We first heard from Rajeev Khedkar in 1988 when he was secretary of the Academy of Development Sciences located in rural Maharashtra about 100 Km east of Bombay.
Since then we have on numerous occasions supported this gifted biochemist in his many projects by raising funding for his work from various US and European foundations, from the Australian Government’s development assistance bureau and from John Seed’s workshops around the world.
We began by supporting his work revitalising the ancient, traditional medical system of Ayurveda – (less than 30% of tribal people have access to western medicine - as few as 3% in some isolated areas) – helping him build a vast “gene park” of over 160 species of ayurvedic plants to distribute over 200,000 seedlings/year free to local people. PHOTOS
Over the years we have raised funds for many of his projects to restore the ecological balance of Maharashtra through forest conservation, ecological agriculture and conservation of plant genetic resources, promoting organic agricultural practises amongst tribal communities, establishing grain banks to enhance food security , horticulture, rural technology, environmental education and womens’ empowerment.
In the late 90’s we began supporting Rajeev’s work to protect the Katkari, among the most oppressed of India’s indigenous minorities (“Adivasis”). Here is how Rajeev described their situation to us at the time:
“The Katkari tribal group is teetering on the brink of extinction. The Katkari community, a primitive forest tribe based mostly in Raigad and Thane Districts of Maharashtra, lives in abject poverty. Even into the 21st century they continue to work as bonded labour for their "sheth" (master). Their exploitation by non-tribals is total and absolute. They have been converted into a cheap and bonded labour force by their fellow human beings. The police department harasses them at will and treats them like a "criminal tribe". While the Indian Government would deny the presence of slavery, the Katkaris are slaves and much more. All development programmes, Government or Non-Government, bypass the Katkaris.” PHOTOS
To support his campaign, RIC made a 20-minute film about their plight. The key to lifting them out of bondage was clearly to establish legal rights to their traditional lands and Rajeev, now working with an NGO called SOBTI, toiled mightily at this task.
In December 2015, he wrote us that their campaign to establish land-rights for the Katkari and other Adivasis was finally bearing fruit and “will help resolve the insecure village land issue in at least 600 – 700 Katkari villages”.
The next steps are tree plantings to improve the fertility and productivity of their land. However, suitable native tree seedlings are not available and they are establishing a nursery “to ensure multiplication of diverse native plant species (fruits, uncultivated foods, vegetables, medicinal plants, fibre plants, sacred plants, flowering plants, natural dyes, etc)”
RIC has set the ball rolling with a grant of $4000 which we have sent them and work has begun, and we hope that some of you who are reading this will visit our crowdfund site and help raise the remaining $8000 needed .