Monday, October 10, 2011

Save nature, the tribal way

By Rina Mukherji
18 September, 2011

Nilanjan Bhattacharya's film Johar-Welcome to our world highlights the sustainable practices of our indigenous peoples which they nurtured on the strength of their bonds with the forests.

India has the highest concentration of indigenous peoples in the world- with 635 tribes totaling 84.32 million people- and yet we have only belatedly woken up to the need to recognize the rights of forest dwelling communities. The Forest Rights Act, 2006 was a just step in the direction of conserving our biodiversity. But the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill, which shall pave the way for genetically modified crops, threatens to make a mockery of our rich biodiversity and traditional agricultural and food practices, including those of tribals.

Nilanjan Bhattacharya’s film Johar-Welcome to our world is an attempt to focus on a sustainable food culture that our indigenous peoples have nurtured on the strength of the bonds that bind them to the forests they live in.
This documentary, that recently won a National Award for best narration /writing, extensively covers the lives of the Birhor, Munda, Oraon, Asur, Korwa, and other tribal communities in Jharkhand, and dwells on their traditional occupations, which have been unable to bear the onslaught of the westernized model of development, leaving them without means of livelihood, or land to farm on.

Tribal lands all over India yield the major part of the country’s mineral wealth, including iron ore, mica, copper, chromium and coal. Yet, 75 per cent of the tribals live below the poverty line. Tribal hamlets like Amlasole in West Bengal and Kalahandi in Orissa are synonymous with starvation deaths and misery. Whenever dams have come up, it has been on tribal land. And so have wildlife sanctuaries and biosphere reserves. Forest-dwelling tribals have always found themselves marginalized, with the forests from which they gathered produce increasingly being cut down by successive governments - British and Indian, and forest officials denuding forests of the trees that give them their unique character. As a consequence, vast tracts that were home to forest-dwelling tribals are now barren land, with not a single tree in sight.

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