Saturday, 31 March 2012

Mainstreaming of Tribes versus Environment:

It’s interesting to see how views differ in different sectors. My friends from the corporate sector feel that tribes should be urbanised. They should also get what we have. While people in the social sector feel that they should live their traditional way of life protected by various government laws and schemes (required as people from the cities can do anything to take their land and life away) and still get all modern facilities.
There are more than 600 scheduled tribes in India. Mind you, not all of them are under-clothed, overly tattooed forest dwelling people as many tend to think when one says ‘tribes’. There are many tribes who now live very close to urban areas and have adapted to urban culture well. Those tribes who live in remote areas and have distinctive features, attire and lifestyle are called Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups.
My views on mainstreaming of tribes are conflicting and on the opposite ends of a spectrum. To my corporate friends I end up saying, let them be. While to the NGOs, I say get them out of the forest, let the animals be.
Let me try and explain.
Korkus of Melghat:
 I went to a village which lives in the buffer zone of the Melghat Tiger Reserve. They farm for livelihood and sometimes go out of the village looking for labour work. Due to the work of an NGO there, they have got land rights, diesel engines for water pump, relatively better roads, school, market linkage etc. Many have motorcycles. The younger lot wants a stake in the common forest land so that they can use it for grazing of animals and sell forest produce. They said ‘give us the forest land and we will conserve it’ while the older lot lamented the thinning of forest around. A group had once gone to Nagpur and found the concept of toilets in a building ridiculous. I felt a pang when I left the village – I would also never like to live in any place if I were living in a forest. But looking down from the turn at the top of a hill, the village appeared like a big gash in the green all around and with population increasing the gash will continue to grow.
Baigas of Chhattisgarh:  
They live in remote regions, in forests which have so far been untouched by modern humans. They don’t have much idea about government schemes, earning money for future, education etc. Their needs are limited – a good (liveable) house, medical facilities and some source of livelihood and food security. Since the state government was unable to reach out to all of them, they asked the Baigas to come down or out of their forests so that they could avail of government schemes. But like most governments, promises have not been fulfilled leaving the tribe with nothing. On the other hand, mining companies are throwing them out by giving them a lakh of rupees as compensation which they have no idea what to do with.
Kutia Kondhs of Orissa:
I have not gone to any village of this tribe but I know these tribes and many similar ones are closest to the forests they live in. They still practice ancient forms of living like hunting and gathering of food and they worship nature. They see wealth in the form of trees around them and not money as we know it. To the best of my knowledge, they don’t need us or any government schemes.
To the first, I will say get them out of the forest. They are modern people with modern demands and have cell phones and TV. With the way human greed works, they will soon forget their roots – that is the forest. The younger lot thinks about earning money first and then conservation.
To the second, I will say give them what they want because their needs are less. Give them a home near their forest and let them use it for livelihood. Provide them with health facilities, food they are used to (kodu-kutki and not polished rice) and education that they can use (like natural resource management etc). They are not yet ready for the let them be.
To the third, I can only hope and pray that the forest cover remains as much and not cut down by people or mowed down by mining companies, so that they can live life their way – in touch with nature. (Story of a Sacred Mountain)
To both sides I would say, we should know where the limits are and learn to draw the line there.

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