Success stories voiced at the international “Samvaad” conclave of young tribal leaders: Workshops on legal rights, livelihood, culture, peace-building, environment and education – Jharkhand

“Is it eccentric to live in beautiful scenery in the hills among some of the most charming people in the country, even though they may be ignorant and poor?” Verrier Elwin quoted by GN Devy (The Oxford India Elwin)

Tribal leaders from across the globe speak up at a conclave in Jamshedpur

Comment by Sarita Brara, The Hindu (Businessline), December 1, 2017 | Read the full story here >>

With depleting forests, no source of livelihood and lack of basic amenities, the tribal people of Payvihir village in the foothills of Melghat, Maharashtra were migrating to towns. Upset by this disturbing trend, Ram Lal Kale and some other youth from the village decided to do something about it. After discussions within their community, they began their fight to acquire forestland under Community Forest Rights in 2012 for their Gram Sabha. Once this was done, the question was what to do with it.

With the guidance and direction of voluntary organisation KHOJ and through rural employment MGNREGA scheme, they began cultivation of custard apple. To their pleasant surprise, their first crop sold for a whopping ₹16,500. Today, the custard apple grown by these tribal farmers under brand name ‘Naturals Melghat’, sells in big cities like Mumbai.

Not just Payvihir, but over 30 neighbouring villages are also earning their livelihood from the fruit and Tendu leaves that grow in the forest area. Kale, presently secretary of the organisation Group of Gram Sabhas, and the representatives from each village are together managing this profitable enterprise, right from growing, plucking, grading and marketing of both custard apple and Tendu.

Almost every family in the area is engaged in the enterprise, says Kale. Narrating this success story at a “My Voice, My Story” session at Samvaad, a conclave of young tribal leadersorganised by Tata Steel in Jamshedpur, Jharkhand recently, Kale said they contribute ₹70,000-75,000 to the gram sabha funds every year. They now plan to include gooseberry in their basket of products for marketing. “The migration has stopped from over 30 villages.” That gives him immense satisfaction.

Barefoot reps

At the four-day conclave, attended by 500 tribal youth from 22 States, many spoke about their angst, struggle and success, whether it was with regard to the implementation of the Forest Actand benefiting from it, spreading education, or their endeavours to revive or preserve their unique tribal culture, literature, dialects, arts and sports. Some tribal women are fighting for their legal rights too.

Describing herself as “Bina chappal ki vakil” (barefoot advocate), Ushaben, a gutsy tribal woman from Paanchpipri village of Sagbara block in Narmada district of Gujarat, shared her experience of the campaign to empower tribal women under the banner of ‘Mahila aur jameen maliki’, which has a 3,000-strong network of women spread across 55 villages. Educating women on their legal rights and helping especially the widows to get land in their name form part of their drive to empower women, says Ushaben, who became secretary of the group in 2004. […]

Robi Sadhan Jamatia, who comes from the neglected remote village of Kuarkami in Killa block of Gomati district of Tripura, says that he and some friends took it upon themselves to educate school dropouts free of cost. Today about 2,500 young men are teaching students from Class I to VIII in 56 villages in the State. They have also opened 14 ‘dropout coaching centres’ for Class X students.

More power to the local

Jamatia, however, regrets that it is the non-tribals and outsiders who are benefiting the most from forest produce, which includes pineapple, rubber and bamboo. […]

Workshops on issues related to governance, constitutional and legal rights, livelihood, culture, peace-building, environment and education were also held. Members of aboriginal tribes from Africa, Australia and Canada recounted their stories of neglect and their struggle to be included in the mainstream.

“The youth, by engaging in social business enterprises, can solve the problems in the face of increasing artificial intelligence in the world, not the concentration of wealth with a handful of people” — that was the message from Nobel laureate Muhammed Yunus, from Bangladesh, who addressed the tribal meet on the concluding day.

The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi and was in Jamshedpur at the invitation of Tata Steel

(This article was published on December 1, 2017)

Date accessed: 3 December 2017

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