A phoenix of a tribe
A nomadic community in Odisha insisted on its right to live and farm even after forest officials burnt its houses ANUPAM CHAKRAVARTTY |
WHEN FOREST officials burnt down their makeshift houses near Derula village in 2012, people of Odisha’s nomadic Pauri Bhuyan community could have meekly moved back to their original place of stay, called Kiri, on a hilltop 15 km inside the Bonai forest range that surrounds the village. But they did not. They decided to rebuild and fight for their rights. This August 15, the state government accepted their right to continue farming at the same piece of land. However, the government still says that they cannot live near Derula since it is a reserved forest land.
The community of around 60 people practices shifting cultivation and changes its place of stay every five-six years. For ages, it has been living inside the forest and is allowed to use forest resources under the Forest Rights Act (fra) of 2006.
When they were living on the hilltop, they had no access to basic government programmes, including the public distribution system and healthcare. In 2010, a pregnant woman died due to lack of medical help. There was another death due to malaria the same year. Having no option, the residents moved to the edge of the forest, a kilometre from Derula, a revenue village, after taking permission from the Derula panchayat in December 2011. Derula panchayat has the authority to use the surrounding land under fra. Though Derula residents were not too happy with their new neighbours, they allowed them to camp, even offering help to
The Pauri Bhuyan community has developed a unique irrigation system that connects a water reservoir to tiny patches of land via multiple conduits ANUPAM CHAKRAVARTTY / CSE