At a recent visit to the tribal territory, Nilgiri, Orissa I realise that I know even less than I previously thought about the tribal people of India. This visit was to facilitate a skilled resource centre in a village where more than three quarters of population is tribal. The tribal people or as they are recognized in the region as scheduled tribe (ST) live a marginal life around the general class and they have been subsisting with no record or written history until recent past. Their culture and tradition are clearly distinct from the ‘general class’ which has bred some discrimination in the minds of the people and the signs of oppression are not difficult to locate if one is to look around.
Tribal people do not own land or businesses and up until very recently had little encounter with formal education. They make their living mostly by alternative methods. Conventionally, these methods included slash and burn cultivation or working in the fields of Landowners but they also had a unique way to make their livelihood. They supported themselves by harvesting Sal leaves from the forest. These leaves were then used to make disposable plates and bowls for food. These dishes are biodegradable and the environmental impact is very little. The Sal leaf harvesting was so effective that it became the primary source of their income and gave them a semblance of economic independency.
Recently, a new material, Polystyrene, has been introduced in the market. This plastic is a byproduct of petroleum and is available cheaply. It cannot bio-degrade for a long time, yet due to the quality of this material, it is preferred in the market and the environmental costs are overlooked. Thus the price of Sal leaf material has dropped two to three folds in the recent years. The inadvertent effect of polystyrene is a negative impact on the livelihood of tribal people in this region. They are reduced to manual labour and their Sal leaf harvesting skills are made redundant.
It is needless to say that the Ministry of Environment should prohibit the use of polystyrene as a commercial material and should also control it as an industrial material for obvious reasons. The effects of plastic are far reaching and overwhelming. With little capacity to recycle certain kinds of plastic in the country and the impossibility of reusing of certain kinds makes it necessary to control and regulate the use of plastics on a day today basis. The cost of environment should be levied on certain plastics and other hazardous materials as tax to control the production. Another way could be that the manufacturer of any product/material is made responsible for the disposal of the product after its usage.
With several tribes depending on Sal leaves in the area, the whole region is affected by this change in the market. A lot of tribal people are now under employed and are struggling with their livelihood. It was hence recognized to develop new skills in a variety of fields for tribal people. Schumacher centre, Delhi proposed a project to build a ‘Skilled Resource Centre’ where tribal women will learn methods of making khadi fabric and manufacture clothing material. The Khadi Village industries Commission has approved this Skilled Resource Centre on the basis that Schumacher Centre would set up this centre initially.
It is essential that the tribal people and especially tribal women are able to make a living and support their livelihood. With new acquired skills these women can establish a society where they are recognized and respected at par with the rest. I believe that a country can only prosper if the poor and the needy are supported so that they have an equal opportunity in the society.
‘Nritya Samarpan’ was a fund raising event organized by Schumacher Centre on the 4th Of Dec, 2010 in Alliance Francaise de, Lodi Estate, New Delhi. It included a documentary film on tribal people of Nillgiri and Odissi dance performance by the orphan children of Rawa Music Academy, Bhubhaneshwar.
For details contact www.schumachercentre.org