After a decade of struggle, the women of Odisha's Nayagarh district lead the battle for forest rights from the front, having reclaimed what they think is theirs and winning the rights over forests resources in 24 villages.
Narrating their hardships to protect the forests, the Block-level Women Federation President in Ranpur, Shashi Pradhan, said that the women of Nayagarh District see the forest as a “source of their livelihood” and have been “protecting it since 1984.” “Women have been protecting and conserving these forests since 1984. People living in the villages had no idea about these rights. The women took charge and decided to hold awareness campaigns on Forest Rights Act,” Shashi said.
Community and forest resource rights were granted to Kodalapalli and Sinduria villages together as they led the fight for the rights jointly.
Explaining why the forests are managed mostly by women in Nayagarh district, Shashi said that there was “mismanagement” when the forests were taken care by the men.
“There was miscommunication and huge mismanagement when the men used to manage the forests. Later, the women took over and led the fight for rights,” she said.
Another forest-dweller in Ranpur, Anita Pradhan told PTI that there were instances when people from other villages attempted to invade their forest and tried to peel the barks of the trees.
“The women of these villages always fought back. They would visit those invaders' village, hold meeting with their block presidents and once even confiscated their vehicles when their forests were illegally invaded by them,” Anita told PTI.
On November 2, 2021, 24 villages in Odisha's Nayagarh district had received 14 community rights (CR) and community forest resource rights (CFRR) titles.
The titles were assigned to the villages under the the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights Act).
“We view these forests as our source of livelihood. There's various kinds of resources here. Be it herbs, shrubs, fruits or vegetables, we get everything from here,” another forest-dweller of Ranpur said.
“There is at least 20 acres of land for kaju cultivation in these two forest areas. The work is primarily managed by 15 families in Kodalpalli and 7 families in Sinduria village and they manage to earn around Rs 2 lakh to Rs 3 lakh per annum,” Shashi said.
She further stated that all villagers possess medical insurance cards, and each family earns around Rs 50,000 a year only via forest conservation and cashew cultivation.