Living it up on the wild side

Updated on: Feb 24, 2017

With access only through Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserve, a village in the Nilgiris has redefined peaceful man-animal coexistence

Soon after India’s Independence, the Badaga people of the Nilgiris were invited by the State to set up a farming cooperative on the foothills of the mountain range, alongside the Moyar river. This region, adjacent to the Moyar valley, is right in the heart of tiger and elephant country. There was no human inhabitation apart from the handful of Irular families that had lived here for centuries.

The Badagas took the plunge, putting to good use the 65 acres they were provided with to set up their habitat and another 500 acres of farmland. Growing a variety of crops — ragi, corn and pearl millets to begin with — as well as taking care of livestock, the tribe members developed a sustainable village in the middle of the forest.

Today, Thengumarahada has 700 families and the crop varieties have expanded to include banana, marigold and other cash crops. Human-wildlife conflict, especially due to droughts, extreme weather and the spread of invasive plants in the forests are a cause for concern but Thengumarahada has made the best of what it has.

While some old-timers still live here, the young are moving to the cities for education and livelihood. JKS Madhu, 49, whose family shifted here in his grandfather’s time, says, “Yes, many people are leaving. But this is great land. As they say, land is forever. I think the young will return when they see that what our village offers is more valuable than what you find outside the forests.”

Sibi Arasu is an independent journalist based in Chennai. This article was produced with assistance from FEJI-ATREE media fellowships 2017

Published on Jan 23, 2022


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