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Community living on Bengal-Jharkhand border seems to have set back nature



Moumita Chaudhuri

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Posted on 11.28.21, 12:13 AM


Not so long ago, Shaniram brought his goats back from the Janamghutu Hills located in Hirapur. Hirapur, in Dumka district, Jharkhand, is a group of seven settlements: Hishatola, Janamghutu, Dhobaghati, Manjhitola, Kamartola, Gadatola and Chitrakuri. It is mainly a settlement of tribes. But lately people from the Paharia community, or people from the hills, have also made it their home.

Shaniram was ahead of his flock when he heard the frightened bleating. He said, “I came back. They were running and jumping and a child was missing. I knew then that the python had had it.

The villagers of Hirapur have been claiming for a few weeks that there is a python in the area. It’s a matter of anxiety for the villagers, but for the environmentalists, it brought a sense of relief. “For many years, nature and natural life have taken a hit in this region due to stone mining activities,” says writer and activist Ayesha Khatun, who also heads the NGO Mohammed Bazar Backward Classes Development Society. The company takes its name from a local bazaar.

Ayesha adds: “We mainly work in Suri and Rampurhat in the Birbhum district, as well as in the villages located on the border between Bengal and Jharkhand. Starting and running Santhali language schools in the region and providing vocational training to locals in bio-fertilizer making, sanitary napkin making and sewing are some of its many initiatives.

Hirapur is only a few kilometers from two stone quarries. “The place is suffering from an acute water crisis due to the drop in groundwater levels. Geologists blame the quarries for this. According to them, indiscriminate digging and dynamite blasting damaged the aquifers, ”Ayesha explains.

A few years ago, a forest fire devastated the region. It was a man-made fire. Apparently, the inhabitants of the Paharia community were roasting birds. The fire spread and could not be extinguished soon enough as water resources were scarce.

Many animals, birds and medicinal plants have been reduced to ashes. Mohammad Tayeb Hossain, member of the Ayesha NGO, said: “Before, two lions lived in a cave, next to a fountain, at the top of the mountain. But when we went there three years ago, they were gone. The cave had cobwebs and was full of dust and leaves.

He continues: “On a recent visit, I was surprised to see that the cobwebs weren’t there, the floor was clean. It cannot be the work of a human being because it is on top of a hill and difficult to access. The tribals believe that the cave is now inhabited by a wild animal.

Some people have spotted bears in the area. If you take care of nature, nature will reward you – it seems like learning about this rejuvenation project.

Villagers help build a reservoir

“Not just the python, the villagers also reported finding a small python snake. It’s quite encouraging that the wildlife is reacting, ”says Maku Hembram, also associated with the NGO.

Along with 10 other tribal women and an even larger group from the local community, Hembram is trying to conserve rainwater. She says, “In 2019, we dug 35 ponds. This year we still have rainwater in the ponds and it will last all winter.

The water supply helped the villagers to farm when the pandemic broke. “The production was sufficient for the entire population – there are 350 to 400 people in each of the seven settlements. They traded their agricultural produce for cattle, ”Ayesha explains.

It is November but the region is lush. The climbing plants on the roofs of the houses are laden with gourds. One can also spot crest gourds emerging from their leafy refuge, bhindis and pointed gourds, and green pumpkins. “The ponds are teeming with fish. We don’t need to go to the local market, which is good because many don’t have the money to do so, ”says Maku.

“We dug 40 ponds in the second year and now 15 more will be created,” says Tayeb.

All this happened, apparently, only through the continuous efforts of the Adivasis. They shared their traditional wisdom as the NGO planned the location of the ponds. They threw seed balls – small clay balls with seeds inside – into parts of the hills that are not otherwise accessible. They stopped chasing rabbits, a sport they have always enjoyed. Even the little snake was released back into the wild.

Ayesha said, “They had the will, we just showed them the way.”


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