The Forest Fighters: The tale of primitive Baiga tribe in Madhya Pradesh village

The primitive Baiga tribe in Pondi village of Dindori district has scripted an inspiring story of saving forests and becoming self-sufficient. Explores Anuraag Singh

Published: 08th January 2023 12:53 PM  |   Last Updated: 08th January 2023 12:53 PM   |  A+A-

Ujiyaro Bai Kevatiya,movement

The movement by Ujiyaro Bai Kevatiya has won awards from Dindori district administration twice

Express News Service

MADHYA PRADESH: Counted among one of the particularly vulnerable tribal groups (PVTGs), the primitive Baiga tribe in Pondi village of Dindori district has scripted an inspiring tale of saving forests and becoming self-sufficient in 16 years. Led by a Class IV school dropout, 40-year-old woman Ujiyaro Bai Kevatiya, the movement has seen 110 Baiga tribe families save and rejuvenate 1,500 hectares of forests.

The save jungles movement, which started in Pondi village in 2006, has also helped in the conservation and rejuvenation of the entire biodiversity, including 43 leafy vegetables, 13 types of mushrooms, 18 forms of
tuber plants, 24 fruit varieties, 29 non-timber forest products and 26 rare and valuable herbal species.

“Many animal species, ranging from birds to rats, and ants to snakes too have been conserved by the movement. Before 2004, the visibility in these jungles due to depleted forest cover was around 50-100 meters, but the 16-years-long movement has reduced the visibility to just around 10 meters,”  National Institute of Women, Child and Youth Development Dindori district (NIWCYD) coordinator Balwant Rahangdale said.

The story started in 2004, while NIWCYD-associated people started working on water conservation in the area, but during the intensive study, it was found that jungle depletion was the reason behind all problems. Subsequently, in 2006, Ujiyaro Bai along with 12 other residents of Pondi village joined forces with the Nagpur headquartered NGO to start the movement to save the jungles.

“But the start of the movement began with resistance, including from my husband Phool Singh. He asked me to stay away from any movement and just focus on family life by taking care of two daughters and one son. With much effort, I was able to convince him.  After great efforts, we were also able to get support from other Baiga tribal families too. The actual movement on the ground gained momentum by 2010,” Ujiyaro Bai said.

Three strict rules were framed by the crusaders, including staying away from cutting green trees, not allowing outsiders to indulge in cutting trees and preventing forest fires in a proactive manner. The efforts, gradually, started paying results and the forest cover started rejuvenating.

 Once from Jabalpur divisional commissioner

“We also started celebrating Raksha Bandhan festival in the jungles. The trees became our brothers and women tied Rakhis on them. Other religious rituals, including Parikrama of the forest too, were started to ensure that saving forests became the foremost duty of Pondi village residents,” she added.

A novel exercise was to form a Biodiversity Register of the 1,500-hectare forest area. It contained every minute detail about the biodiversity, spanning from plant species to animal species. “Today, if you ask any kid in the village about Biodiversity in our jungle, the kid will immediately reply not only about
every plant species, but also about birds and other animal species,” said two other Pondi village residents, Mangu Baiga and Sonkali Bai.

NIWCYD district coordinator Rahangdale said that the rejuvenation of the all-season twin waterfalls has made the entire village water self-sufficient through pipelines funded by WaterAid. Further, using
retrofitting efforts, the toilets in the village to have been made functional again, ultimately making the village open defecation free.

India Matters


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