“Irulas are very knowledgeable about medicinal plants” : Interview with Zai Whitaker, Director of the Irula Tribal Women’s Welfare Society – Tamil Nadu

The ITWWS is a women’s community-based development organization established in 1986. It was founded with the aim of protecting natural resources, empowering Irula women and using the Irula tribal knowledge of forest resources for economic prosperity. The organization started with five villages and now covers an area of over 100 villages in 4 districts. Because of their extensive work in the field of adivasi empowerment, ITWWS has received widespread public recognition and several awards at national and international levels. The ITWWS campus near Chengalpet is well known for its work on documenting the indigenous knowledge of Irulas.

Source: Praise Foundation
URL: https://youtu.be/hc1lK1vIKNY
Accessed: 1 June 2018

Author and nature lover Zai Whitaker wants to see future generations armed with more information on environment and wildlife

“I couldn’t and can’t be anything other than a nature junkie!” declares Zai Whitaker. “I have always been an outdoor kid, outrageous and outright about my love for the environment.”

Could life be any different for Zahida Whitaker? Conservationist Zafar Rashid Futehally, who started the World Wildlife Fund and was Honorary Secretary of the Bombay Natural History Society, is her father. Landscape designer and author Laeeq Futehally is her mother. Dr.Salim Ali, Bird Man of India, was her grand-uncle. Shama Futehally, the author of Tara Lane and Reaching Bombay Central, is her sister. Herpetologist and wildlife conservationist Romulus Earl Whitaker, founder of the Madras Snake Park and the Madras Crocodile Bank, is her ex-husband. And Nikhil, a wildlife management expert, and Samir, a conservation biologist, are her sons. […]

Since herpetologists are hard-core birders too, when Zai met Rom Whitaker, the chemistry was instant. He had founded India’s first snake park in Madras in 1972 and it received early support from the World Wildlife Fund. “I do not regret a single moment with him,” she says. […]

Kodi Cocktail happened because hill stations are fragile ecosystems and need long-term development plans. The book gives tourists more information on how and what they can do to maintain the environment besides other issues for the locals to ponder — like denuded slopes, decreased water table and water shortage, unregulated construction, and bisons driven out of their habitat.

Zai is also interested in indigenous people. She has worked with people of the Irula community, who are snake catchers. As the director of the Irula Tribal Women’s Welfare Society, which has 300 members, it is her endeavour to empower them. “Irulas are very knowledgeable about medicinal plants. We buy raw materials from them that are used in making herbal products. Their children now go to schools and the drop-out is zero. We are integrating them into mainstream colleges and institutions.” Her only regret is that she is unable to give more time to the Centre based in Chinglepet and even to conservancy work. […]

Source: “The Naturalist” by Soma Basu, The Hindu, 21 February 2013
URL: https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/the-naturalist/article4439332.ece
Date Visited: 15 June 2022

[Bold typeface added above for emphasis]

We are so much more than that. We follow a tradition rich in music, dance and love.

Author Swarnalatha who runs an NGO that works for the upliftment for people of her Irula community >>

The Irula community numbers about 80,000 and is one of the poorest adivasi groups in the country. The literacy rate, social discrimination, birth rate and infancy deaths, nutrition, and access to health and welfare programmes, are a blot on our so-called “welfare state”. A few fortunate families and sub-groups, connected with organisations like the ITWWS, have weather-proof homes, electricity, and clean drinking water. The majority don’t. […]


Irula Tribe Women’s Welfare Society (ITWWS)
Thandarai, Thirukalukundram Road,
Post Box No 23, Chengalpet -603 001,
Tamil Nadu, India
Tel: (91) 044-27491318,37400237
Mobile :(+91)9842175517,9025133407
Email: irulatribethandarai@yahoo.co.in

Source: itwws
Address : http://itwwsindia.com
Date Visited: Mon Jan 26 2015 21:49:27 GMT+0100 (CET)

The Irula Tribal Woman’s Welfare Association tree planting scheme in the deforested barren landscape of Chingleput is a strategic development project. Led by Vijayalakshmi, Irula women (often helped by their husbands and children) collect seeds, plant young trees and document medicinal and other properties of over 400 local forest plants.

Source: “Irula tribal women seek self-sufficiency” by Susan Benn (Source: Food Matters Worldwide, April 1992)
URL: https://feministarchives.isiswomen.org/18-feminist-archives/women-in-action/women-in-action-1992-2/280-irula-tribal-women-seek-self-sufficiency
Date Visited: 15 June 2022

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“It was assumed that tribal people have same health problems, similar needs and hence the uniform national pattern of rural health care would be applicable to them as well, albeit with some alteration in population: provider ratio. The different terrain and environment in which they live, different social systems, different culture and hence different health care needs were not addressed.”– Abhay Bang, Chairman, Expert Committee on Tribal health (2018 Report of the Expert Committee on Tribal Health)

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Related posts

Learn more about the Irula Tribal Women’s Welfare Society | YouTube video on ITWWS >>

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