New Delhi/Hyderabad, September 28— It was 1994 when Syed Subhani, now 63, began teaching the tribal people in their own villages in Andhra Pradesh’ Khammam (now East Godavari) district as member of an NGO. He has since devoted his life in implementing various civil and government programs meant for social, economic and educational development of Adivasis in the area. For his services, Subhani has been honored with several awards by the district authorities and state government.
Subhani feels himself as an integral part of the local tribal community.
“I look different from them with my appearance and look but I am now part of them,” bearded and scull-capped Subhani in Kurta-Pyjama tells Inclusive India from Chinturu.
How Subhani landed in the jungle?
Subhani’s father worked as a guard with the government forest department. He would keep his family at beat headquarters. Subhani grew up among tribal children.
He recalls: “I belong to this area. My father was working as a forest guard here. He would stay at beat headquarters with family in East Godavari district (earlier Khammam district). I grew up among tribal children, would play with them and go with them on hunting and fishing and farming and would go with them with animals.”
After getting primary education in the village, he did high schooling at relatives’ home in the city and then he did graduation and masters from Andhra University. But rather than pursuing his career in the city, he came back to the jungle.
“As I had grown up and become adult with heavy impacts of childhood days spent with tribal children and people, I thought if I can do something for them,” says Subhani.
From Non-Formal Education to Technology Intervention
In the last 25 years, Subhani has done various work for the tribal community – from giving them non-formal education to setting up coaching centres for drop-outs to introduction of technology for increasing the farm produce and marketing.
It was 1994 when he got attached with an NGO of renowned social activist Medha Patkar.
“At that time, there were not many schools in these areas. Medha Patkar’s trust hired me and asked me to deploy five teachers in as many villages for non-formal education. Each teacher was paid Rs 100 per month. That was beginning of our work,” recalls Subhani.
He then set up Association for Social and Humanize Action (ASHA) and launched various activities for the tribal community. He formed self-help groups for tribal women. He launched joint forest management of the government to protect jungle.
“I would inform them about the benefits of local resources. Later, I introduced technology for harvesting of forest produce. The Ministry of Tribal Affairs introduced Tribal Cooperative Marketing Development Federation of India (TRIFED). Its aim was to bring tribal products to market on good rates. I joined 3000 tribal women and trained them between 2014-18,” says Subhani.
He opened non-formal education centres and also provided coaching to drop-out children.
Subhani introduced technology for mahua farming.
“Mahua trees are in large number here. In every village here, there are 4-5 thousand mahua trees. There are also palm trees in large number, there is little use of their fruit. Now whole thrust now is on how to build up their lives on the local natural resources and avoid migration. This all will help in generation of employment in the area,” says Subhani.
He also translated “N.P.R.R. Policy on farm conservation of seed biodiversity” and “Flood Manual 2007” from English into Telugu.
Asked how satisfied he feels with his own work in the last 25 years, Subhani says, “50-50.” “The reason is that we are innovating new resources of income and government is also not coming up readily to support it.”
In recognition to his services for the tribal community, Syed Subhani has been honoured with several awards in the last 10 years.
In 2013, he received Award of Appreciation for the Best Services (Best NGO in the district) from the District Collector of Khammam on 67th Independence Day.
In 2014, he was felicitated by the Andhra Pradesh State Biodiversity Board, Government of Andhra Pradesh on International Day of Biological Diversity.
In 2019 also, he got Award of Appreciation for the Best Services (Best NGO in the Division) from the Project Officer of Integrated Tribal Development Agency on Republic Day.
‘Will live and die here, can’t leave them’
While working for them, Subhani has become part of the local tribal community.
“I do not go outside this area. I will live and die here. I cannot leave this place, my friends, this atmosphere and the jungle,” says Subhani who is impressed with the simplicity and honesty of the tribal people.
“They are very honest people. People would rarely lock their doors. There was no incident of theft. Their moral values were high,” says he.
“We are not different, we are together. I look different from them with my appearance and look but I am now part of them. I mingle with them and talk to them. I attend their community and family events and share meal with them. I will live and die here. I cannot leave this place, my Adivasi friends, this atmosphere, and the jungle,” says Subhani.