Tata-Dhan Academy: PDM

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Programme in Development Management

My Days with a Tribal Community

By Shweta Hegde

“Madam, you are coming from foreign. What will you do here? We are happy here, tell to your Government to not give any trouble to us. This forest is our home and we know how to protect it. We will not give any information to you. We know that the Government has sent you here and you will submit a report on us to the Government and they want to displace us. Go, and save your life.”

This was the scolding I got on my first day of my first fieldwork when I approached the village leader. The scolding came from the village leader’s wife, and the village they represented was truly an isolated tribal one. In fact, they did not even know that there was a country called India; even more, they did not know anything more of the world than Mysore and Bangalore!

Since my childhood, when I had heard of such tribal areas, I was interested to go there. You might say that one of my dreams was to stay with a tribal community. Now, because of joining Tata-Dhan Academy, I am very happy to say that I completed my first fieldwork such a context.

It was with a lot of excitement and curiosity that I went to Biligiri Rangan Betta. This is the forest where the forest thief Veerappan used to live. It is also said to be one of the safest forests in Asia. BR Hills is situated in the south-eastern part of Karnataka in Chamaraja Nagara district near the border of Tamil Nadu (Coimbatore). It is located 80 kilometres from Mysore and about 250 kilometres from Bangalore. BRT is a wildlife sanctuary protected under the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972; in December 2010, this location was declared as a tiger reserve.

In BR Hills, there are almost 60 tribal hamlets, one of which is Hosa Podu. This is situated on a riverbank, 1.5 kilometres from Biligiri Ranga’s temple. This was the village in which I stayed from 27 November 2011 to 02 January 2012. Many of the people here were forcibly displaced from different parts of the forest and collectively staying here.

I spent the first week building relationships in the community. I also had an enjoyable time offering classes to the children in the community. After one week, the response of the villagers was totally different from what I had experienced on the first day. In fact, one amusing story was that during my stay, another student came as part of her PhD work on the status of education of tribal children. When she asked the village leader for information, he simply replied, “We will speak only to that madam,” (they always called me madam). “You can ask her for the information.” This showed the new respect and trust that they had in me.

Throughout the fieldwork, each week, I visited the interior forest, where the situation was much worse than this hamlet. In the interior forest, there was no infrastructure facilities; no one even had ration cards. The villagers treat the forest as their god, and they are cautious about allowing outsiders into their village. There are five clans, and the community’s name is Soliga. The name is representative of the belief that they were born of bamboo trees; another interpretation is that the name derives from the Tamil word “solai” which means “thick forest”.

One difficulty I had was in efficiently completing my work while dealing with drunk participant. In that hamlet, out of the total of 70 families, only 4 families did not consume alcohol. From early morning to the evening, they were busy in their work (coffee is their main crop, and I was visiting during their harvest time); thus, it was not until after they returned to the village–around five in the evening–that I was able to start my participatory appraisals. But, by this time, most of them were already drunk!

Overall it was a very good experience for me, and I want to say thank you to Tata-Dhan Academy for sending me there, and to Vivekananda Girijana Kalyana Kendra which is working for tribal community there and which facilitated my stay. I must also thank the community and my family. For me, this was a strange place and I went during the cold winter season. I could see the concern and fear in my family members about how I would be able to complete my studies. But, when I saw the drops of tears in the eyes of the villagers on the last day of my fieldwork, my heart was filled with satisfaction. Yes, there were hurdles; but finally, I achieved my objectives and I have learnt so much that I can put the difficulties behind me. The experience was a practical and professional initial step in my career in the development sector.

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Filed under: Fieldwork 1, PDM 12, , ,

7 Responses

  1. jkram says:

    Hi Shweta, you got exposure in right place. People at creamy layer, living in cities never cares about these simple people. Just imagine, if any of that tribal person is coming to a city settlement and whether will he be getting same respect and support from so called “developed people”?. They do not need sympathy; more than that they need equal respect and their born rights!.

    Bravo. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Shanti Gupta says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience and keep writing. Our blog is a platform where I can learn from you like students. Well done!

  3. vineet says:

    first of all congrats for ur succesful completion of first field work. i hope u liked the experience.
    i was shocked to read that ppl in the area dont know abt India and about the country. India lives in villages but who can believe it that an area 50km frm mysore dont have the idea about their country. it highlights the negligence on the part of the community and to to some extent of the govt which is not able to reach its own people. there needs to be a co-ordinated approach to reach to these people and we should try to bring them in main social and political life. very good of u that u posted this on website. its an eye opener.

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