Tribal Tadka: An Initiative for Aarey Forest
As the Mumbai cityscape loses the green of its forests to the grey of high-rises offset by the eye-watering yellow of construction cranes, the city’s lungs are fighting for breath. In a city that is growing at breakneck pace, one of the few places that still plays host to vast, open spaces is the Aarey Milk Colony, backed by its lush forests, adivasi villages, and the leopards that are said to still frequent its paths.
The areas around, and beyond Aarey – are full of flora and fauna, lending biodiversity to a city sorely in need of it. With an estimated 5 lakh trees, Aarey (along with the Sanjay Gandhi National Park) are widely acknowledged to keep Mumbai’s pollution problems at tolerable levels.
While the monsoon still brings floods every year, there is no doubt that without the aid of the trees, the situation would become much worse.
With a past mired in legal mists dating back to the 1940s (from when the land was taken over by the government to create food security in the form of milk and dairies), Aarey’s original inhabitants, the adivasis, have struggled to retain control of the land that was originally theirs. With little to no access to documentation, and innumerable problems in terms of infrastructure, they still continue to live on their ancestral lands, scattered in an estimated 27 hamlets across the area.
With the advent of the Mumbai Metro project however, both the green cover of the city and the lands and livelihood of the adivasis are in danger. An estimated 3500 trees are in danger of being felled to make way for a shed for the metro cars, while the adivasi lands may be re-purposed. To raise awareness about these developments, and to emphasize the importance of nature and forest-lands in Mumbai, Tribal Tadka, an initiative started by Cassandra Nazareth under the WWH Trust, has stepped up to help!
Cassandra, who started out as a frequent visitor to Aarey, realized that few people in urban Mumbai knew anything about the area. She initially started by setting up tribal lunches, where she would collect a group of people and take them to one of the villages, where the Warli women would cook and set up lunch for the afternoon, and tell the villagers about their way of life, conduct workshops and answer questions.
After over 3 years of working with these women, she proudly told us about how most of the set-up and management is now undertaken entirely by them, while she aids only with the ticketing. Each time, the lunches have attracted over 100 people, with some coming from as far as Pune! All in all, she estimates 5000 people have come to Aarey to partake of the experience in the the past 2 and a half years.
Now, for the first time, the Trust has brought its initiative out of Aarey and to the city. On Saturday, 17th November, they, along with Abhay Bhavishi, will be hosting an Aarey Forest Day at Pioneer Hall in Bandra, a 100-year old, former cigarette factory re-purposed as a performance arts/community space, and owned by the Curzai family.
Among the events for the day are a tribal breakfast and lunch cooked and served by the Warli women, a flea market featuring arts and crafts made by the adivasi people, a mini farmer’s market featuring produce cooked in Aarey, a Warli Art workshop, and a modak making workshop. A ‘Save Aarey’ corner will feature talks and provide information about the Aarey forest and its rehabilitation, and will also tell you, how YOU can help.
Major portions of the proceeds will go to the Warli women and their families to help them in meeting their daily expenses and improve infrastructure, and to Vanashakti, an organization attempting to have Aarey recognized as protected land so that it cannot be used for government projects.
So don’t wait too long – it’s time to do your bit for the city’s lungs!
All images are courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, Cassandra Nazareth & the WWH Trust (respectively)
Artwork courtesy of Gary Curzai