India’s first community getting its forest rights recognised: living in the core area of a tiger reserve – Karnataka

Achugegowda, who has been at the forefront of the Soligas’ legal battle, says the tribe should be integrated into conservation efforts than be alienated. Photo Credit: Amoolya Rajappa

Amoolya Rajappa, 5 October 2018 | Read the full report and view more photos here >>

The Soligas created history by becoming the first tribal community living in the core area of a tiger reserve in India to get their forest rights recognised.
Soligas are an indigenous tribe of Karnataka, inhabiting the peripheral forest areas near Biligiri Rangana Hills and Male Mahadeshwara in Chamarajnagar district. Traditionally they have been dependent on the forests for their livelihood. The Soligas are also called the children of bamboo because the word is believed to mean that they originated from bamboo.
When the government declared the forests they live in a protected reserve, the Soligas created history by becoming the first tribal community living inside the core area of a tiger reserve in India to get their forest rights officially recognised by the court of law.
Indigenous people
In the earliest account of the tribe, Scottish traveler-physician Francis Buchanan-Hamilton described the Soligas as “somewhat shy”. In the podus (settlements) near Biligiri Rangana Hills, the sight of Soliga women shying away from outsiders is common.  […]
The Soligas were dependent on hunting and shifting agriculture traditionally. The children learnt about forests and animals that their tribe worshiped. “We could easily identify over 50 different plant varieties in just one square foot of land,” said Achugegowda.
Even today the Soligas are known for their intimate knowledge of the forests and judicious use of medicinal plants and non-timber forest produce like honey, gooseberry, lichen, tubers, etc. They are extremely good at identifying animals through pug marks and smells.
But the Soligas were evicted and relocated, after the forests near BR Hills, as the Biligiri Rangana Hills are known, were declared a wildlife sanctuary under the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972. […]
The court ruling granted community forest rights including the right of access and ownership of non-timber forest produce, fishing, grazing and cultural practice rights, besides the right to conserve and manage the forest. About 25 village panchayats were granted community rights, including collection of non-timber forest produce and maintenance of lakes within the reserve.
With the authorities mulling over relocation plans, the fate of a few settlements in core and buffer zones still hang in balance. […]
In consultation with various organisations, recently the Soligas chalked out detailed area-specific plans for tiger conservation in BR Hills, an ecologically important area of over 500 sq. km that acts as a crucial link between the Eastern Ghats and the Western Ghats. […]
Community efforts to save tigers
The number of big cats that doubled between 2011 and 2015 has proved that indigenous tribes like Soligas can co-exist peacefully with wildlife. […]
In tune with nature
A system unique to Soligas is that they offer the first yield from their farms to animals and birds. Vivekananda Girijana Kalyana Kendra helps the tribes market their harvest from the forests, after processing or value addition. The products are sold primarily in Bengaluru and Mysore, with honey topping the sales. […]

Source: How a tribe in Karnataka fought and won a legal battle to stay in a tiger reserve
URL: https://scroll.in/article/896580/how-a-tribe-in-karnataka-fought-and-won-a-legal-battle-to-stay-in-a-tiger-reserve
Date visited: 29 October 2018

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