Away from Maoist guns, tribal craftsmen thriveRehabilitated in Panchgani, they earn up to Rs8,000 per month producing artefacts
DNA India Positive
Tribals from Gadchiroli and Bastar, who are caught in the crossfire between the police and the Naxals, have been rehabilitated in the hill station of Panchgani. In an initiative that began three years ago, Devrai Art Village, a non-profit scheme, has enabled them to work on their traditional craft and produce handcrafts, which earn them up to Rs8,000 per month.
Devrai is a joint initiative of Suresh Pungati, a Gadchiroli tribal and arts and crafts teacher at Sanjeevan Vidyalaya, the popular Panchgani school, and Mandakini Mathur, a film-maker and environmentalist, formerly of Mumbai and now a Panchgani resident for the past 14 years.
Situated on the premises of Atul and Mandakini Mathur, it is nestled in the lap of nature. The tribals, who number between three and five at any given time, stay in a small house near the Mathur home, where they work under a large banyan tree with a kiln next door.
Presently, there are three tribals at Devrai — Varlu Madavi (48) from Keeyer village in Gadchiroli; his nephew, Vinay Vachami (19) also from the same village; and Subeshwar Kashyap (35) from Konda village in Bastar district of Chhattisgarh.
Varlu, who has been in Panchgani for three years, is a classic case of a tribal craftsman caught between the Naxals and the police. Before coming to Panchgani in 2008, Varlu spent five months in jail for suspicion of assisting Maoists. Varlu told DNA in Panchgani, "In the early 2008, I was asked by the Naxals at gunpoint to take two of their injured colleagues to the government hospital in Gadchiroli. While the two Naxals were arrested in the hospital, I surrendered to the police a few days later."
Varlu feels that the Maoist problem could eliminate their traditional art and crafts forever. "The Naxals simply walk into our homes, point a gun at us and demand that one of our children join them. We live in fear. Even if we produce our traditional handicrafts, there is no demand for it even in Gadchiroli town," he said.
In the circumstances, the Devrai Art Village is manna from heaven for the tribal craftsmen. They make artefacts from bell metal and bamboo — key chains, lamps, clothes hooks and curtain holders among them — which have found a market in neighbouring Mahabaleshwar, Pune and even Mumbai.
Mandakini Mathur, co-founder Devrai, told DNA, "Our objective is to rehabilitate tribal craftsmen and give them a fresh lease of life." Both Pungati and Mathur are scouting for new stores in Mumbai, Pune and other cities in Maharashtra who could stock the Devrai tribal handicrafts, which could provide a sustained livelihood to the craftsmen.
Photo Caption: Art teacher Suresh Pungati (extreme right), a Gadchiroli tribal, talks to tribal craftsmen (clockwise from left), Subeshwar Kashyap from Bastar, Varlu Madavi and Vinay Vachami from Gadchiroli. Devrai Art Village co-founder Mandakini Mathur is also seen — Rahul Chandawarkar DNA
Copyright restricted. Under license from www.dnasyndication.com