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Reaching Out to the Natives

In the Naxal-infested and violence prone-district of Dantewada, it pays to respect the cultural heritage of the tribals. It’s one lesson which IAS officer Deepak Soni has learnt well.
Indian Masterminds Stories

For a long time now, Dantewada in the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh has been the hotbed of frequent battles between the Naxalites-Maoists and the tribals. The district falls in the Red Corridor, a marker of the insurgency.

It is in this sensitive scenario that the district administration of Dantewada has began to establish a connect with the tribal people, by fulfilling their cultural and traditional demands. With the help of the state government, the Dantewada administration has initiated a project of preserving 143 Devgudis in the district.

But what are Devgudis? In Chhattisgarh, these are the sacred groves, the patches of land containing vegetation, life forms, and geographical features that are protected by the tribals on the basis of their cultural and traditional heritage.

In an exclusive interview with the District Collector of Dantewada, Mr. Deepak Soni, we got to know about the importance of these Devgudis and how it can help to curb violence in the district.

THE IMPORTANCE OF DEVGUDIS

Speaking to Indian Masterminds,  Mr. Soni said, “There are some areas in the district where the administration has not been able to reach the tribal people and is trying to develop a connection with them. Preserving their customs and traditional practices has been one main source of our gaining their trust. In fact, the idea behind preserving Devgudis in the district came from the tribal people itself.”

Mr. Deepak Soni, District Collector Dantewada

Mr. Soni said, “These Devgudis are sacred to the tribal people as it connects with their cultural beliefs and emotional sentiments. Therefore, we are also trying to preserve and renovate this sacred place to win the trust of the tribals.”

PRESERVING DEVGUDIS

In every village of the district, a similar ‘sthal’ (site) has been protected and preserved by the tribal people for their social, cultural, and traditional purposes. The district administration has planned to renovate all these sacred grooves in 143 village panchayats. For this, Rs 7.51 lakh was sanctioned by the state government for every single Devgudi Sthal, or Rs 1073.93 lakh for 143 Devgudis.

Pardesheen Mata Devgudi Sthal

Mr. Soni said. “25 such Devgudi have already been preserved and renovation of the rest is under process.”

Under the ‘Swatch Bharat Mission Rural’ scheme and MNREGA, toilets and drinking water facilities will be provided. Under the conservational activities, trees will be planted which will provide fruits and shade from the sun. While renovating these places, sheds and fencing will be also provided for the tribals and the tourists. These steps would also boost local tourism, as the administration has also initiated GPS mapping and documentation of all Devgudis in the district.

Sheds made for community gathering

INVOLVEMENT OF THE TRIBALS

After the completion of the initiative, the tribal people will have to take seven oaths or commitments; these include `getting rid of malaria, anemia, malnutrition, waste, enrollment of all children in schools, institutional delivery of all pregnant women and vaccination of children and sending them to anganwadis.’

‘Malaria Mukt Bastar Abhiyan’

On the basis of all these seven points, the administration of Dantewada would categorise the village as `panchayats’. In simple words, a village which adheres to more of the seven commitments would be given more priority for work and employment opportunities by the district administration. Mr. Soni believes that this would a feeling of healthy competition among the village panchayats.

Mosquito nets provided to the tribal people

BENEFITS FROM THE INITIATIVE

Mr. Soni said, “The renovation drive of these Devgudis will not only fulfill their cultural demands but it will also bring a change in their social and cultural lifestyle.”

He added, “The district administration is engaging with the prominent leaders of the gram panchayat to bring about a social behavior change in their members. We are also learning the local language of the tribals, to communicate with them easily and make the administration more local-centric.” The district administration of Dantewada has succeeded in curbing violence in lots of areas through this initiative.


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