A Week of Workshops: Narratives on the Forest

Relocation of villages is a common topic in Sawai Madhopur, the district where the Ranthambore National Park is located. Since the 1970’s, when Project Tiger, a tiger conservation project was launched, approximately 15 villages have been moved out of areas considered critical tiger habitat in the Ranthambore National Park. I’ve just returned from a week of workshops with Gramin Shiksha Kendra’s school in Girirajpura, a village that is composed primarily of two relocated villages–Mordungri and Padra. The point of these workshops, which we conducted with the children at the school, was to create materials for an exhibit that will tell the history of the villages and explore people’s relationship to the forest.

When I hear or read about the relocation of Mordungri and Padra, the main characters in the discussion are the environment–the forest, the animals. I’ve rarely heard discussion about how the people living there were affected–how their lives have changed. Girirajpura has been touted by the Forest Department as an example of a successful relocation. But in interviews I’ve conducted, it’s clear how disruptive the relocation was. Many of the adults I interviewed talk about how they miss their pastoral lifestyle–prior to relocation they kept buffalos, now they are agriculturalists. The adolescents I interviewed talked about missing their close friends whose families relocated to a different village and who they haven’t seen in five years. Many older people talked about the connection they felt to the village they had been relocated from–it is their janmbhumi, several said–their birthplace.

Economically and from an infrastructure standpoint, relocation has not been advantageous for the communities. In interviews, many people told me that they earn less than half of what they earned when they lived in the forest. The forest department promised to provide a primary health centre, a school building, a temple, construction of a bore well, wire fencing and several other facilities. Many of these promises have not been met. Furthermore, the agricultural land the community has been given has not been transferred in their names, so the community is unable to use agricultural schemes that would make life more affordable in Girirajpura–schemes like the kisan credit card (which allows better loan rates for farmers) and subsidized fertilizer.

My coworkers and I spent the last week conducting workshops with students in Girirajpura that tell the story of Mordungri and Padra from the perspective of the community, from the perspective of the children. The workshops were incredible. The kids produced some amazing stories and poems and artwork. On the day we did a mapping workshop of the villages, parents and big sisters came by and helped the students (many of whom were very young when relocation happened) design the maps. Parents eagerly participated in the interviews we encouraged the students to conduct, answering their questions about livelihood, environment, and language.

So I want this blog post to have two points to it. First, I want you to see some of the incredible works the children have produced–so I’m including some photos of what the children have done, as well as a poem one of the students wrote. Second, I want you to know about the adverse effects relocation has had for this community. The community is actively trying to gain ownership of the land they’ve been guaranteed–visiting both local and national government offices. In several of the interviews, the people I interviewed talked about taking their story further. Theirs is a story that needs to be taken further, that needs to be known–because their rights should have been met a long time ago–when they first came to Girirajpura.

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Map of Girirajpura
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Map of Mordungri
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Map of Padra

The following is a poem by Aarti Gujjar:

कविता: शेर और आदमी 

शेर आया, शेर आया।

सभी आदमियों को धमकाया

तालाब में नहाया और कूदा।

एक आदमी को खाया।

सुबह फिर धमकाया।

उसका भोजन अच्छा बना।

तौरिस्त (tourist) नहीं आया।

शेर आया, शेर आया।

Poem: Tiger and Man

A tiger came, A tiger came,

Threatened everyone,

It bathed and jumped in the pond,

And ate a man,

In the morning it threatened everyone again,

It had made a good meal,

The tourist didn’t come,

A tiger came, a tiger came.

Avital loved staying in India before and finds it an incredible and fascinating country. She is excited to be challenged and to learn from India, while gaining experience on the ground, learning from the people at her host organization and the other fellows to translate skills she has gained into development in India. She is excited to be challenged to think differently and to grow. Through this fellowship, Avital wants to get a better understanding of development in India and learn what skills that she can best contribute to development, build new ones and broaden her understanding of development and India. Her study of Hindi, past experience of living in India and her experience of having to move rapidly between multiple roles and requirements while working at a startup are few experiences that Avital feels would help her in this fellowship.

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One thought on “A Week of Workshops: Narratives on the Forest

  1. Excellent post, photos and poem. The difficult situation created by the relocation comes clear. I’ll look forward to follow up posts that can explore what the alternatives could have been to the relocation that took place, and what the best options are now. Were there any positives about the relocation from the perspectives of the villagers? Did the government do some thing well? What are the public policy implications? Terrific that you are documenting this so sensitively and rigorously. Keep at it !

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