12 January 2017, Kotagiri: The “Paul K. Feyerabend Award – A World of Solidarity is Possible” was presented on Monday, 9th January, to S. Janaki of Vellaricombai village in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve against the backdrop of the Wild Foods Festival at Keystone Foundation. The event was attended by over 200 guests including members of NTFP-EP Asia partner organisations. The Paul K. Feyerabend Foundation promotes the empowerment and well being of disadvantaged communities. The Foundation awards a prize called “Paul K. Feyerabend Award – A World of Solidarity is Possible” to individuals, communities or organisations that have succeeded in bringing about crucial and lasting changes under difficult conditions. The award consists of a plaque and cash prize of 2500 Euros.
S. Janaki, popularly called Janakiamma by the villagers, is a dynamic personality from a small village in the Nilgiris. She is an organic farmer, a practitioner of traditional medicine, and one of most effective community mobilisers Keystone has seen. Selvi Nanji from Keystone, who has worked with her for many years, related how the community would turn to Janakiamma for solutions; be it issues related to the condition of roads leading to the village or traditional medicine for simple ailments. Though she is now 56 years old and slowing down, Selvi said, “If anyone came up to her with an issue related to welfare of her people, she would immediately take steps to address it, regardless of any personal discomfort or disability.”
Snehlata Nath, Director-Keystone Foundation, remarked that she had been interacting with Janakiamma for the past 15 years and has watched her motivating the community to revive their traditional systems of governance and pride in their culture. This has promoted a series of events and hubbas (festivals) related to food, health, nutrition and community solidarity and it was only fitting that the Wild Foods Festival should be the event setting the background for Janakiamma to receive the commendation. Community members from seven areas of the NBR, Aracode, Sigur, Pillur, Konavakkarai, Hasanur, Punanjanur and Nilambur attended the Festival and every mention of Janakiamma’s work was greeted with cheers, earsplitting whistles and applause. They spoke about her enthusiasm and dedication and how she has been at the forefront of all activities related to community wellbeing for well over a decade.
Mr. Malikarjuna Moorthy, former CEO of Aadhimalai Pazhangudiyinar Producer Company Ltd., spoke of her insight as one of the directors on the board of Aadhimalai and how she had been instrumental in motivating women to come forward and manage the value addition processes at their production centres. An organic farmer herself, she had also motivated other farmers to raise traditional crops without chemical additives and join Aadhimalai as a shareholder.
Balasubramani from Baviyur, one of the few artists specializing in Ajile Bottu – the traditional art form of the Kurumba community also spoke on the occasion. Balasubramani is first cousin to Janakiamma and he spoke about how she had always been a guiding light for her extended family whenever the need arose. Nanji and Mallika from Janakiamma’s village spoke about her encouraging women to come to the forefront and take responsibility for the wellbeing of the family and village. Janakiamma had also been actively involved with All India Radio, Ooty where she had recorded many programmes related to traditional songs, folk stories and riddles, indigenous culture and traditional healing practices. Mani from AIR, Ooty made a mention of all these when he was congratulating Janakiamma. Femy Pinto, Executive Director – NTFP-EP, while presenting the plaque said, “We only bring to the world the efforts that you (Janakiamma) have made for your community. We are but messengers. All credit for the work rests solely with you.”
Responding to the award Janakiamma said that she was very happy that her efforts in the Nilgiris have been appreciated. She recalled the time, many years ago, when she had been a reporter for the community newsletter, Nilgiri Seemai Sudhi. During those days, getting the villagers to overcome their apathy and take interest in the community-related news was an uphill task. Janakiamma related how the villagers would approach her as a traditional healer and she would then use that opportunity to get them to read the newsletter. She is glad that the situation is changed now and more and more people are taking interest in matters affecting indigenous communities. Janakiamma is proving to be a bridge between the traditional and the modern. She supports the philosophy that, “change is inevitable, but it is how we transition that matters.”