Save-Matanuvans movement turns Madhya Pradesh’s tribal heartland green

The joint initiative of local NGOs and villagers aimed at taking tribals back to their roots by protecting their shrinking “sacred” forests.

bhopal Updated: Oct 14, 2017 12:28 IST
C B Singh and Punya Priya Mitra
C B Singh and Punya Priya Mitra
Hindustan Times, Bhopal\Jhabua
Afforestation drive,Madhya Pradesh,Jhabua
A conservation movement started by local NGOs and villagers in Jhabua district of Madhya Pradesh four years ago helps revive village forests. (HT file photo for representational purpose only )

A conservation movement started by local NGOs and villagers in Jhabua district four years ago is now changing the landscape of Madhya Pradesh’s tribal heartland and reviving dying traditions.

The joint initiative is aimed at taking tribals back to their roots by protecting their shrinking “sacred” forests, locally called Matanuvans .

Every tribal village in Jhabua district has Matanuvans where even today villagers offer prayers to their tribal gods to ward off evil influences on the village.

Earlier, the villagers used to protect these forests and did not allow anyone to cut trees.

However, over the decades, the hold of the tribal culture on the people loosened as other non-tribal influences crept in. As a result these forested areas measuring between five to seven acres, usually located at the entrance of the village, started depleting due to rampant encroachment and felling of trees.

“It was not only causing harm to the environment as green patches were vanishing, but also taking tribals away from their roots,” said Mahesh Sharma, head of Shiv Ganga, a local NGO working on afforestation.

Seeing the slow death of Matanuvans due to neglect, the NGO decided to rope in the local populace to revive the forest cover.

“We realized that most tribals still had close bonding with these forests and any movement centered around these sacred forest was bound to be a success. So we surveyed the existing Matanuvans four years ago and held talks with the villagers about reviving these areas,” Sharma recalled.

In the last few years, over 41,000 saplings have been planted in Matanuvans of 110 villages in the district, said Sharma adding that the first batch of saplings are now stand eight to 10 feet tall.

Chayan Pachim, Ghatiya, Mohanpura, Gulabpura, Bhuri Ghati, Bijori, Sant Borali, Borpara, Parwaliya, Miyati, Bhaji Dungra, Kaliya Bara, Kaliya Chota are some of the villages where Matanuvans are getting a new lease of life as more people and NGOs joined the movement.

It’s the villagers who are planting and protecting the saplings by pulling resources, while the NGOs supplement their efforts and also act as motivators.

“Recently, we have also started fencing off the area where saplings are planted and also providing a tank so that there is sufficient water to nourish the small plants. This will improve the survival rate of the plants,” says Rajaram Katara of Shiv Ganga.

Until recently, the entire drive was carried out without any help from the government. But of late, encouraged by the success of the movement, the administration has also pitched in.

This year, the district forest department and the police administration planted 8,500 saplings at a hillock outskirts of Jhabua town and declared it as a Matanuvan.

“This is a unique movement and though most tribals are not well-educated their zest to save these Matanuvans is remarkable,” said Jhabua superintendent of police Mahesh Jain. The police department has now joined the drive to make Jhabua green.

As the save-Matanuvans movement started bearing fruits, more and more villagers are now venturing into the forests to offer prayers and to protect them, pointed out Mukesh Parmar of Patlia Adivasi Jan Jagriti Manch, another local NGO involved in the revival movement.

First Published: Oct 14, 2017 12:04 IST