Category Archives: adivasi culture

Forest management policies over the last thirty years

Last year the Indian environment’s Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change ministry published a “draft national forest policy 2016” on its website, with a call for comments. News of the misguided proposals to relocate/evict human beings from “wildlife rich areas” was published on this website.

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In January there was a summary of Devinder Sharma’s account of his recent journey to the forests of Vazhachal-Sholayar in the Western Ghats who depend on forest resources for their sustenance. As he wrote: “Home to hornbills, elephants and over 200 animal species, the Vazhachal-Sholayar forests are rich in resources for the Kadar tribes to bank upon”. He explained:

“Since the Kadar tribes have not been traditionally into agriculture, the maintenance and conservation of forest resources is vital to them”.

80s – 90s: Joint Forest Management  

A draft forest bill for draconian controls on access was abandoned in 1982, following mass Chipko demonstrations. The 1988 National Forest Policy adopted conservation measures and focussed on meeting local needs. The success of pilot schemes in West Bengal and Gujarat in improving the quality and area under forest was shown in remote sensing satellite data (Sarin 1995). A government order of 1990, which provided for the formation of Village Forest Committees (VFCs) to protect forests said: “Access to forest land and usufruct benefits should be extended only to the beneficiaries who get organised into a village institution, specifically for forest regeneration and protection.”

Initially, 15 state governments issued resolutions assuring participating villages free access to most non-timber forest products (NFTPs) and a share in the profit from poles and timber, when harvested, in return for forest protection (as specified by the forest department). It is said that after initial successes in West Bengal and Haryana, as of 2005, 27 states of the Indian Union had various JFM schemes with over 63,000 FPCs involved in the joint management of over 140,000 km² of forested land. (The link: Resource Unit for Participatory Forestry (RUPFOR) – Joint Forest Management – About JFM unfortunately led to a website on a different subject.

In the 90s TV producer Fiona Charlton-Hill published her dissertation for the School of Oriental and African Studies on JOINT FOREST MANAGEMENT IN INDIA – A KARNATAKA CASE STUDY, SEPT.15TH 1996). Some findings:

  • The increased height of trees had resulted in new leaves growing beyond easy reach and affected the production of Sal leaf plates.
  • Leaves from Tendu bushes, used in the production of bidis, had been shaded too much by the denser tree growth.
  • Quarrels between villagers and the Karnataka Forest Department (KFD) over the grazing of animals on forest land –  92 cattle used for draught power –  were the major impetus behind the institution of Joint Forest Policy Management (JFPM).
  • It was decided that women were to be responsible for collecting firewood and fodder leaves.
  • Microplanning included demands for smokeless chulas, safe drinking water, a gobar gas plant, bamboo for fencing, seedlings of a plant which produces a large quantity of green leaves, for 21 other species of plants and profit sharing.
  • Previously acacia had been cut by Alga Ulga and Sathgeri villagers for firewood and fencing. The guard posted had not prevented this. KFD now pays a watchman and the committee – in groups of five – now watches the forest and the watchman.
  • The most successful JFPM was in Sathgeri.

Villagers enabled to speak directly to Whitehall by video 

w-ghats-sirsiPandurang Hegde, a local Karnataka activist and Chipko/Appiko Andolan veteran, came to CHS in Mumbai with written statements, asking for help. A letter giving an account of various corrupt practices was sent to the [British] director in New Delhi, who did not reply. Then the ODA in UK was contacted and this director sent a furious letter to CHS colleagues for ‘going over his head’.

As letters of complaint and reports were being ignored by the UK government’s Overseas Development Agency (ODA) representative in Delhi, The Ecologist contacted CHS and paid for a video with a subtitled translation. Shot on location in the Western Ghats, it presented villagers’ evidence about the problems arising from the Joint Forest Management (JFM) projects heavily funded by the UK Overseas Development Agency. The video was taken to UK by Pandurang Hegde where CHS’ Jeremy Seabrook and Nicholas Hildyard of the Ecologist arranged and chaired gatherings at which the video was shown and Pandurang. The ODA (now DFID) officials agreed to a meeting at their London office, and, after seeing the video, agreed that an enquiry should be held.

Is Community Forest Management a better answer?

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NDTV reports that in Gunduribadi, a tribal village, the women of the village took charge of guarding forests in 2000 after the male members failed to do so. “If the men objected to the illegal cutting of woods, they would get beaten up. But, we were not harmed. So, we took over forest patrolling from them,” says Ramma. This movement was successful: the ‘Sata Bhai’ or the ‘Seven Brothers’ hill which was barren until a few years ago is alive once again.

 In 2013 Ashish Kothari wrote about his visit to the Baigas of Madhya Pradesh who were campaigning to regain their traditional rights of access, to restore the diversity of their forests and to protect national wealth.

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Birju Singh Bindhia explained: “Not so long ago, we had a much greater variety of plants in this forest. Then the Forest Department came along with its working plan involving coupe felling, which included getting rid of crucial species like mahulikayafal, lianas and others that interfered with the felling. They also deliberately encouraged only sal so that over the years other species disappeared. Seeing this, our own people also indulged sometimes in felling, and we lost the traditional restraint that our elders had practised. But now we are bringing them back, and nature is responding.”

Those with a keen interest in the subject might wish to read the devastating analysis of JFM as practised at the time: Same Platform, Different Train, The Politics of Participation, Corner House Briefing 04, by Nicholas Hildyard, Pandurang Hegde, Paul Wolverkamp and Somersekhave Reddy, 3rd March 1998

Devinder Sharma visits Kadar tribal people in Kerala

Bringing back memories of CHS co-founder Winin Pereira’s visits to live with and learn from adivasis in Alonde, Devinder Sharma writes about his recent journey:

Deep in the forests of Vazhachal-Sholayar in the Western Ghats, I met Maya. She is a tribal belonging to the Kadar tribe. Faced with extinction, there are only about 1400 Kadar in the world, of which about 850 live in the tribal settlements in Thrissur district in Kerala (about 150-200 kms from Kochi in Kerala).

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They depend on forest resources for their sustenance. Home to hornbills, elephants and over 200 animal species, the Vazhachal-Sholayar forests are rich in resources for the Kadar tribes to bank upon. Since the Kadar tribes have not been traditionally into agriculture, the maintenance and conservation of forest resources is vital to them. Maya, along with a few more, had camped on the big rocks on the banks of a rivulet.

To learn more about them, Usha Soolapani and Sridhar R from Thanal in Thiruvanthapuram and I decided to walk up the rocks to meet some of them camping there. With just bare necessities, which includes a few aluminum utensils, a few clothes and a couple of bed sheets, Maya has been camping here for about two months. A frail puppy was tied outside the makeshift tent. The condition of the tent can be seen in the accompanying picture.  Usha and Sridhar did the talking being able to converse in Malayalam as well as Tamil. Maya told us that the entire family gets out into the forests to search and collect some tubers which are used in cosmetics, along with honey and a couple of minor produce. Sridhar Radhakrishnan tells me this tuber plant is called Manjakoova in Malayalam. It is an Yellow Arrowroot. She gets about Rs 100/kg for the cut and dried root tubers. You can see a picture of it in her hand.

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It is heartening to know that WWF-India had earlier initiated a dialogue with the Forest Department to set up a simple honey filtration unit for the Kadar communities. A benefit sharing mechanism from honey sale through the Forest Development Agency was also worked out. I am not aware of how this mechanism works. Since the Kadar have immense knowledge about ethnobotany I see an immense potential of documenting the traditional knowledge of some of the lesser known properties of the plant species found abundantly in these forests. It will be good to know of the benefits in monetary terms, if any.

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When they move to inside of the evergreen forest they put their essentials on a machan (platform) so that it escapes the eyes of wild animals. I asked Maya if she was content with her living conditions. She said yes and when I suggested why doesn’t she move to the nearby town she flatly refused. She told us that she and her family were very happy with what they are doing.

(Winin Pereira would have applauded her)

But perhaps the next generations will look at it differently. Her four children are in a school for tribals. I only hope the next generation helps to improve the lifestyle, and helps to strengthen the bonding with nature, using modern technology and expertise while at the same time making an economic transformation.

(And debated these points with Devinder)

But I only hope the next generation does not push for a complete abandonment of the tribal culture.

(Both would agree on this) 

Posted by Devinder Sharma to Ground Reality

 

 

 

Tigers and Tribals in India

Sharad Vats asks: “Who needs more conservation; Tiger or the Tribes of India? “

He explains that the government is trying to protect an endangered species and is considering the relocation of some tribal villages to give the tiger a safe area in which to live.

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In April it was reported that for the first time in this century, the global tiger population in the wild has grown to 3,890 in April 2016 from 3,200 in 2010 – an increase of almost 22%.

Baigas have been the biggest conservators of the forest for centuries

The tribes in question are the Baigas (below), who – like the tigers – have lived for centuries in the forested districts of Mandla and Balaghat, which house Kanha National Park. Baigas practice shifting cultivation, which the government feels drives deforestation. But Sharad thinks that it is the development strategy of the nation which leads to deforestation. He explains that during his recent visit to the area via Nagpur he saw expansion of National Highway 7 cutting few thousand trees and asserts that this expansion of roads network, and small Tehsils like Baihar, Paraswada, Birsa is accounting for more deforestation than are the tribals.

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In 2005, Sunita Narain, appointed chair of a Tiger Task Force reviewing the management of tiger reserves in the country, pointed out: “the British stripped the forests of Ratnagiri in coastal Maharashtra to make ships and railway lines and independent India sold its forests for a pittance to the pulp and paper industry. This was the extractive phase. Sharad adds: “Mining is destroying forests at a much faster rate than tribals could destroy in 200 years – but they would not do so. Their wants and desires are few, dependent on the forest for their livelihood and so seeing the need to preserve them”.

The Forest Act 2006 was passed following massive national demonstrations involving hundreds of thousands of people. Sharad singles out Ekta Parishad which organized some of those walks and demonstrations.

He continues: “But an ad hoc shifting is not a solution. One must do it scientifically, strategically, with their sanctions and without sufferance. Not easy to do, but possible for sure. Also, if a master plan is made to shift only some crucial villages and not all then it is fine. One must remember that Baigas have been the biggest conservators of the forest for centuries. Making a forest bereft of them could actually put the forest at risk, and this the administration and forest department realizes well”.

Sunita points out that these tribal lands are rich in natural resources — minerals, forests, diverse wild plant, insect & animal species – and are the source of water that irrigates farms, that villagers and city-dwellers drink. Her recommendation is that policies to build green, enterprising futures from the use of forests – which provide fish, firewood, fodder, building materials and raw material for industry – are needed.

Sharad Vats ends, “For me Tiger and Tribes are both integral to each other. None can be sent to another planet to survive, they must co-exist”.

And Sunita says that “the answer, untested across the world, lies in our abilities to use the environment so that forests and people can coexist”.

 

 

 

‘From Western Science to Liberation Technology’

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Celebrating People’s Knowledge

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A colleague recently ‘e-introduced’ a young researcher from the UK pursuing an MPhil in Anthropology at Pune University, who wants to study the evolution of community led environmental movements in India based on indigenous knowledge.

Information has been sent and the enquiry led to the discovery of the text of ‘ ‘From Western Science to Liberation Technology’, by Winin Pereira – first published in July 1990 (Anusandan, Bombay), revised Indian edition 1993, pp 83, Earthcare Books, (out of print)

Chapter Titles: 

Western Science and Technology.

Western Science and Domination.

The Economics of Western Science.

Western Science as a Common Heritage.

Western Science as Self‑Destructive and Unsustainable.

The Question of Ethics.

Liberation Science and Technology.

Liberation Technology.

Liberation Science.

Living in an Unjust World.

Conclusion.

This book may be accessed here as a pdf: western-science-a4format10213

 

 

 

Misguided proposals to relocate/evict human beings for ‘wildlife-rich areas’

Earlier this year the Indian environment’s Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change ministry published a “draft national forest policy 2016” on its website, with a call for comments.

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The Hindu reports that the draft policy, a review and revision of existing forest policy, was prepared by the Bhopal-based Indian Institute of Forest Management which proposed that: “Voluntary and attractive relocation packages of villages from within national parks, other wildlife rich areas and corridors should be developed.” The proposal to relocate/evict people from the vaguely described “other wildlife rich areas” and “corridors” as well as National Parks and Tiger Reserves would cover a huge area affecting millions of tribal people who have been dependent on and managed their environments for millennia.

Survival International, the global movement for tribal peoples’ rights, says that tribal peoples are being illegally evicted from their ancestral homelands across India in the name of conservation. Most so-called “voluntary relocations” are far from voluntary, says Survival, with tribal people often given no choice – they face arrest and beatings, harassment, threats and trickery and feel forced to “agree” to leave their forest homes.

CHS co-founder, the late Winin Pereira, lived for periods in an adivasi (tribal) area, learning from their traditional knowledge and culture. He became aware of a whole system of village self-reliance in which the resources of their forests, pastures and wetlands were sparingly used to meet the needs of the local people from time immemorial, see a reference from his book Tending the Earth.

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He would have agreed that evidence proves that tribal peoples are better at looking after their environment than anyone else. In the Biligiriranganatha Swamy Temple (BRT) Wildlife Sanctuary tiger reserve in southern India (above)where tribal people have been allowed to stay, tiger numbers have increased at above the national average. There is no reason to believe that evicting tribes helps tigers. In fact, it is harming conservation.

However, a few days later the “policy” was removed, and a statement was issued claiming that the document was merely a study by the Indian Institute of Forest Management, which had been “inadvertently uploaded.” But Indian news website Live Mint quoted an anonymous ministry official: “[The] U-turn came after intense criticism of the draft policy from civil society.”

An agency reporter notes that the speedy withdrawal of this “draft policy” has been welcomed, but adds that concern remains at what lies ahead for the tens of millions of India’s tribal people and others who live in forests.

 

 

 

Why did USA and EU countries fail to support work on a draft UN declaration on the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas?

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(Geneva, October 5, 2015) On the afternoon of October 1st 2015, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted by majority a resolution where it decides that the open-ended intergovernmental working group, with the mandate to negotiate, finalize and submit to the Human Rights Council a draft United Nations declaration on the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas, shall continue the process for the next two years.

The resolution was presented by the governments of Bolivia, Ecuador, Cuba and South Africa. It was sponsored among others by Switzerland, Brazil, Eritrea and Argentina, in a joint effort from all regions to support this decisive step. In the final vote, only the US government voted against it. Governments of Europe have abstained from voting and have continued with the same bloc-voting position as in June 2014, in the vote on resolution 26/26.

In total, 31 countries voted in favor, 15 abstained, and only one voted against:

In favor (31): Algeria, Botswana, Congo, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Sierra Leone, Bangladesh, China, India,Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Maldives, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Vietnam, Argentina,Bolivia, Brazil, Cuba, El Salvador, Paraguay, Venezuela, Russia / Votes abstention (15): France, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, Portugal, United Kingdom, Macedonia, Montenegro, Latvia, Estonia, Albania, Mexico, Qatar, Japan, Korea / negative Feedback(1): United States.

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La Via Campesina, FIAN and CETIM, have helped to position – for the first time within a UN mechanism – a project intended to fill the gaps in human rights legislation of the rural population and rural fishing communities, nomadic peoples, pastoralists, rural workers, landless, rural women and indigenous peoples. A model of peasant agriculture in both the North and the Global South, based on agroecology and equal relations between peasants, is advocated.

The current draft statement submitted by the government of Bolivia in Geneva in February 2015 during the last working group, advocates a universal charter containing a set of rights in order to improve the conditions of those who live in rural areas and produce 80% of the food in the world.

Appreciation is due to the Governments of Bolivia, South Africa, Cuba and Ecuador for their continuous efforts within the Human Rights Council to carry out this initiative emanating from the peasant movement, highlighting an example of good governance, dialogue and involvement of farmers’ organizations, civil society and governments.

The Adivasi Academy in Gujarat

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A lead about the Adivasi Academy in Gujarat was seen on the website of Local Futures/International Society for Ecology and Culture.

CHS-Sachetan’s co-founder, Winin Pereira, valued the thinking of one of its founders, Helena Norberg-Hodge, linguist and author of ‘Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh’, writing:

Winin Pereira3“Regarding Helena’s book, I am not merely “delighted” but astounded at the similar conclusions drawn, almost as if we are reading each other’s minds. In some cases she has used expressions very similar to mine . . . Also amazing is the fact that two communities so different in nature (one in the cold, resource-poor region of Ladakh and the other in the tropical, high-resource area of Maharashtra; one highly religious and the other animist) should have similar customs and culture”.

The website continued: Adivasis – tribal groups considered to be the aboriginal population of India – are facing powerful social and economic pressures that lead many to abandon their own language in favour of Hindi, Gujarati, or English.

Warlis carrying firewoodWarlis carrying firewood

CHS’ co-founder, Winin Pereira studied and recorded the Warli culture for many years. As Shabnam, daughter of Nergis Irani, wrote during the finally successful campaign opposing the plan to build a P&O port in Vadhavan: “We are all fighting to protect what both him and us love so much. In the future – providing that the adivasi culture is allowed to survive – others will be able to continue his work in recording adivasi lore etc. His work and the knowledge he provides will provide an inspiration for many (as it did to me). It will be used in many ways for the Warlis and in ‘selling’ to the rest of the world the idea that theirs is a progressive culture, not ‘backward’ and should not only be allowed to survive but emulated”.

Winin and colleagues in Jeevan Nirwaha Niketan, offered healthcare and education to children from disadvantaged families, who repeatedly fail the school entrance or end-of-year tests. The curriculum stressed the values of a just participatory and sustainable society, based on Indian culture. It was delivered first in Marathi; in the final grade, five, Hindi was introduced and a working knowledge of English imparted. Research has found that early years’ teaching in the mother tongue is most effective – see the references here. The director’s report records that by 1984, there were seven social work sections housed in different parts of Andheri and four hundred participants, not counting families and others in surrounding communities.adivasi academyThe Adivasi Academy, based in Tejgadh, Gujarat, is trying to save the endangered languages of the linguistically diverse Indian subcontinent and to show its students that their native languages and cultures are worth preserving. It has been established to create a unique educational environment for the study of tribal communities and aims to become an institute for the study of tribal history, folklore, cultural geography, social dynamics, economy, development studies, medicine, music, arts and theatre.

The building is an example of eco-friendly and cost effective construction, using entirely local materials and labour, bringing to mind the clay structures designed by Keralan architect, Laurie Baker.

In the early days of the Academy, it was decided that formal educational qualification need not be the most serious consideration for being appointed as member of faculty at the Academy. At least one batch of students was trained by Shri Mansing Rathwa, who has never attended a school, but is a tremendous painter of Pithora, and Dr. Bhagwandas Patel, a highly accomplished folklore scholar—forming a single team for conducting classes for Museuology students learning to organise, arrange and manage museums. Young journalists and expert filmmakers have come together to teach the students of Media Studies.mahua treeRajmohan Gandhi, Mahashweta Devi, Justice M N Venkatachaliah have lectured the students, sitting on the rock under the famous mahua tree at the Academy, and lectured students ranging from 7 to 30 in age.

The Faculty has a mix of young postgraduates drawn from Adivasi communities and visiting scholars including Prof. Shereen Ratnagar, Prof. Lachman Khubchandani and Dr Ashish Kothari.

The Sorosoro website records that Ganesh Devy, former professor at Yale, arrived in Gujarat in the 90s to teach at Baroda University and made contact with a large number of indigenous tribes in the area. He sat under a tree one day and listened to village youngsters as they spoke about the way they envision their future, and what should be done to help their communities develop. Today some of those youngsters hold key positions in the academy:

“The air here is filled with a sense of peace, serene joy, pleasure for togetherness, and pride in showing short-term visitors what has been accomplished: a genuine economic and cultural development center for native populations”.