Birds, bridges and beautiful memoryscapes: Shodhaytra in Tripura-II

For a long stretch, while walking in Gandachar region, Dahloi district of the state, we did not hear the songs of the bird nor did we see them flying. Later we discovered that they used to make clay balls, dry them and by aiming at birds with a sling, kill and eat them. Was it the low farm productivity and hunger spells which led them to trap jungle fowl and kill birds?  Or was it just a cultural habit, was difficult say. But the lack of any durable asset at all in their huts did not leave much scope for speculation.

When we asked one of them to aim at a mango on a tree, without batting an eyelid, he just dropped that in a single hit. But isn’t he an “unskilled”  tribal, as per the NITI Ayog’s definition? Just because leverage his skills for sports or any other targeting exercise even in security agencies, is not part of our inclusive development agenda. After crossing a cliff, birds were visible. The same community this side seemed to have lesser survival stress because there was more plain lands,  more agricultural yields and income, more cattle and greater diversification in coping strategies. Conservation of birds in tribal regions is vital for eco-sysetm conservation and management of biodiversity. Ensuring food security for them this can be a vital tool. But the government must give food subsidy to undeserving people (70 per cent people could not be deserving food subsidy any way), so what if birds don’t survive, ecosystems deteriorate and poor tribals are forced to migrate?

One of the surprising observations was use of chemical weedicides in some of the fields to prepare them for ginger and other crops. The government of Tripura hasn’t taken a view yet to keep such regions chemical free unlike Sikkim which has declared itself as an organic state. The architectural design innovations were appreciable but there were practically no rooftop water harvesting structures. With so much problem of water, adding a small bamboo or tin  channel below tinsheds and collecting water in tanks (to be distributed by the state) would be a very affordable and viable water storage structure in this high rainfall region.

During the idea contest,  a little kid gave an  interesting idea of two children holding  long  umbrella from two sides under which other kids can stand and thus go to school together.  Many communities danced and sang traditional songs in the honour of the shodhyatris. In some cases, traditional forms had given way to modern dance steps, given the numerous dish TV in the region. Recipe contest brought out diversity of a large number of uncultivated tubers, leafy vegetables and other food items collected from forests for meeting their nutritional needs. Many of these were also functional foods. Handloom designs had a considerable scope for adaptation for contemporary needs. Linking a predominantly self-provisioning society with market is of course a daunting task. It may increase their vulnerability but it may also reduce it, depending upon the terms at which exchange takes place between formal and informal sector.  Honey Bee network has started the follow up action. A bamboo processing machine has been brought from Mizoram and food processing machine from Haryana. In addition, hand and pedal driven water pump. Cycle based devices generated the most interest among the community members.

Shodhyatra taught us a great deal about the extraordinary tradition of maintaining inter-generational records of herbal healing knowledge system. Culturally rich, managing local knowledge so well, the Chakma, Tripura, Riang and other communities are asserting their identity. We have to join hands with them to collaboratively discover new paths that don’t exacerbate their exploitation, improve education and leverage  their creativity and knowledge for their and larger social good.

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