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A Walk to Remember with the Sardarji of Paudi Bhuiyan Community

Archana Soreng write an alternative worldview of the Bhuyian Community, whose worldview is closely related with nature and focused on sustainability.

Insights on their Worldview which is Intertwined with Nature and based on Sustainability of Natural Resources

By Archana Soreng

In the last two centuries the world has witnessed a dominant discourse of a capitalistic world view. This discourse, being capitalistic in nature, brought out the notion of developed and not developed. The pathway followed by this orientation involved the exploitation of natural resources without being concerned about the futuristic aspect of the globe. This particular article is an attempt to highlight an alternative worldview which is being practiced by the indigenous communities around the world. It is a worldview which is connected to nature, an economy which is eco-friendly and can save the world from mass extinction. This article illustrates eco-friendly ways of living in the Paudi Bhuiyan Communities of Odisha, India which is intrinsic with nature & forest and based on sustainability of the natural resources. This article also attempts to show the irony that, even though the indigenous people have immense contribution in protection and restoration of Nature and are real guardians of the forest and warriors of climate crisis, they are vulnerable and on the verge of extinction as their rights over their forest and land are not recognised.    

Paudi Bhuiyan Communities of Odisha, India 

As per 2011 census, the total population of Particular Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTG)1 across India is 2768322 and they constitute 2.65% of total ST population (10,42,81,034) and 0.22% of total population (121,05,69,573)2. There are 13 PVTG communities in Odisha, including the Paudi Bhuiyan Community. In Odisha, Paudi Bhuiyan Community is found in Keonjhar, Sundergarh, Angul and Deogarh districts. In Sundergarh District, of Odisha, the Paudi Bhuiyan Communities are found in Lahunipara Block. This Community maintains a symbiotic relationship with the environment. They are engaged in Shifting cultivation which provides them food security and their knowledge and skills in this regard is very scientific. 

Interaction at the Village of sardarji, Budakhomon

A Walk to Remember with Sardar of Paudi Bhuiyan Community

During my course of work on evidence based research of implementation of Forest Rights Act, 2006 in Odisha, I got the opportunity to visit the village of Shri Jhara Naik, Sardar of Paudi Bhuiyan Community (Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups) of Odisha and interact with him. His village Budakhomon3 was 200km away from the city, inside the forest. As I approached nearer to his village, I could feel the aroma of soil, could hear birds chirping, could see lush green trees, hens roaming around, goats and cows were grazing in the field. All I could feel was a serene environment with people around me with a smile and acceptance. He took me around his village and nearby villages to interact with the Paudi Bhuiyan communities, to know their tradition, way of living & forest protection practices. We had to walk to reach to the neighbouring village (Dhukamunda4) of Sardarji.

Sardarji asked me: “Will you be able to walk to the neighbouring village?”  I replied, “Yes I can.”

We started walking to Dhukamunda5. We crossed the agricultural lands, a small stream, and were about to enter a dense forest. 

I asked Sardarji: “How far is the village?”

He replied: “It is nearby, we have to cross this small forest, and 2 small hills.”

We kept walking in the forest. I followed Sardarji, he was way ahead of me, as I could not match his stamina and also his speed of walking in the rocky path of the forest. All I could hear was the sound of our footsteps and the crackling sound of the dried leaves and buzzing sounds of insects and could feel an intrinsic silence.

Forest Way

I could not hold myself, and asked Sardarji;

“Baba6, are you not scared to walk alone in the forest?” 

Sardarji replied with a smile on his face

No my child, we are not scared and can never be scared of forest and can never be alone, when in forest because forest is our friend. Since childhood, we have played in this forest, climbed the trees, plucked the Kendu7, Aam8, Char9, Panoso10, and applied the herbs and shrubs when ill. In rainy season, we used to come to the forest to collect “Chotti”11    and have walked through this forest numerous times to meet our friends of neighbouring villages.

For Us, Our relationship with the forest is like our mother. 

Forest is nourishing us, by giving us food. 

Forest is taking care of us, when we are not well by giving us medicine.

Forest is blessing us, and is with us during our cultural Festivals.

Forest is enabling us to earn our livelihood.

So, does our Mother.

And now on the other side, 

We respect Forest like our mother and protect her from the Timber Mafia and Forest Fires through our  traditional forest protection practices. 

We have village level forest protection committees in our village, where we collectively take decisions on how much forest produce to collect , and how to punish if the outsiders  enter in the forest try to fell trees in the forest. We also go for forest patrolling to prevent forest fires. If there is forest fire, we go to stop the forest fire.

His words took me to introspection. 

Sardarji asked me: “Are you tired? If you want we can halt for some time, and again start walking.”  I replied:  “Yes, let’s halt for 15 mins.”

After walking for 5 kilometres, we reached the neighbouring village Dhukamunda, which according to Sardarji was nearby. On our way back, we walked through the same forest and hills.  After covering some distance, I was drained and was finding it difficult to walk ahead. I asked Sardarji if we could rest for sometime. He replied, “ Sure, why not?”  We rested for some time in the middle of the forest. 

In the meanwhile, I asked Sardarji a question which often hinders me a lot;

“Baba, people say that Tribals are undeveloped and uncivilized, what do you have to say on this?”

Sardarji Replied:

People say that we Adivasis are not developed, as we live in forest and eat insects. They also say that we are poor. 

But I feel:

We, Tribals get fresh food; flower, leaves, fruits from forest. 

When we go to the forest, to get one forest produce, we get five more 

When we fall ill, we get healed by the medicinal herbs, roots, flower and fruit of the Forest. 

We have wells, streams and pond in our village from where we get water.

We have fresh air, sunshine, and greenery all around us in the village.  

We work on our land and get food grains to eat.

I feel earlier, we had never needed money, we had food, fruit, water and medicine from our forest, land and streams. 

A moment of silence… Introspection

We again started walking through the forest, with pebbles and small streaks of bushes hitting my feet. I could feel the pain, yet walked ahead. I was unable to match the speed of Sardarji and after a point of time, Sardarji was way ahead of me, I could not see himat all. I could hear his footsteps, which I followed. And finally we were back to Sardarji’s village after walking for 10 kilometres (To and Fro) crossing agricultural land, forests, streams and hills.

My Reflection

Sardarji was fit and fine even after walking for 10 kilometres (To and Fro), but I was almost on the verge of collapsing, which reflects our different lifestyles and stamina. In cities even for half or one kilometre, vehicles are used for transport, which causes emissions. Whereas Tribals and Forest Dwelling Communities are the ones who are living an eco-friendly life12, protecting forest and natural resources and not causing emissions. Thus the field insights shows that the Paudi Bhuiyan Communities have been living an eco-friendly way of life as their festival and seasons are marked by the blooming of the flower and crops of certain kind and have solutions to the global environmental crisis, such as Plastic Pollution, Forest Fires and Water Crisis.

Interaction with the people of Neighbouring village ( Dhukamunda). The man in blue Shirt is Sardarji

They have formed Community Led Forest Protection committees, which has been now formalised under the Forest Rights Act 2006 and through these committees they have been preventing forest fire by patrolling the forest and if there is forest fires, they are collectively putting effort to stop it.13 Through this Community Led forest Protection, they have collectively framed rules and regulations on how to sustainably use the forest resources and also have developed mechanisms to punish the outsiders who are illegally felling trees.

The way of Living of the Paudi Bhuiyan Community is eco-friendly and has alternatives to the plastic pollution also. The community members use Twigs of Trees to Brush teeths. Earthen Pots and Utensils made out of Clay are used to  store food grains and water. They use Leaf Plates to have food, they pluck the Sal and Siali Leaf in a sustainable way and then Stitch it into leaf plates through the Broom Sticks and Bamboo Twigs.14  These Leaf Plates are Biodegradable and are also used as Manure after decomposition and are also consumed by the livestock such as Cow and Goat, thus this  enables both  the reuse of the Waste and no waste15. Their Health  Care Practices are also of zero waste and are eco-friendly as it is mostly of the forest, wherein the consumption of  Roots, fruits and Leaves  of trees either by Grinding or boiling is used to heal the Ailments and illness. 

Yet, they are the one who are mistreated and their rights are not recognised. Since the past few years, the concept of Sustainable Development has come into discussion in the mainstream domain. But this concept has been prevailing in the Tribal and Forest Dwelling Communities since ages, yet we are termed as undeveloped. 

From their birth till death, Tribals and Forest Dwelling Communities are connected with the forest and land through their culture, food habit, medicinal values and their way of livelihood. People look at land and forest in terms of its economic value and think about how they can maximize profit out of it. But for Tribals and Forest Dwelling Communities, land and forest are more than monetary aspects and economic value. Forests are important parts of their life and existence.

People say Tribals, Forest Dwelling Communities, forests and animals cannot coexist and area threat to each other. But I felt neither forest nor Tribals can live without each other. 

People have always termed the Tribals and Forest Dwelling Communities as Backward and undeveloped. But this walk and interaction with the Sardarji of Paudi Bhuiyan Community reaffirmed my belief, that Tribals and forest Dwelling Communities are self-reliant and self sustained.

People say Tribals and Forest Dwelling Communities are not developed, they live in theforest and eat insects.  But I feel that these people have their own development parameters and are trying to impose their development world view on the Tribals and Forest Dwelling Communities. Tribals and Forest Dwelling communities are the ones who have been leading an eco-friendly and sustainable way of living.

Interaction with the Community Members at Sardaji Village, Budakhomon

Tribals and Forest Dwelling Communities have Food Safety, they are having fresh food from the forest. On the other hand,the people staying in cities do not have fresh food, all their food is chemicals and contain high levels of pesticides.

Tribals and Forest Dwelling Communities have Food Security, because when they go to the forest to get one forest produce, they get five more. On the other hand, there is poverty and scarcity of food in cities.

Tribals and Forest Dwelling Communities get Medical Treatment from forest that is free of cost and on the other side people in the cities have to pay a huge amount of money for medical treatment.

Tribals and Forest Dwelling Communities have Fresh Air to breathe. On the other side, in the cities due to pollution, they don’t have fresh air.

So, now the question arises as to what is development, what are the parameters of development and who has created these  parameters. 

It also triggers me to question who is undeveloped, the tribals and forest dwelling communities or the people who are labelling tribals and forest dwelling communities as undeveloped.

Non Recognition of the Land Rights of the Paudi Bhuiyan Communities

The Scheduled Tribes and other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 recognises rights of forest dwelling communities over their Forest land and gives them the authority to access the forest produce and protect their forest. The Forest Rights Act 2006, aimed to undo the injustice done to the Forest Dwelling Communities by the erosion of their traditional land and forest rights by forestry policies and outsiders.

However, even after a decade, the implementation of the Forest Rights Act 2006 remains very poor, only 40% of the claims have been recognised as in 2018, as per the report of the Ministry of Tribal Affairs16. The Paudi Bhuiyan Communities of Sundergarh have submitted their claims for recognition of their Individual Forest Rights and Community Forest Rights under the Forest Rights Act 2006. Most of the Individual Forest Rights and Community Forest Rights Claims are pending at the Government Office and have not been recognised.  The villages of the Paudi Bhuiyan Communities of Sundergarh are surrounded by Mining Companies, and the non-recognition of their rights over their forest land brings them under the radar of eviction, displacement. Recognition of the community tenures of habitat and habitation of primitive tribal groups and pre agricultural communities17 are one of the most significant aspects of the Forest Rights Act, 2006, but  still the rights of these communities have been neglected both at the national and state level as the Implementation of Forest Rights Act  2006 remains poor over the years.

In 2019, the Supreme Court of India had asked the states to evict the forest dwelling communities, whose Individual Forest Rights claim over their forest land under Forest Rights Act 2006, had been rejected by the authorities18. It was post this order of the Supreme Court that; these Paudi Bhuiyan Communities of Sundergarh District, came to know that many of their claims have been rejected. Until then, there had been no intimation from the Government authorities regarding the rejection of their claims. They were also not informed about the hearing of rejection cases held at Sub Divisional Level, post the Supreme Court Order. This Entire Incident has instilled fear and threat of eviction among them.

Sardarji of Paudi Bhuiyan Says that:

“When the Forest Rights Act 2006 came, it instilled a hope within our community, that our rights over our land and forest will be recognised. We will be able to live in our forest without fear. But it’s been years since the Forest Rights Act 2006, has come but still our rights are not recognised and we are still in fear, especially after the supreme court order of eviction of tribals.”

Thus, the irony is that, even though the Adivasis and Forest Dwelling Communities have immense contribution in protection and restoration of Nature and are the real guardians of the forest and warrior of the climate crisis, they are vulnerable and on the verge of extinction as their rights over their forest and land are not recognised because of the faulty implementation of the Policy and lack of the will of the implementers.


Footnotes

  1. Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs)
  2. Research Study on Effectiveness Measurement of Development Interventions Among PVTGs in the nine PVTG inhabiting states of India: an outcome analysis
  3. Budakhomon is a village which comes under Dolesora Panchayat of Lahunipara Block of Sundergarh District, Odisha
  4. Dhukamunda is a village which comes under Dolesora Panchayat of Lahunipara Block of Sundergarh District, Odisha.
  5.  Dhukamunda is a village which comes under Dolesora Panchayat of Lahunipara Block of Sundergarh District, Odisha.
  6. In Odisha, Fathers are often addressed as Baba
  7. Kendu is a fruit found in the forest.
  8.  Mango is called as Aam in their traditional language.
  9. Char is a Minor Forest Produce.
  10. Jackfruit is called Panoso in their traditional language.
  11. Mushroom in their traditional language is called “Chotti”
  12. 6 ways indigenous peoples are helping the world achieve #ZeroHunger
  13. Covid-19, climate crisis: A double whammy for India’s Adivasis and forest dwellers
  14. What if not single-use plastics? Why not leaf cutlery?
  15. Biodegradable leaf cutlery would be a game changer to Tribal in #Odisha during #Covid 19 outbreak
  16. A decade on, only 40% of FRA claims approved
  17. The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers
  18. Supreme Court stays Feb 13 order to evict nearly 1.89 million tribals

Cover photograph: #PaudiBhuyan mobilized MGNREGA for creating irrigation of 116 Acres of land.@ActionAidIndia.


About the Author

Archana Soreng, from Khadia Tribe, an research officer at Vasundhara, Odisha—An Action Research and Policy Advocacy Organisation working on Natural Resource Governance, Tribal Rights and Climate Justice. She is also a member of the UN Secretary General’s Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change.

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