Forest Essentials: Narayanlal’s village was the first in Rajasthan to receive CFR because of his media outreach

“I’m a Bhil tribal. Before settling in Talai village in Udaipur district, we roamed from place to place doing menial jobs. All the beautiful havelis and mahals in Rajasthan have been built by my people.

In 2006, the government built a dam in Talai, displacing my community. We were forced to move into the forest, but without Community Forest Rights, the forest department kept harassing us to leave. This news article on my phone shows how villagers had to row themselves across the dam using makeshift rafts. Children would cross the dam on truck tyres to get to school. Even vaccination drives never reached our village.

I convinced a journalist from ‘Rajasthan Patrika’ to visit Talai and do a story on these issues. It created a lot of buzz and the collector promised to sanction a bridge if we could show that the village had 500 people. We conducted a survey showing that there are 450 families in the area and the collector kept his word. He sanctioned Rs 1.05 crore for a bridge and a road. Thanks to the media coverage, we were also the first village in Rajasthan to be awarded Community Forest Rights for 245 hectares. This transformed our village economy.

None of this would have been possible without CORO’s Grassroots Leadership Development Program. Frankly, when I joined the fellowship in 2016, I was very skeptical. I wondered what they could possibly teach me about grassroots activism. I’d completed my graduation and I’d been working for an organization that focuses on forest rights for years. I thought I could probably teach them a thing or two. Today, I attribute 100% of my success to CORO.

That’s because I only thought of approaching the newspaper after CORO explained that media is the fourth estate and urged us to broaden our support base and build awareness. Before the fellowship, I’d created a pressure group to demand Community Forest Rights, but we hadn’t had much success. The training boosted my confidence. I started being able to give interviews to journalists and demand that people in power do their jobs.

The training on constitutional rights changed my life because for the first time I truly understood that access to forest resources was my community’s birthright. By now, I’ve read almost the entire constitution. I want to go back to college to study it. I’ve started carrying a copy in my bag. I whip it out at meetings to show people that they have rights. I’m amazed that people don’t keep it in their homes like a Koran or Bible. I tell everyone, forget your religious books, read the constitution instead. That’s the book that will transform your life.”