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Climate change and global warming was a price we paid for displacing the tribal from the forestlands – Times of India


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Nagpur: Tribal activist Dinesh Sheram, also members of Senate and management council of RTM Nagpur University, sounded grave concerned over the changed climatic pattern, global warming and environmental deterioration. He held the mindless displacement of the tribal responsible for the adverse effects on the nature, climate and environment.
Sheram, also associated with Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Yuva Parishad, New Delhi, had been awarded with ‘Adivasi Sevak’ in 2002 for his efforts towards the empowerment and upliftment of the tribal.
Following his mother Umatai’s footsteps, Sheram too has dedicated his life for the cause of the tribal community of which he is a member.
The 47-year-old activist also runs a hostel for tribal students and is engaged in several empowerment schemes for women too.
Q. How the displacement of the tribal from their native forest lands affected the climatic patterns?
A. The tribal community considered the floral and fauna of the forest as their venerated deities. They would not think twice before laying down their lives to save the forest and it’s flora and fauna. In fact, this duty of protection and conservation is divided among the community and are alloted to different groups who got their surnames from such divine responsibilities. For example, the families with surname ‘Yeti’ will protect the goats, Uikey (meaning tiger’s nail) will protect the big cats, Madavi (meaning Sagwan tree) will protect the same ones and so on. There are 750 such surnames who are entrusted with the responsibility of saving either some animals, birds or a type of tree. This way the tribal as a community knew how to balance various aspects of nature. They would use their native skills and pure conscience to save nature which directly would control and influence the climatic patterns too unlike what is happening now with the disturbed unpredictable cycles leading to delayed rains, prolonged summer and erratic weather conditions. As the tribal is no more there in most stretches of their earlier forest lands, they are falling prey to the greed of the some of the non-tribal people who is finishing the greens and inviting disasters of erratic climatic patterns and related adversities.
Q. How the deterioration of the forest in absence of the tribal leading to climatic changes and global warming?
A. The champions of fast modernization and urbanization are an impatient lot. They are in a mad rush to convert each and every inch of the forest into their wealth and keep them in safe vaults. The manner in which the forest are being depleted for construction and mining activities, minerals and ore are extracted blasting the mother earth and animals are being hunted down for various reasons will have serious implications which we are not trying to realize either intentionally or unintended manner. The outcome of global warming would be disastrous. Knowing this, people are out to destroy the forest, inflict irreversible losses to the ecosystem of each place and toying with nature. With tribal community present in the forest, government could not have had made such deep inroads into our homeland.
Q. Why do you feel tribal community was indispensable as the last savior of the nature and environment?
A. Tribal was the first community to thrive on the mother earth. They are the indigenous people and original inhabitants of the forested lands which once encompassed almost all over the lands barring few arid regions. The tribal’s lifestyle evolved from the nature and revolved around their forest life. They learnt from the nature, adapted their lives according to the nature and, in return, protected it. From elephants, the tribal had learnt the style of community living and its significance. On the contrary, one can now see the ill-effects of individualistic urban society and its nucleus families. The tribal observed how a deer consumed a particular leaf from a tree to neutralize snake’s venom. They also learnt from tiger how to cure their stomach ailments by consuming bamboo leaves. Hence, they started respecting the nature and worshipping it. That’s how they had become the savior of the mother earth and the nature in her lap.
Q. Whom or under what conditions do you feel the tribal were compelled to move out of the forests?
A. The deterioration of the condition of the tribal community began from the Britishers who were the first to target the forests, their rich resources and had started plundering them. Tribal like Birsa Munda resisted and fought the kingdom single-handedly. In Jharkhand, thousands of tribal had laid their lives years back to save the ‘jal jungle jameen’ (water, forest and land) from the British imperialists. Despite the struggle, the expanding British colonies in India and their commercial activities started taking toll on the forestlands and tribal were displaced too. They were settled with menial jobs or money or forcibly evicted. Even today’s laws on forest and forest lands are nowhere sympathic towards the tribal and their natural rights. Hence, climate change and global warming are the two biggest price we are paying today for displacing the tribal from their forest lands.
Q. With the tribal shifting or being driven towards city, how have been they doing in the urban set up?
A. There are three lakhs tribal now living in the city in 60 slum pockets. These pockets are never developed but remained neglected. The tribal community struggles to adapt in the urban set up but fails. Their forefathers lived on the herbs from the forests for medicines and healthy drinks but they don’t get them in city. They collected Mahua flowers from the forests which can be preserved for 10 years and used as a healthy drink for rejuvenation and energy boosters. In city, they could not find anything upon which they and their forefathers lived across the ages.
Q. The tribal are also responsible for excessive hunting and chopping trees for firewood and constructions?
A. The notion is not correct that the tribal engage in any excesses whether hunting or chopping. Though the tribal are naturally hunters, pluckers and gatherers, we know how to balance. If one group hunts or collects something, the other group would essentially protect and conserve it. If a group hunts an animal, the entire community would share it without killing another one. They believe in frugality and community living. If they need to chop a tree, they would prefer a dead one. If any tribal is compelled to chop a green tree, he or she would first apologize and then seek its mercy before axing it. Even when he or she would cut it, they ensured the entire tree was not uprooted. The kings and the emperors followed by the Britishers killed and chopped far more for leisure and pleasure than what we did for mere food and shelter. The tribal felt cutting or chopping or excessive killing would bring them bad omen and curses.
Q. What solutions do you suggest for the scenario now?
A. Firstly, the tribal people must not be displaced anymore. Secondly, the government must allow the tribal to remain and settle in their own lands with a livelihood by providing them with some work in the vicinity of their hamlets. The tribal must be engaged by the forest department as no one but the member of our community knows better how to protect and preserve the nature and find its various solutions. The government must ensure the afforestations are scientifically done and not as per the fancy and whimps of their officials. The trees which are planted by the government at the afforestations site are basically belonging to the foreign origin and breed whose leaves and fruits cannot be consumed by the birds and animals and they too start getting extinct. The tribal, on the other hand, can be your guide and advisor to tell you where which plants would grow and how it would support the local ecosystem and the food web.

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