It was roughly eight kilometers drive to this village called ‘Abbalathi’ in an Autorickshaw from Periyapatnatown. Asha kumari, who is working for Sahaja Samrudha, an organization working with grass root level farmers, was my guide to the village. It was my first visit to this area and I did not have any hints about the place or its people. The only thing I was sure of was that that I was going to meet a Jenukuruba woman farmer, interested to work as a project fellow for Using Diversity project.
The vehicle deviated from the main road to a mud road. On the left side of the road, I had noticed there was a relatively small forest patch fenced at about 6 feet height, where the way to the village began. The vehicle stood in front of a thatched tiled house and a tall woman with determined face welcomed us. She is ‘Puvi’, the UD fellow to be. I started the talk with a brief introduction of who I am and why I am here in this village. I went on to ask her some routine questions to understand her willingness to work on the project and her expectations.
During our conversation, Puvi talked about the history of Abbalathi village and how the people in the village were brought there. Approximately 90 percent of the hamlet are occupied by a primitive tribal group called Jenukuruba. They are known for their skill of harvesting wild honey from huge trees. According to Puvi, the people in the hamlet were brought out from the forests, located a couple of kilometers away from the hamlet. It happened some 40-45 years ago. The land titles were given to five-six families in those days. At present, there are about 58 Jenukurubafamilies living in the village.
When I asked how often the people in the village go to the forests, Puvi gave an unexpected response ed. She said that they have not been to the forest for many years and that they are not allowed to go to forests by the Forest department officials. She added that their community has many sacred spots and places of worship inside the forests, where they have not been for many years now. The community people are not happy with the way things are going.
When asked if they are aware of the rights of the community to access forest resources on their traditional forest lands, she responded that she did not know. Nobody has ever spoken to them about these rights being recognized under the Forest Rights Act, 2006. She knows that one of their community leaders has been engaged in infighting for land rights, but the elders in the community are not very educated and unclear as to why these fights are happening. She expressed her frustration by saying that, “We have almost lost our traditions and our gods. Our children know nothing about the forests”. Her words made me feel that they want to go to the forest and that they need to collect honey.
She walked back with us to the main road. Puvi told us that she could show the community burial ground inside the forests that we saw on the to her village, the same forest that was fenced. The gate was locked and the entrance to the forest has been blocked because of the threat of forest fire. We did not manage to get permission to go inside the forest to see the community graveyard. She said, “Everything has been taken away from us. For past many years, we were not allowed to bury our peoples’ body here and if we want to see our ancestors’ tombs we need to seek permission from the forest department.” In her words, this is, perhaps, the situation of all Jenukuruba people living in all adjacent villages.
While coming back, I was very unhappy with what is going on in our country. We have passed some beautiful laws in this country. It is rarely reaching the people who are really in need of it, in the sense and spirit it was devised for. There are officials who are responsible for implementing these rules, yet they are unfortunately instrumental in stopping or withholding these rules from being implemented.