photo essay

Jewels of the Jungle

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The transition from hunter-gatherer to settled cultivator has been a tough one for the Baigas of Dindori in Madhya Pradesh.

One of India’s most primitive and backward tribes, the Baigas still lead a hand-to-mouth existence. Their transition from hunter-gatherers to settled cultivators has been a painful one. Some 200 km from Jabalpur, in Madhya Pradesh’s Dindori district, they live in the hills amid picturesque Sal forests, in small settlements, far away from the cacophony of the civilised world. Traditionally, the Baigas practised shift-and-burn cultivation; they believed  ploughing the earth would be like scratching the breast of their mother. That coaxing her to produce food from the same patch of land over and over again would weaken her. For generations they lived like semi-nomads depending on the forests for subsistence. They no longer own the forests, and are mere caretakers getting a pathetic Rs 200 a year to prevent forest fires and illegal felling of trees. No money from the sale of timber by the forest department or its contractors ever reaches them.