Our Forest Our Right: a Handbook for Adivasi children


Our Forest Our Right is a handbook for Adivasi children comprising seven stories interspersed with vibrant illustrations. It highlights the symbiotic relationship between Adivasi communities in India and the forests that have been their home for generations. It was brought out by the non-governmental organisation ACCORD (Action for Community Organisation, Rehabilitation and Development), Tamil Nadu, in collaboration with the Adivasi Munnetra Sangam (AMS). AMS has been working with Adivasi communities in the Gudalur valley of Tamil Nadu for over thirty years. Students from the Vidyodaya School belonging to the major Adivasi communities from this region – Mullu Kurumba, Betta Kurumba, Katunayakan (also known as Kattunaickan) and Paniyan – created the featured illustrations. The handbook was designed by Shubhra Nayar.

With lifestyles rooted in the forest ecosystem, Adivasis have held deep knowledge of their forests and used the produce sustainably. This harmonious relationship changed for the worse under the British Raj, the handbook states. Since then, Adivasis have been deprived of their rights and punished time and again for accessing forests. The passing of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act (also referred to as the Forest Rights Act) in 2006 – brought about by nation-wide protests and strikes – granted Adivasis the right to live in their forests, amongst other crucial privileges. The stories in the handbook trace this relationship between Adivasis and their forests. Theses stories were collected and written by Shruti Agarwal from ACCORD and edited by Rama Sastry, co-founder of the Vidyodaya School. 

The seven stories in the handbook are: “Medi’s Day in the Forest”, “Chathi’s Forest”, “Kunjan in Trouble”, “Bomman Goes to Jail”, “Lions in Kuno”, “Chandran’s Protest” and “Ghati Protects its Forests”. These are interspersed with four informative sections highlighting the history which led to the passing of the Forest Rights Act: “British rule and our Forests”, “Forests for the Government”, “The Forest Department” and “Forest Rights Act”.

The first story in the collection is titled “Medi’s Day in the Forest”. It brings to the fore the wealth of knowledge possessed by Medi’s mother on the numerous uses of forest vegetation such as noorai and thotta vadi plants. Medi – all of seven years – is taught how to re-plant the top half of the noorai tuber for it to grow into a full plant, sustaining the forest for future generations. “Chathi’s Forest” presents the story of Chathi’s family and the ways in which British officials encroached more and more of their forest land. To harvest timber necessary for constructing railway lines across the country, the British Government in India took control of the forests and began to plant timber-yielding trees. The Forest Department, set up in the year 1864 by the British Raj, soon began restricting access to several parts of forests across the country. The handbook reveals how this endangered the livelihoods of the Adivasi communities living there. The stories “Kunjan in Trouble” and “Bomman Goes to Jail” depict the steady criminalisation of the Adivasi communities’ sustainable use of the forest products, such as bamboo for roofs and walls, flowers, tubers, fruits or hunting in the forests.

The handbook states that Adivasis have continually been evicted out of wildlife sanctuaries where they have lived for many years. “Lions in Kuno” narrates an anecdote from the Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh, home to many Adivasi communities. In the year 2000, the forest officials decided to bring eight lions into the National Park. This move displaced 1,500 Adivasi families who were forced to leave their homes, their crops, their forests and their gods behind. At the time of the publication of this handbook – 15 years after the eviction – the lions have still not arrived in Kuno, the handbook adds.

The stories “Chandran’s Protest” and “Ghati Protects its Forests” illustrate the various rights guaranteed under the Forest Rights Act, 2006, such as the right to live and grow crops in forests. The handbook explains how the residents of the Ghati village in Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra were able to stop forest officials from cutting down trees. The people of Ghati asserted to the forest officials, “We have the same right as you to protect our forest.” Through these stories, this handbook hopes to reveal the potential of the Forest Rights Act, 2006, to reverse the injustice committed against Adivasis since the times of the British Raj. 

Focus by Dipanjali Singh.


Author: Stories collected and written by Shruti Agarwal, edited by Rama Sastry

Illustrator: Adivasi students of Vidyodaya School, Thottamoola, Gudalur, the Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu

Illustration ‘About the Book’ and page borders: Members of the Adivasi Munnetra Sangam, Gudalur, the Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu

Imagery collated and edited by Shubhra Nayar


ACCORD - Action for Community Organisation, Rehabilitation and Development, Tamil Nadu