Gondwana Tribal Belt, Forest Reserves and Development – 21 Dec

The Jai Jagat peace walkers have been traveling through the Gondwana tribal heartland over the last two days. This has been one of the most interesting couple of days being completely off grid with no mobile connection at all and complimented by rich learning for the padyatrees through the experience of close interaction and understanding of the issues of the Gond and Korku tribes that inhabit this Gondwana land. The sparsely populated hilly terrain with green fields provided for a serene and picturesque landscape that was interspersed with small villages, a cluster of small and beautiful wooden hut structures. The while experience of walking through this beautiful and calm region was a treat to the eye that symbolised peace and beauty of tribal living.

The team had reached a quaint little village-town of Kayda the previous night. The group had breakfast at the ‘haat’ (village market), this being the market day, where Rajajagopal had promised the previous night to speak to the people. Although the market was not to start before mid-day, there was still considerable attendance as nearly a hundred villagers with representatives of both the Gond tribe and the Korku tribe along with people from the neighbouring villages attended the meet. Kasturi, a veteran walker and Ekta activist, introduced the yatra and spoke on the pillars of Jai Jagat. Santosh, another founding member of Ekta, shed light on the forest act (FRA, 2006) as a part of an exercise to familiarise tribal communities on their rights. When Rajagopal finally addressed the audience, he spoke of the need for unity in the village and the proper implementation of laws that benefit Adivasis. He ended with an invitation to the villagers to send two young people for training to Betul on the 26th promising detailed discussion on the FRA.

Jill Carr-Harris gave the talk a global perspective as she spoke briefly about how indigenous struggles exist in many countries and how the Jai Jagat team will be making connections with other countries around the world on these issues. The idea is to understand the issues faced by the tribal and indigenous peoples of the world on one hand and on the other, to gather the wisdom in tribal societies that naturally are inclined to sustainable living with the aim to learn traditional and natural way of farming and their traditional technologies with the aim of bringing these as learnings to the world at large.

Forest Reserves and Tribal Development

The team had lunch in Lodhi Dhana (लोधीढाना), another picturesque village in the middle of the jungles, where a meeting was held with focus on forest rights. The issues that came up in these meetings were to do with road and water facilities and the news that the forest that they inhabit was going to be turned into a forest reserve which could potentially threaten their right to live in the forests. Hence, the need for unity and organized struggle was advocated as the way out, in case this proposed threat was actually implemented. This opened up a critique of international organizations such as WWF and their policies which directly affects the tribal communities by displacing them from jungles, their ancestral home, for encouraging and preserving wild life. This is a strange logic for the tribal have always been the keepers of forest that they have successfully preserved for ages. Such a move will only result in man-animal conflict. It suggests how this conflict is actually a modern construct owing to thoughtless policies by the government that go out of their way to accommodate the agenda of these international organization. Other critiques of these wildlife sanctuaries point out that such reserves th ultimately encourage forest produce that is exploited by the corporates and the government both along with encouraging poachers and smugglers who do not feel threatened by the tribal. Teak plantations on these reserves also becomes a rich source of income for the government and is seen as a violent intervention in the lives of the forest dwelling Adivasis that are then pushed to the margins of the modern society.
the lives of the forest dwelling Adivasis that are then pushed to the margins of the modern society.

The team arrived at its destination for the night at 6:40pm. Rajagopal shared his reflections on how the cuy education system needs to be radically changed around the world. Knowledge comes from communities and the local environment rather than from classrooms, he said as he explained the Gandhian model of education referred to as ‘near to far’ policy and based on knowing one’s immediate surroundings. Other models of alternative education in the country were also discussed during this evening time for reflection.