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Deep within the earth: Patalkot - The ultimate destination


It was 1990 when I went to Patalkot first time. The valley was very beautiful and scenic. Tribals were living happily. They had enough forest produce to live life joyfully. Things began to change all of sudden. Outsiders started entering into the forest for their own benefit. No one was there to stop them.

Recently, I visited the Patalkot valley (patalkot.tripod.com) again with my friend Dr Sanjay Pawar and I got a chance to remember my past. I worked here for 6 years and now I am in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. My mission is to depict Patalkot on world platform is still going on and will prolong evermore. I just feel like to share my familiarity and thoughts for the people of this valley. Just a run of 1/2 hour from Chhindwara district of Madhya Pradesh, you will attain Patalkot, a deep valley surrounded by hills all around. Bharia and Gond tribes inhabit here for hundreds of years. They have their own life style, ritual and traditions. They use medicinal plants for curing various ailments. I am again raising the issues which are sensible and directly related to the lives of tribes of this valley. I urge all of you to please give me your hand and come forward for the betterment of the valley and its people. See more on Patalkot (dracharya.tripod.com/patal/).

It was 1990 when I went to Patalkot first time. The valley was very beautiful and scenic. Tribals were living happily. They had enough forest produce to live life joyfully. Things began to change all of sudden. Outsiders started entering into the forest for their own benefit. No one was there to stop them. No forester, no agency, nothing. Deforestation began to happen. Govt kept itself silent (no one was there to make complaint). Politicians, outsiders, and foresters were there to exploit the forest and its people. You will not believe but it is true that CHARBIJI and SAFED MUSALI (Important medicinal plants) were found abundantly in the forest. Tribals used to collect and use it in daily life. Few brokers came there and things started changing after that. They purchased these important forest produces in cheaper cost (around 8-10 Rs per Kg) and sold it in market for 300 Rs Kg. There was no government agency to collect these minor forest produces.

Major population of Bharia community resides in Patalkot valley where life supporting facilities are lacking. The people here depend upon plant resources for their livelihood including the native therapy for health care. This treatment is based on plants. Tribals in Patalkot depend upon the plant resources for their livelihood because of the weak economy. Bhumkas (Local healers) and few older people know the system of healing. Such knowledge which is verbalized and is limited only to them may be erased in near future. Considering these facts, I aimed to document folklore medicine used for the treatment of various disorders. I started visit the valley most frequently.

In July 2001, when I visited the village Kareyam (deep in the valley), I was shocked to find loggers cutting down the trees in the surrounding forest. I rushed to the village chief and asked ""What's happening? Why are all the trees being cut down?" The villager replied, "We had no choice, we need money to survive." Money or currency was never a big issue or matter to worry. I was literally shocked hearing this. Patalkot people are using the forest plants for their basic needs from the time immemorial and they were never in run of money and they never behaved in such a rude way. I had a discussion for an hour or more, he discussed a lot about the ongoing issues in the valley and the village chief, at the end of talk concluded "I am very unhappy to see the forest disappearing." I thought there is certainly something going wrong. Later I came to know that Govt is willing to shift them on the top of the valley. Tribals were never happy after this declaration. This declaration was made after a land sliding occurred and claimed 20 lives in the valley. Involvement of outsiders, local politicians and few NGOs is still a matter to worry.

Ask Faaglal Parteti, Sarpanch (Village Chief) of Sidhouli village in Patalkot, he will tell the real story or meet Tekchand in Rathed and he will tell you, how a Thekedar (Contractor) cheated him. As per the labour rule, contractor has to pay around 60 Rs per day to a labour working under his supervision. Tekchand worked 5 months to make peripheral wall of a stop dam, he was not paid a single penny. It is a different issue that Lakhs of rupees were issued for the making of the stop dam. There is no stop dam today except the inaugural stone.

Villages like Gaildubba, Rathed and Chimtipur are in developing stage. Here the development means only electricity, school and primary health clinic. Electricity; God only knows if it works 5 hrs a day. They do have school up to primary/ middle level. In case of primary health clinic, doctor is seen rarely or never. According to the current development processes, within the next few years, and for the first time in human history, more people will live in cities and towns than in rural areas. This process of urbanization is linked to what has been called the 'urbanization of poverty'. I do not think there would be more changes in the valley except few fund raising and ON PAPER works. Poor tribals of Patalkot are the real role models to raise funds. Their dances, rituals and other ceremonies are featured in 15TH August and 26th January on Parade ground at district head quarter.

Government allots lots of finance time to time, still it is hard to find out where has to money gone. It is said that more than Rs 2 crore has been allotted in last three years. Tribals are still in the same conditions; rather they are learning how to cheat. Only thing they learnt and developed among themselves is ASKING MONEY. They, after knowing the value of money, are getting themselves engaged in earning it by any means. They sell Safed musli in Rs 100 and they do not have anything to do if the broker sells this musli in 20000 Rs. For them, these 100 Rs are far better than anything else. They would purchase locally made wine out of this. They used to make their own wine in the valley but now it's a wastage time for them, they come-up and purchase the ENGLISH branded wine. They have stopped cultivating their traditional crops as the Govt is providing them Rice and Wheat in cheaper value. Why will they grow a traditional crop like, Bajra, Chana, Sem, if the Govt is providing alternative food material in relatively cheaper rates? It's a serious issue. Traditional cropping system or practices should not die. Ethnicity and cultural methods should remain live.

Government should come forward and act quickly to protect the land and its people. For them earning is a major issue now.

No attempt has been taken so far from the government agencies to stop the Palaayan of tribals. Villages in Tamia region viz., Kathotia, Thanakheda, Sidhouli, Satalva, Umarwa, Banki, Beejhadhana, Loutia, Bhainskho, Bamdi, Markadhana, Dhendhu, Bailpathar, Pipariya Rajguru, Gaildubba, Kareyam, Rated, Chimtipur, Chhindi and Jaitpur are among the places from where the tribals are roving away to another nearby cities. Thousands of tribals leave their home in the beginning of summer for harvesting crops in other town. They meet rich farmers there and work in their fields. In return, they get 5% of total harvested crop. This 5% earn is the total gain that they get in Chaitua Majdoori. Chaitua Palaayan is generally seen during Jan/ Feb each year. According to Mr Kuldeep Singh a hotel owner from Bijouri village and Mr Ramu Verma a bus driver from Pipariya Rajguru, more than 30000 tribals migrate from here to various cities in search of employment each year.

Tribals are angry upon local politicians. According to them, "they (politicians) are opportunistic fellows. They come to us during elections only. They give us money, cloths and woods for voting in favour of them. But, they forget us as soon as the elections are over. Politicians are not serious in our concern. How long we will be dependent upon forest produces? We need certain job opportunities".

My view:

I used to visit this place almost every month. The whole valley is facing so many problems. Deforestation is on its high. Forest officers, politicians, few educators and few NGOs entered in their life, they have destroyed their lifestyle. These people have started getting funds for the rehabilitation of these tribes, but the work done so far is just opposite to the work done so far on papers. Everyone who is attached and related to this field has observed the changes in recent years. The situation is really very bad now. They were happy before the involvement of government officials and other people. The interference made by people belonging outside of Patalkot made their life like hell. Presently, it is the need of the hour to provide basic facilities to these tribes but in a properly managed way. Palaayan should be stopped completely so that the culture and rituals of tribes of this region remain live. The culture of these people should not be killed; the system of curing disorders should not be exploited. Government should take initiatives for employment for tribals in their home village. Funding facilities should be given to them for cultivation in their field and use of wasteland. Government should establish an agency for collecting forest produces brought by tribals so that they can enjoy the actual rate. Back doors should be shown to the mediators and brokers. Tribals should be promoted for cultivation of medicinal plants. In this way, they can have their own way to earn the money, so that, next time they wont migrate. Chaitua Palaayan would be stopped in this way.

My Aim:

is to spread knowledge on plants and their ethnomedicinal importance. I am trying to put information on the uses and conservation of medicinal plants of the valley. But, so far, just like so many, biodiversity of Patalkot is also threatened. I am documenting the medicinal plants found here. In the mean time, I come across many social and general issues of these tribals. I am trying to highlight their problems so that potential people come forward and do something for these tribals and the valley.

Few questions:

What should be the right way to develop/ uplift these tribals?

How much money for the development of the valley has been sanctioned so far?

Which one is the main agency looking into the developmental processes in the valley?

What is the exact role of Patalkot Development Authority?

What is the role of Forest Department in conservation and documentation of unique fauna and flora of the valley?

Does anyone know the where about of the money allotted to the Panchayats and village societies or authorities for the development?

What has been the role of village chief/ local politician so far?

About the authors:

Dr Deepak Acharya - He is the Head of Pistiss Herbal Research Lab Pvt Ltd

Dr Sanjay Pawar- He is a Botanist from Chhindwara, currently involved in scouting and documentation of herbal wealth in the district.

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