They prefer to be called the 'forest castes'. They are the 2,000,000-odd villagers living in some 10,000 villages across Orissa. After Independence, timber smugglers and an apathetic government robbed them of the forests they had lived in for decades. Left to fend for themselves, the villagers survived by regenerating the forests and protecting them even from the government on whose lands they stand. Today, 400,000 hectares of forest land is protected and managed by the village communities. Now what they want is sole rights over the forest land and they have formed a state-level forum to fight for ownership. With the Assembly elections only a few months away, and electoral equations weighing heavily in favour of the villagers, can the government turn a deaf ear to the "real green revolution" taking place in these remote villages?
On The Warpath
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