Subject: Jenu Kuruba Woman
Place: Kabini, Karnataka
Camera: Yashica Mat 124 G
Film: Ilford HP5 Plus
This is an aged member of a small Jenu Kuruba settlement, one of the few that dot the area around the Nagarholle wildlife reserve on the western banks of the Kabini reservoir in Karnataka. Relocated to the upper fringes when the reservoir was built in 1974 , the Jenu Kurubas have since learnt to adapt to a settled life of agriculture and trade. Some of the menfolk from this community work for the Forest department as trackers and guards. Their association with this forest is a deep and abiding one, going back to the time when their ancestors roamed and lived freely in the forests of Tamilnadu and Karnataka from which they were displaced as a consequence of development and the necessities of conservation.
The Jenu Kurubas are traditionally forest dwellers who specialized in harvesting wild honey (from which they get their name) that they sold for a living. At last count they were a diminished community of less than 50,000 individuals who were concentrated in the hilly districts of the Nilgiris and the regions surrounding the tiger reserves of Bandipur and Nagarholle. Some of them continue to gain access to the forests to harvest honey and forest produce of value though this is becoming increasingly difficult with the authorities restricting access to protected sanctuaries. The rest have taken to agriculture upon land that was given them as compensation during various phases of their relocation from these forests after independence. They also turn to casual wage work wherever available to sustain themselves.
Life is not easy for this dislocated community as it is for the many other indigenous groups of people across India. They have not been able to change the course of their lives for the better despite the Government investing considerable funds for their upliftment. They are truly a people caught betwixt two worlds, where the one they left behind still pulls at their heart strings, while the other, though hinting at new possibilities, is yet to win them over completely.