Parable of 20th Century Blacksmith of Bhal*
by Remigius de Souza
ONCE UPON A TIME there lived a blacksmith in a village. He belonged to the Indic Civilisation in the second half of 20th century of Christian Calendar. He lived in a region called Bhal in Saurashtra of Gujarat State in
The caste of blacksmith, untouchable though, had been part of ecology of the Indic civilisation for centuries. They made things (weapons) for the state, and (implements – tools – equipments) for the households, houses, farms and transport. Perhaps the story of smithy goes beyond, even before, the Indo-European race – the Aryans – invaded
The people of
The blacksmith in the village in Bhal region had no work, for the villagers had resorted to the mechanised farming. They were also using hybrid seeds, chemical fertilisers, insecticides and pesticides. By the end of 20th Century the people of Bhal had successfully destroyed the soil, insects in the soil – water – air. By using imported advance technology of farming, they had successfully stopped further regeneration of flora and fauna which depended on, and helped each other, and accelerated the rate of desertification of their region.
Thus perhaps the region got its name Bhal – desert – in the modernisation process; they also destroyed the indigenous seeds which could grow in the prevailing hot dry climate and topography of the region. They were facing a severe water crisis. When all over
Moneylenders called the World Bank from Western Civilisation came forward to give a loan to build a mighty dam over River Narmada. It was to enable water supply to Bhal region by irrigation canals. By this action two things were certain: (1) whatever useful top soil was left in the Bhal region would finally turn saline, and the process of desertification would be completed; and (2) the destruction of the tribal culture and the forest – rich in flora and fauna – in the catchments of
Tribal cultures – whatever was left, not only in India but all over the world – were some of the would be most valuable aspects of the “World Heritage” though not recognised by the then so-called superior societies. They were the last hope for the surviving civilised societies to provide the cues to the sustainable living in harmony with nature – the real life nature, not the nature-in-laboratory.
In spite of words of wisdom from Buddha, Mahavir, Jesus, and such other divine persons, the superior societies continued to make weapons of mass destructions not only to kill each other, but also the animals, insects, plants, soil… even the atmosphere. Some wise man had said, “Wherever civilisations stepped, it left desert behind it.”
The tribal lived in harmony with nature for millennia. They had no problems of accumulation of wealth and split personality that are faced by the moderns. The Buddhas or no-Buddhas, the tribal were the last hope of salvation for the civilised world. BUT THE PARADOX WAS THAT THE TRIBAL DO NOT PREACH.
Civilised, superior societies, in earlier times, had killed – annihilated local, ethnic and tribal communities wherever they reached, or take them as slaves, or as service class ― or Shudras (untouchable caste) ― as in Indic civilisation. Our blacksmith belonged to the untouchable caste.
There is a story in the epic Mahabharata: Arjuna and
Our blacksmith was jobless while industries of mass production got tax concessions, subsidies, financial aid, services, etc. All that this petite bourgeoisie had: his simple hand tools, his rickety hut, his poverty and his skill. He was excellent craftsman in making guns – as well as for museum pieces. He was a master craftsman.
So he would make a gum. The police – the Law – would pounce on him, catch him for the crime of making a gun, and put him in a jail. When released he would start again to make a gun (perhaps he had customers from the affluent elite Indian society). He was caught again by the law. He was put again in the jail… And this continued until he died rotting in poverty, privation, between the jails and his rickety hut.
This may have been a prelude to the riots, terrorists’ attacks, proliferation of goons and illegal possessions of guns – not only in
One, Bertold Brecht, from the Western Civilisation in the contemporary times (in 1953), wondered with mock innocence:
Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?*
Perhaps this was then a worldwide phenomenon in the era of Industrial Civilisation.
Until recent times the blacksmiths made arrowheads. The Blacksmith of Bhal changed over to making guns with changing times. But like farming and other traditional crafts, his craft also had no official recognition. Similarly the tribal lost their millennia-old skill in archery being illegal; the blockhead bureaucrats thinking in box had no imagination to convert it into sports, hence Indians hardly represented archery at the Olympics.
The Blacksmith was a freedom fighter for his right to work and survival; qualitatively no less than Gandhi’s protest in
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Remigius de Souza
69/ 243, S. B. Marg, Mumbai 400028,
· This story was told by the author on the concluding day of the workshop on “Environment, People and Law” organized by the “Centre for Science and Environment” (CSE),
· The story was published in the “Development network”, CDSA, Pune, Jan-March 1994.
· This story is of a real person told to the author by a social worker who was working with the farmers in Dholaka – Dhandhuka area in the
* Quote "Bertold Brecht" is by Michael Wood, ‘At the Movies’, London Review of Books, Vol. 29 No. 6,
© Remigius de Souza., all rights reserved.