Baripada – India’s treasure in hinterlands
India lives in its villages. And if you want to understand our nation, you should meet local people of rural India. It is gifted with such diversity that it will take a lifetime to understand India completely. I love traveling and it gives me joy to meet unknown people and know about their day-to-day lives. One such trip set me on an adventure to small adivasi (tribal) village named Baripada. I witnessed and in fact judged a unique Food Festival organized in this remote village. And it was a satisfying experience both for my mind and stomach!
Baripada is a small village in Nandurbar District of Maharashtra located on its border with Gujarat. It is about 400 kms from Mumbai. It is inhabited by mostly tribals (Adivasis) with very limited access to education or resources. Earlier, this area was lush green forest. But, the pristine village faced devastating effects of deforestation. The locals were facing problems with food and water availability due to large scale deforestation. It was almost a drought like situation in the area. But as they say, nothing is impossible with determination and hardwork. Shri Chaitram Pawar is paragon of will-power and determination who has dedicated his life to transform the lives of Baripada. With the help of his dedicated team, the barren area of Baripada is now transformed into thick forest cover.
How Chaitram Pawar did it
The brain behind this transformation, Chaitram Pawar is a post graduate youth of the village. Instead of taking up a cushy job in city, he chose to stay in the village for its development. Under the guidance of Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, he organized the villagers and thus the foundation was laid for self-development.“We cannot draw desired results as long as we continue to depend upon government for help every time. The best option is to start self and create the situation when government runs after you,” was his motto.
Firstly, he took appropriate steps to curb deforestation. He formed Forest Protection Committee (FPC) with the help of villagers. Villagers were the members of the committee and it was rotated every year so that each and every family in village will get its stake . A decision was taken to protect 450 hectares of land and a contribution of Rs 3 per home was collected. Punishments were given for cutting trees and those who took steps for protection were awarded. It was decided that nobody from the village or outside the village would be allowed to enter the forest with a bullock cart for any reason. Two most elderly persons would work as a watchmen and report to FPC. 50 acres of the forest land was set aside for grazing. During winter, villagers were allowed to use dry wood for fuel requirements.
Mr. Pawar took many other concurrent steps such as curbing water scarcity through building small dams and water storage. He focused on all round development of the region. The villagers under his guidances have started multiple social programs such as Night schools for educating adults, reopening Primary schools, celebrating festivals together and organizing mass marriages. Villagers have undertaken the cultivation of common forest nursery as a part of joint watershed development activities as well.
Vanbhaji Mahotsav – Unique activity to promote biodiversity
One interesting activity which was started was to hold competition of locally grown vegetables called वनभाजी महोत्सव /Vanbhaji Mahotsav. This competition takes place every year in first or second week of October. Food is significant part of Indian lifestyle – in fact we love to celebrate through diverse palette of food. And what makes this unique is that it is one of its kind event where food is celebrated!
Women in baripada and another surrounding area showcase a lovely spread of seasonal vegetables grown in forest naturally. The participants are graded on various scales – taste and texture, type of vegetable (leafy, fruit etc.), its medicinal property, method of cooking and finally most important – palette hygiene which reflects personal and family hygiene. We were graciously requested by team FPC to judge the competition.
We were amazed with what we experienced! We were served with 43 dishes prepared and presented beautifully. The villagers mentioned that the dishes were prepared using 70 ingredient vegetables. And I was completely surprised because more than 90% of vegetables were mystery to me. I had never heard, never tasted and never imagined they would be so delicious!
Some unique vegetables ingredients included honeycomb, extremely Bitter root called ” Kadu Karand”, amla and variety of rare berries and leafy vegetables. Especially the bitter root was unique because one needs to peel, clean and keep it in running water stream before preparing delicacy from it. The hardest task for us was to judge best amongst the best. But our job was made easier due to team of Mr. Pawar and their systematic guidelines.
In all, we witnessed celebration of life through celebrating food. Adivasis of our nation are so full of life. And they have uniquely adapted to the nature surrounding them. Thrown into problems created by educated people like us, they are solving them in their own way. Mr. Pawar is paragon of ‘son of soil’ or धरतीची लेकर who has led the revolution in Baripada. I feel myself fortunate to have met him and villagers of Baripada. Moreover, I thoroughly enjoyed being part of Vanbhaji Mahotsav. It is a team effort and this is the 12th year they are conducting this activity. Looking forward to be a part of this for many more years .