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Ray of hope

In the deep forests of Biligiri Rangan (popularly known as B R Hills) the Soligas, a semi-nomadic tribe, have lived for ages amidst deep woods, elephants, tigers, leopards and other wild animals. Education seemed to be a day dream for these children and at this point of time Dr Sudharshan who worked for the upliftment of the forest dwelling tribes came as a ray of hope under whom few children got educated. With extensive knowledge on forest lore and good education C Madegowda is an exception.

He is an embodiment of passion, grit, and determination. A 2014 Ph.D Awardee for his  work to better the lives of Soliga’s  indigenous tribe, in Chamarajanagar region strives to empower the remote nomadic tribes by teaching them basic literacy and relevant life skills. 

Madegowda and his parents Chikka nanje gowda and Nanjamma live in Bangali Podu, a Soliga community settlement in the village atop one of the white cliffs that give the hills the name of Biligiri. As a child he was curious and has seen the shrinking forests to changing lifestyle and from wildlife protection legislation that restricted them to forest rights legislation. He started schooling at Tribal Welfare Centre (Girijana Kalyana Kendra), B R Hills, joined Government Primary School at Chamaraja Nagar since they had no access to high school in the region. He studied hard, earned good marks, paid attention to her teachers. The limited facility of schooling in government schools did not prevented him from excelling in life. Later noticing his interest in learning Dr Sudharshan and others persuaded him to join Madeshwara PU College. During this time he was very much attracted by the people and researchers who visited the hills and acquainted knowledge on the habitation of the region. His association with them made him more inquisitive and he wished to use the knowledge for the wellbeing of the community. He moved to Roshni Nilaya, Mangaluru for BSW and completed MSW in the same institution, during which faced problems to join hostel.

As his father rightly pointed that “Though my son moved to city (Naadu) he can never stay long” Madegowda came back to BR Hills and joined Dr Sudharshan in serving the community. Meanwhile he got an opportunity to work on forest products as a research associate and joined ATREE  non -government organisation working to conserve Biodiversity. Through which they conducted research and took the opinion of the people in conserving the nature. They interacted with Soligas in Yalandur , Chamaraja nagar and Kollegal. He along with like- minded people has strived to protect the indigenous rights of the tribes through protest and empowering the tribals. He was instrumental in agitations against Project Tiger and Wildlife Protection Act 1972. He points that the 1972 act was the main reason which led to the migration of tribes and has led their life in misery. The year 2008- 2011 mainly constitutes his struggle to strengthen the tribes. Then he completed M Sc in Sustainable development from Sikkim Manipal University and in the year 2008 he joined Ph D under Prof Usharao, project named Soligas Lifestyle and completed in 2014 he is probably the first Soliga to get Ph D from the region. In his thesis he urges for a new conservation model that respects tribal peoples’ rights and uses their expertise to protect and enhance ecological diversity.

Q: Sustainable Development is a tricky realm where you need to strike a balance between needs of the modern world and preserving traditions. How do you help the indigenous people deal with the community-level emotional or philosophical conflict?

Culture is pivotal for a society. How do you think your traditions will survive in today’s world? It takes them a long time but also makes them think that if we continue preserving our culture without any compromise we will all be dead. Indigenous people, ever since they are kids, are taught by their parents to be independent. It makes them so open about their weaknesses and also stubborn about what they have. But it also helps them define by themselves what is sustainable to them, what is the best development or the best future. Being a man from the community I feel Sustainable development of tribal people through rights-based approaches to health, education, livelihood security and biodiversity conservation is a necessary.

Q: There was hardly any awareness among the Soligas about the modern systems of education and health. How is the Condition now?

Education and Health was a day dream until Dr Sudharshan came to them with ideals of Vivekananda and inspired. More than education there was widespread hunger and lack of basic necessities of life. But the number of students who joined schools gradually increased and now we have 200 children going PU Colleges. However, Higher education is still low. Through various organisations we are conducting motivational workshops and skill development programmes. The literacy rate among Soligas now is 46%. Scholarships have been given to motivate the students to pursue higher education.

Q: If we have to replicate the Dr Sudharshan model elsewhere what are the key factors which need to be considered?

Health, Education and indigenous culture are the three major factor that needs to be considered. Soligas have lived in forest through generations. They treat the forest and animals as god. Their life style is much familiar to forests. Dr Sudarshan is a great social activist who strived hard for the tribal people. Community health and education are a necessary factor that needs to be considered as they generally rule all other factors.

Q: Can you mention few activities taken up for the tribes?

As I said education is the main factor to empower any community. We have seen many PU dropout’s here and our stress must be on this. Secondly we are mapping temples in B R Hills to map them online. There are 489 temples with a span of 1 kms Soliga tribal sacred sites in the entire Biligiri Rangaswamy Temple Wildlife Sanctuary, and compiled historical, cultural information on Soligas and several workshops were organised on cultural knowledge and forest conservation. Conducted the socio-economic research and organized several activities for tribal communities in biodiversity conservation and agriculture.

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