Photo: Annual Yatra (pilgrimage) of Korchi Ilaka
In the Indian context, in last few decades, there has been much discourse and writing on the struggle of the tribal and nontribal communities, living in and dependent upon forests and other ecosystems around them, against industrial development such as mining, hydroelectric dams, and so on. There have also been debates about alienation and injustice caused to such communities by forest and conservation laws and policies, implemented through centralized and oppressive bureaucratic institutions.
In the early 2000s, adivasi and non adivasi forest-dependent communities and those working with them in India pushed for a legislation recognising their customary rights to forests, the Scheduled Tribes and Other Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006 also called the Forest Rights Act (FRA) of India.
Local communities are resisting mining and also using the FRA to evolve alternative models of forest governance and forest-based livelihoods, particularly in Gadchiroli district which has emerged as one of the leading districts in the implementation of the FRA in India. Our objective was to understand how these communities are using FRA and other laws towards social, ecological, political and economic alternatives in their areas. Additionally to understand what narratives related to well being and development are directly or indirectly emerging through these processes and/or being articulated by the people. However, because of a number of reasons, primarily, the states sponsored oppressive repression and heavy militarisation at such sites we had to change the site of study twice during the course of a year.
Finally, in August 2017, after discussions with local team members, it was decided that the case would be conducted in Korchi taluka (subunit of a District) in Gadchiroli District. Specifically three villages, namely, Jhendepar, Bharitola, and Sahle.
Photo: Women’s meeting against mining in Zendepar
In Korchi taluka (a territory of 90 villages) almost all of the 90 villages have had their forest rights recognized. They are now in the process of forming a taluka level federation of gram sabhas (village assemblies) in a democratic and participatory manner. This has led to ensure that gram sabhas receive economic benefits from the forest produce which till now has been appropriated by state agencies and traders while local villagers working as daily wage labourers. These gram sabhas are also facing threats from mining leases and devising collective strategies of resistance, particularly led by women in the area. Apart from collective political processes, cultural expressions are also being used to resist mining and develop sustainable forest-based livelihoods and forest conservation practices. In the past, they have managed to get the government to withdraw the proposed mining but fresh mining continues to be proposed. In their efforts towards the alternatives, the communities continue to face numerous challenges from dominant political formulations, social structures and religious and economic powers.
This study is being carried out in collaboration with Amhi Amchi Arogya Saathi (AAAS), an organisation working with the local communities for decades. Through the study we intend to help articulate alternative worldviews that are crucial in defining, living, supporting and propagating the paradigms of well-being that are just, equitable and ecologically wise, resulting in a coherent narrative that is an alternative to a seductive development discourse. In addition to this, the challenges that come up in trying to live these alternative paradigms, strategies deployed to address these challenges; and finally success and failures in addressing the challenges.