Tribal women Fight to get Ownership of their Traditional Land in Odisha to conserve their Forest

When in mid-summer, many parts of India get dry and crack, the Nayagarh’s district has a stream irrigating small farms

Tribal women in India, Wikimedia

Ranapur, October 26, 2016: The tribal women of Gunduribadi village of eastern Odisha state do an early morning patrol to conserve their forest. About four decades ago, the commercial timber and bamboo were stolen from the forest. The groundwater of the forest was depleted and streams of the Nayagarh district dried. The tribal people were forced to migrate to droves. said Arjun Pradhan, 70, headmen of Gunduribadi village, reported Reuters.

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The headmen of Gunduribadi village, Arjun Pradhan, said,” The crisis prompted the community to embark on a campaign to nurture their forest and restore the ecosystem.”

“What you see today as Nayagarh’s democratic movement to sustain community forests resources and become self-reliant was born of necessity 40 years ago after 6 droughts in 10 years shattered its farms and forest-based livelihoods,” Pradhan said to Reuters.

Today, after the long effort by the tribes the ecosystem provides water all year around. When in mid-summer, many parts of India get dry and crack, the Nayagarh’s district has a stream irrigating small farms.

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The conservation plan for the Nayagarh’s district has set an example for the forestry across Odisha. After conserving their ecosystem, the tribal women are now fighting for the legal ownership of the forest under India’s 2006 Forest Rights Act (FRA) law, which recognizes the rights of tribes over their traditional land and resources.

Implementing the Law in India has been slow due to the continuous requirement of land for industrial use and development projects. Out of the total 4.2 million claims only one third, 1.6 million, were awarded, mentioned Reuters.

There are 27 families in Gunduribadi. Each family owns about 2.4 hectares of land. The soil of the land is packed with nutrient-rich hummus that produces around 6,500 kg of rice each harvest. The forest provides a wide range of seasonal food for the families. Also, it provides the extra income from the medicinal plants that can be sold at the market.

“This forest is like an old friend that never fails to help us cope during droughts and bad crop years, saving us from starvation and [the need for] migration,” Dami Nayak, a local woman aged 80, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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“We never pull out the entire root but carefully cut out a portion and leave the remaining root beneath the soil to re-grow,” a tribal woman told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The food includes bamboo shoots, wild mushrooms, bean vines, spinach and spine gourds. Apart from the food, the women obtain fuel from the forest. The tribe never chops the tress.

“On our morning patrol we break off dry branches and carry them home,” said Kama Pradhan, 35. “But we are selective; we know which species of wood does not give out harmful smoke.”

The Village has set some basic rules for the conservation which allows the villagers to collect dry shrub, fuel wood, edible products and fodder. The tress that fall during storms is used for rebuilding houses, for weddings and funeral pyres. Taking axes into the forest is banned.

The community policing system, Thengapali, was introduced. It requires members of four families that pass the duty to other four families by placing sticks outside their homes at night.

Despite these efforts, the forest-dwellers lack legal recognition of land ownership. Activists say that the collective rights of the tribes have been sidelined and many forest-dwellers have been struggling with the tedious process of registering claims.

Activists say collective rights have been sidelined and that millions of forest-dwellers are still struggling with the complicated process of registering claims. A law was passed in 2015 that shuts the village council from planning and implementing afforestation. This will encourage the exploitation of land and destroy the forests that provide the basic necessities to communities like Gunduribadi.

Prepared by Diksha Arya of NewsGram. Twitter: @diksha_arya53




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