February 11, 2015
Damodar of Bastar is awarded the Paul K. Feyerabend award: A World of Solidarity is Possible
He was under the weather when we arrived, but he still welcomed us cheerfully as we entered his house.
This man, Damodar Kashyap, was soon to be given the Paul K Feyerabend award for community solidarity. He was being given the award for his commitment to forest protection. As a young educated man, he returned to his village Karmari, Bastar in the heart of tribal India only to be devastated by the scene of forest destruction that he found there. Forests mean so much to the Bhatara people since 6 months of the year the community fully depends on forests for sustenance.
Damodar began a campaign to protect the 100 acres of sacred grove and rebuild the 350 acres of sal forest that had been destroyed during his time away from the village. As a strategy, Damodar also revived the tradition of “thengapalli” in which a decorated sacred pole is carried by three people through the forest as a form of ‘patrolling’. The pole moves from one house to the next each day as people take turns to patrol the forest. These large patches of forest lie as testament to Damodar’s success in mobilizing the community forest protection. Those caught destroying the forest would be fined 500 rupees, of which300 rupees would go to the village forest protection program while 200 would go to the patrol guards.
Damodar’s actions displeased some ranks and, early on, his life was under threat. But given his stature in the community at home and beyond, he was never touched and he managed to continue his forest protection and planting unscathed.
The Bhatara people in Karmari believe that in the sacred forest dwells the Mauli goddess. If the sacred forest is damaged, then an illness will befall the village; offerings must be made to appease the spirits and to heal sick individuals. It is this strong belief in the relation of one’s behavior towards forests and one’s destiny that keeps this spiritual tradition alive.
At 4pm after a ceremony with the thengapalli pole, dancing with Durwa neighbors who visited with their drums, and a tree planting with other guests, Damodar received his plaque. Many honored him with kind words retelling his feat of conservation. Young children watched on and vowed to also protect the forest for the next generation.
It was a beautiful ceremony for a legendary man.
“Bhaikaguda”, the part of Karmari that Damodar lives in, translates as “wild cat hamlet”. Damdoar had prevented the wanton destruction of forests auctioned off to external parties and turned the community force into one of conservation. Now the community is lucky live in a place where fruit is abundant, where water is not scarce and where animals merrily co-exist with the humans.