sabha member's area development fund to Ranchi district which will develop his idea of setting up a modern akhra at Tagore Hill and make it into a cultural centre for Jharkhand.
Ram Dayal, after coming from the USA, played a very important role in separate Jharkhand movement. It was then that separate statehood movement had picked up tempo in Jharkhand. With his close associate Dr Bisheshwar Prasad Kesri, also a professor with Tribal and Regional Language department of Ranchi University constituted All Jharkhand Students' Union (AJSU) in early 9180s. The students' body later played a very crucial role in the separate statehood movement of Jharkhand.
Then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, after visiting Jharkhand, had asked tribal leaders to present a report on why a separate Jharkhand was necessary. With Ram Dayal as its chief architect, the report paved the way for the new state.
Ram Dayal, though a scholar and probably a world leader of indigenous people-he took part in the annual conventions of Permanent Forums for Indigenous People at United Nations and voiced the issues related to the indigenous people, had no political acumen. Though Jharkhand People's Party, a political wing of AJSU had been formed with his leadership, he later fought elections as candidates from Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, Janata Dal and Indian National Congress. However, he could never win an election.
Dr. Munda, who also served as Vice-Chancellor of Ranchi University, retired from active teaching in 1999 but his involvement with the cultural mobilization of the people continued which also included his active policy making at the UN Working Group on Indigenous People at Geneva and the UN Forum of Indigenous Issues in New York, in the capacity of a senior official of the ICITP, an all India tribal led and managed movement.
Dr. Munda authored several books including 'Adi Daharm'- a book on tribal religion and was a consultant and participant in important issues of the tribal people of the country. He represented India in the Festival of India in the USSR, and other cultural events in China, Japan and the South East, besides participating at the World Social Forum conferences in India.
For his contribution towards performing arts, Dr Munda was honoured by the Sangeet Natak Akademi (for the year 2007). Later in 2010, he was awarded with Padma Shree award by President Pratibha Patil, who later nominated him to the Rajya Sabha.
United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi had later inducted Dr Munda as a member of National Advisory Council that advises the Prime Minister on crucial issues-a body which is chaired by her.
Dr Munda has left behind his son Ekir Gunjal and wife Amita, apart from thousands of associates and followers in Jharkhand and other parts of the country.n
(The author is a member of Jharkhand State Commission for Women and also a close associate of Dr Munda)