There is a poster placed on the wall, by the doorway to one of the houses of the families we interviewed in Girirajpura. It features a picturesque-looking house, and the words, written in English “Accept change before it is forced upon you.”
I’ve been stuck as I’ve thought about how I want to write this blog post. I don’t want to make it too sensationalist, but I also want to tell you about what I’ve learned in the last two weeks–how relocation was, in many ways, forced and the ways in which the community rebuilt after their lives were uprooted.
Two weeks ago, my Co-Fellow Olivia came to Girirajpura so that she could write an article on the relocation of the villages Mordungri and Padra. For a week, Olivia and my co-worker Anjali conducted interviews with people affected by or involved in the relocation that occurred in 2012. I accompanied them during the interviews. The interviews brought out details about relocation that I hadn’t been aware of during my own research. Shortly before the monsoon, as relocation was ongoing, the Forest Department demolished the houses in the morning in front of the residents. That night, the families shifted to Girirajpura, where they had not yet had a chance to build their houses. They lived for twelve months in make-shift shelters, while they built their homes.
I’ve heard numerous people–people affiliated with the Forest Department, with local NGO’s–say that the community members of Girirajpura expect too much. That they want the Forest Department to do everything for them. But in the interviews, it’s apparent that this is far from the truth. After the community of Mordungri was relocated, the community members themselves built the community. They built their own houses, they built their own temple. They dug several of the wells themselves. There were electric lines in the area, but the community members themselves connected the electricity to their own houses. The local school is run by Gramin Shiksha Kendra with strong involvement and support from the community.
Yes, the Forest Department provided them with some infrastructure. It provided land, a community center, a wall around the community center, and three functioning borewells. But it has not provided the health care facilities it promised, a constructed temple (there is a half completed temple) near the community center, or easy access to schools. Perhaps most importantly, people do not have access to the land rights over the land provided to them by the forest department. This means they cannot access farmer loans, subsidized fertilizer, and other schemes that make life affordable as agriculturalists. Members of the community have noted that when their livelihoods were based in pastoralism–in selling buffalo milk (which they cannot do now, because there is not enough grazing land to keep more than a few buffalos per family in the new village)–they earned 2-3 lakh a year. Now they earn about 1 lakh.
When it comes to discussions about the future, the families of Girirajpura were emphatic about what was needed to address the challenges they’ve faced since relocation. Land rights, healthcare infrastructure, access to educational opportunities, infrastructure for worship–all infrastructure that had been promised by the Forest Department. As one of the leaders of Girirajpura explained–he wants a future where his children and grandchildren can be self-sufficient, be independent, and access opportunity.