In 1989 there was a series of fatal misdiagnosis of Diphtheria which resulted in the death of 14 local children in Southern Rajasthan. During this time the local medical facility remained inactive and Jagran Jan Vikas Samiti felt a need to intervene. Jagran accepted the challenge and concentrated its efforts to procure necessary relief for the suffering community. With the help of Child Relief and You and Voluntary Health Association of India the government health agency was alerted and the suffering families of the region were provided with relief and other help.
This incident helped to establish a firm relationship between Jagran and the community and through this interaction it was decided that for the development of the community’s health, alternative arrangements should be made at a local level.
A community meeting was called to invite local villagers to discuss the vital health questions and it was concluded that both improving the rural community’s general health and initiating self-reliance was critical.
Hiring medical staff was the initial response put forward but there was no funds for a Doctor’s salary. However, it was discovered that people were already being treated by local healers using traditional methods and medicinal plants. With the support of the community, Jagran began collecting the names of all the regions healers in each village and began documenting their knowledge. Some were specialist in bone-setting, some with gynaecological issues and others with infections. Shortly after the term “Guni” was coined, from the word “guna” which translates to “talent”.
Up until that period of time Jagran had been 100% supportive of the Allopathic medicine model to address the community’s health issues, but with the discovery of the Gunis, their focus began to change towards a more resourceful and sustainable model at the local level. Director Ganesh Purohit still remembers the turning point in the organisations thinking. “It came as a big surprise”, he says “we sent patients to each Guni and the result were profound”. Having observed the positive effects of the Guni’s medicine it became apparent to Jagran that they needed to help formalise the traditional systems of healing as well as research the potential of the local indigenous plants.
Shortly after Jagran contacted other NGO’s to help document 200 Gunis and their knowledge.
In 1991 the Gunis attended a conference sponsored by the Indian Government Department of Science and Technology, alongside Doctors, Scientists, Specialists and Ayurvedic Physicians. This introduced the Gunis to a national audience and their introduction was well received. After a series of group discussions it was concluded that Gunis Medicine was a legitimate system of healing and required documentation.
By 2003, Jagran had documented and trained 1200 Gunis. Gunis now have regional level association advocating for official medicine recognition with the Department of AYUSH and the Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. Gunis are also able to generate a legitimate livelihood from their practices and may see up to ten patients a day. One visitor recently reported seeing a long cue of patients waiting to see their local guni.
Through Jagran’s initiative, regular health camps are arranged in rural villages throughout Rajasthan and in Udaipur city for the Gunis to share their skills. The response to these camps have been extremely positive attracting 300 patients on some occasions.
Gunis receive a 30 day training certificate after completing their hands on training and knowledge exchange program. Three 10 day intensive trainings are offered each year to record valuable Guni information and share knowledge. The first 10 day program is in summer and designed to share treatment regimes, diagnosis and discuss important issues surrounding traditional medicine. This phase document important knowledge.
The second program commences in the forest area after the monsoon. The Gunis are separated into groups of 5 or 6 and sent into the forest to collect plants that they have experience with. These plants are collected and brought back to camp and displayed for viewing. Their indications are discussed later in the day which includes their location and the parts used.
The third stage of the program takes place in December or January where they have an opportunity to discuss their treatments with their peers, make medicines, share seeds and observe techniques used by others. This phase creates an important platform for the Gunis to interact and connect with each other.
The Gunis have become an invaluable asset to their communities and as their confidence grow so does their skill level. The reason the Gunis are so successful in their treatments is in part due to their knowledge of medicinal plants. These plants work with the body in order to aid healing and as a result few contraindications are experienced. Another key aspect leading to their success is the depth of their relationship with the land and the people for whose health they are responsible. They draw on this knowledge built through many years of watchful observations and these experiences are shared and combined with other Guni’s, to form a direction for treatments that is specific and highly resourceful.
The Gunis also play a key role within their communities and many are members of their local Panchayat (local government). They are involved in the decision making and future commitments for their communities.
The Gunis themselves explain that “Our role is not only to give medicines, but to heal the person and preserve biodiversity. We see our communities’ wellbeing as our own, their sorrows as our sorrows, and their spirits as unified with ours”.
Gunis have long been traditionally taught through the Guru-Shishya system from one generation to the next and acquiring competency through practical experience. An apprenticeship of sorts also known as the Pedigree method. Traditionally Gunis will train their sons and daughters about their ways and pass on their knowledge but if a student becomes interested in learning the traditional medical system the gunis are more than willing to educate those who are committed, even if they are not from their own families or caste. These health traditions are largely based on indigenous knowledge. Sadly, with the change in traditional ways and families struggling for money a new generation of healers are becoming void. The younger generation are moving to cities to seek their fortune in order to provide for their loved ones leaving an aging population of Gunis and a lack of viable health care for the coming generation.
Jagran currently provides yearly training programs in Myotherapy, Bowen Therapy, Naturopathy and Remedial Massage in conjunction with the Guni Program. Monthly meetings are organised to share expertise and platforms are provided so Gunis can interact and gather ideas, knowledge and experience.
Jagran has made it their mission to encourage this generation to pursue and preserve the traditional knowledge of their forefathers and establish a solid foundation for the future of traditional medicines.
In recent years Jagran has established a volunteer program with the aid of Hands on Health Australia. This has built a platform for the sharing and exchange of knowledge between the Gunis and volunteers and created a fun and dynamic working environment.
Volunteers whom have benefited in the past from this experience have come from a diverse range of professional backgrounds. In particular allied health practitioners and students as well as individuals with an interest in agriculture and sustainability have found it a wealthy experience.
Aly Curd and Hayden Cohen