Monday, 26 November 2012

FST Interim: Environment Exposure :Wynadu Bamboo Cluster (URAVU)

Objective :

Objective of the interim will be to initiate students to a holistic understanding of socio-political and economic system prevailing in our country as a space for creative practice through practical exposure and experience.  Students will be introduced to this context by appropriating various Design exercises, Design tools, Design Thinking as Lines of enquiry and also through field visits. This will enable students to understand the process of knowledge building around a context to develop their creative practice outside the purview of institutional learning.   List of reader will enhance the students to gain from various practices based on observation, exploration, and experience.

Context 1: Wynadu Bamboo cluster (Uravu)
  A context where a social initiative/organization identifies need for an intervention to address the social condition and thereby puts a considerable amount of  hard work with the community for social uplift. Students will explore the ideology and the framework with which the work has been initiated and its impact.

FST interim: Environment Exposure: Wynadu Bamboo Cluster (URAVU)

Place of visit : Wynadu (Uravu)
Facilitators    : Narendra Raghunath, Aditi Banerjee
Dates of Visit :  15.11.2012 to 21.11.2012
Students      : Akash Banja, Abheek Malhotra, Akshita Girish Kothari, Ameeshi  Goenka , Anumeha Jain, Irna Sayeed, Jishnav Iyer, Kaushika Nair
                           Muniza Shariq, Nimisha Singhal, Pranim Rai, Saranya Aiyaswami,
                           Khushboo Chordia

Background:  As envisaged in the course, this entire trip focused on holistic understanding of environment exposure, the institution (here Uravu, an  ngo) based social empowerment  as a collective participatory system.  The objective was to encourage the students to develop a cricital understanding of an NGO working within a community, from a designer’s perspective. 

Wynadu is a backward district  with a forest terrain  in Kerala that has recently been declared as  a  tourism promotional destination by Government of Kerala.  Bordering Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, this place has immense historical relevance and has a deep connection to aboriginal traditions of southern  India. Also known for its rich bio-diversity and   indegenous knowledge systems,  people of Wynadu are largely dependent on agriculture for their livelihood.

Uravu, is an NGO promoted by a group of environmentalists and social entreprenures that has been actively participating and promoting craft tradition, especially bamboo as an economic opportunity for the backward society since 1996.

Uravu has a facility near Kalpetta with many craft people with a moderately big workshop. There is a bamboo processing center along with  few acres of  Bamboo plantation and farming. This farm has more than 108 varieties of bamboo from across the world with a nursury for spreading bamboo plantations.   They have developed  more than eighteen women self help group (SHGs) craft clusters  in and around Kalpetta, Wynadu district who are working with bamboo, craft, furniture, architecture, bags,  wowen products, jack fruit products and now community based tourism development.

We have identified Uravu as a nodel center for our environmental exposure  trip to Wynadu and in discussion with them, developed a five day intensive  program for the students, keeping in mind their limitation and possibilities as foundation studets.

Course :
The trip was divided into  five segments

1.    Organisation exposure (NGO) as an entreprenural economic model within natural resourse and community

Students were taken to the facility  and had an introduction discussion on how an NGO works, especially with natural resourses and craft communities.  They were then given a guided tour through the facility to introduce various aspects of organisational structure, production facility, craftsmen and the design shop.

During the afternoon , students were taken through the locality, Bamboo farms, fields, religious places,  traditional water bodies and forest terrain of the place to explain how these factors are important  develop the focus  for community empowerement organisations to set up their area of work.

2.     How does craft communities organise and operate as an economic model :

On the second day, students were  taken to  various  craft  women self help groups set up by Uravu in and around Kalpetta.  As the spread was within 40 km of Kalpetta, this also gave students further insights to local environmental conditions and ecology.  Students are also introduced to the idea of Self help groups formations, activities working modalities and limitations especially in craft sector.  They interacted with the workers at a personal level to gain better understanding of the nature of the work in a small scale craft sector.

3.   Other economical models communities engage within geographical locality.

On the third day, students were taken to  Edakkal caves, Wynadu tribal museum and Suchipara water falls  to  expose ad experience the other models of community economical engagements.  This gave them an opportunity to understand the pros and cons of heritage and ecological tourism as a revenue model  in a community environmental space.  This also offered them an opportunity to  experience the stunning landscape of Wynadu. 

4. Geographic Environment and Community

On the fourth day  with the kind support from MS Swaminathan research fourndation staff, students were taken for a trek in the forest of Manikkunnu hill  to experience the rich local bio diversity.

In the afternoon students were taken to a Tribal Community school “Kanavu” founded by MJ Baby- a noted writer/social activist and his academic wife.  Students had a first hand engagement with aboriginal  community members of Wynadu who now runs this institute on their own.  During their extended discussion, students had the opportunity to understand the socio- economic-cultural and political issues of the community and their existence. Also it was an opportunity for students to understand one more alternate model of education and its importance in community development especially in aboriginal cultures. It encouraged them to look at the education systems they have been a part of thus far, and to see links with the system that they are a part of currently.

5.   Hands on- minds on
 On day five although students had many opportunities to have a hands on experience with craft organised at Uravu facility. The designers and craftsmen of  Uravu dedicated their time with students to arrive at student’s own products and craft works in bamboo with its desired finish. The students had an opprtunity to look at various aspects of design in the process- such as material understanding, aesthetics, functionality and time management. They were left with some ideas for new designs and improvements.

Apart from the above a daily review discussion was organised at night and madatory diary writing was insisted upon.

Out come and Observaton :

Overall we found the student engagement was complete and as facilitators,we just guided them with some inputs from time to time. We delibirately kept away from the learning process for student initiated engagement , the idea of experiential learning and engagment level was found more than satisfactory. During the de-brief sessions we brought in some theoretical inputs with different perspectives. This was linked to their work through the trip.

Also the daily reviews had its own advantage of an idea intensive collaboration and validations within the student group.

           As a final presentation of student learning outcome  a blog will be published of student essays         
           and a book will be brought out by each student on the same. Also they will set up an exhibition
           on 22nd along with other groups of students with photographs, books, their produce etc
The Wayanad Experience.

We started from Bangalore on the 15th in the evening and reached Kalpetta at around 5.30 AM our limbs freezing, the next day. We took a bus from there to the M.S.Swaminathan Research Foundation where we stayed in dormitories for the duration of our trip. We visited Uravu the same day, a non-profit NGO that works with the indigenous people of Kerala and women to train them and equip them with skill sets to work with bamboo. They chose bamboo as it is locally available and because of its multi-purpose nature. Uravu have their own nurseries and bamboo farms therefore making them a self-sustaining system. It was started by a group of friends in 1996 who wanted a socially conscious, alternative style of living and they handle everything from producing the bamboo, treating it for handicrafts to marketing the bamboo products. Uravu empowers the people they train and gives them a sense of dignity, of independence. We were guided by Mr.Surendranath who was part of the management and we were shown a short presentation on how Uravu works. Uravu also holds jackfruit festivals to showcase its versatility and sell food products such as pickles and jams. 
We interacted with the women there who were working with the ‘green gold’ to create handicrafts and products such as lamp shades, rain sticks, flower vases and candle stands. We witnessed the process of weaving a bamboo blind. We also visited the store that was located above the work area.
We then set off for Uravar, a micro-enterprise that specialised in making bags by combining jute and bamboo. Uravu wanted to make bags out of bamboo but found it unfeasible. So they make jute and cloth bags with bamboo highlights.
Later we were taken to the main office, were the financials and general management was handled. We met the rest of the Uravu team and they gave us more information regarding bamboo such as the treatment of it, the disadvantages of storing or transporting bamboo. For example, bamboo is hollow and lots of insects tend to bore inside and feed on the sugars stored in the stem. Treatment removes these insects, which otherwise used to be done by a long process of soaking bamboo in the water. However that method was not found to be practical for commercial purposes. Bamboo could not be stored for a very long time as they start to get fungus infested and become unusable. Transportation again becomes a problem if the products are too delicate. There are approximately 136 varieties of bamboo being grown by Uravu. We then broke to have lunch at a nearby home stay, again managed by Uravu. The house was constructed over a pond and incorporated a lot of bamboo in its artfully created design.
After lunch we were taken to the bamboo farms and the nursery. The farm, for all purposes, resembled a forest and we had to trek quite a bit. We came across a variety of bamboo from reeds to very large ones like Gigantis. Uravu was also trying to construct guest houses in the middles of these forests to promote tourism. We saw two of these construction sites and they were mostly made of bamboo and sturdy banana stems. After that, we were taken to the bamboo nursery and a temple from where we had to trek through a field to reach our jeeps. We had dinner at the Foundation and went to bed in preparation for the next day.
We were planning an early morning walk the next day but it did not take place as all of us overslept, tired from the previous days walking and bus journey. That day we travelled in and around Kalpetta to visit and interact with various bamboo clusters, self-help groups (SHGs) that were formed by rural women who were trained by Uravu and skilled to work with bamboo and produce handicrafts and items like photo frames, bottles cases and such. Uravu helps sell their products by marketing these micro-enterprises.
The first SHG we visited was Neravu. They were making calendar holders while we were visiting. Started about 8 years ago, they initially had 20 people in it which was reduced to 9 at present. The women left for various reasons like marriage and bamboo dust allergies. They told us that they were not able to experiment with bamboo as orders would come in one after the other, leaving them with no time for anything else.
The next was Unarvu, an SHG that specialised in making jewellery. They started with 18 and reduced to 12. The bamboo that they were using was not provided by Uravu but was collected by them and the men. They used elephant bamboo and cut and polished them to make beads that they painted. They asked us for new designs and were very happy when we provided some in a notebook they had. A few of us also decorated a few beads. I notice that the women were very happy with what they were doing but they needed new and fresh designs rather than recycled ones. For inspiration they consult magazines and watch TV programs.
The third SHG was Sneha and they started 4 years ago. Around 15 people work there and they were trained for new orders when they came in for around a week. They were making photo frames when we visited. We also learnt that waste from one group was taken to another where they can be put to use.
The next group was Soubaghya and they started 4 years ago with 20 people now reduced to 14. We saw them working with saws and not much else as they were wrapping up for the day. When asked they told us that they were insured by the panchayat.
We found that among the self-help groups each of them were being paid about 125-180 rupees per day. They were also depositing a fixed amount of money in the South Malabar Gramine bank which acted as a security from which they could withdraw money without the need for collateral. The work timings were almost the same, 7 hours per day. They were also provided with masks and mufflers to protect them from the dust. Most of their children sre educated till the 12th standard and on askinf, we found out that they were not interested in working with bamboo.
The third day was sight-seeing day. We also had to understand how these sights shaped the culture of the place. The first place was Edakkal caves, which we had to reach after a trek. They were not caves as such but gave the impression of one due to a huge piece of rock being wedged in between two rock faces. These caves had engravings that were made by tribes living there around 60,000 years ago. It was fascinating to see their creative interpretation of the times they lived in and spoke quite a bit about life then. Hidden away in these caves, due to fear of defacement, is a painting that is the first ever geometric one. This painting had the power to change history that’s been saying it was the Greeks who first started using geometry. Instead it cowers behind a staircase, its future or rather history unknown.
The next destination was a museum which had a lot of historic artefacts and statues. There were many agricultural implements that were made of bamboo which made me realise the significance of the woody grass in Kerala’s culture. Otherwise, I did not find it particularly engaging, except for one piece which caught my attention. It was a slab of rock that looked plain and unspoilt on both sides until you make out that there’s writing on one side which I found very similar to the Malayalam script.
After that was a trip we were all waiting for, to the Soochipara waterfalls. This too, was to be reached after a short trek downhill, instead of uphill. After a moment’s hesitation nearly all of us literally slipped into the water and made our way to the waterfall. It was quite an experience, the feeling of the spray and the water dragging you along. We girls found it uncomfortable afterwards as there was no proper place we could change with some amount of privacy.
We trekked back up and went back to the Foundation to feed ourselves and rest up for the next day.
The fourth day, we had to be up and trekking at 7. However, we started only at 9 as all of us had overslept. We went trekking up the hill close to the foundation and we were guided by a scientist who worked there. I was surprised to find that he was also indigenous. This realisation made me rethink my already changing idea of the word Tribal and what it implied. We experienced the rich and varied flora and fauna, many of which had medicinal uses. I learnt many things such as the aroma of Lemon grass could refresh a tired person and an extraction from a certain rare species of bird was medically valuable. I felt the hill had a character of its own, as the guides explained that the indigenous people celebrated a spring from which water flowed only at a particular time in a year. We trekked back down, riddled with scratches and cuts and left for Kanavu, after lunch.
Kanavu, a school for the indigenous, was started around 20 years ago by K.J.Baby, a Malayali playwright and political personality whose troupe would stage plays around the issues faced by the indigenous. It was initially thriving with around 25 students ranging from ages 10-18. Many of these students are involved in exchange programs and are learning from other schools. The curriculum, I found, is very similar to ours in Srishti as it was very hands on and practical. Along with conventional subjects like science and history, other subjects like dance, music and kalaripayattu an ancient martial art were thought. However, due to lack of funds the school is more or less not functional. I felt this to be very unfortunate as I felt this system would work well with the children in learning, rather than conventional lessons and exams. The children are encouraged to advance in the subjects they find most interesting and many of them apply for open school exams which they are trained for at the school. They are not registered under the government, which could be another reason for their lack of funds. We were shown a documentary about the school and we left soon after.
I was looking forward to the last day as we could work with bamboo to make our own products. We were divided into three groups, for weaving, sculpting and for general products. I enjoyed working with bamboo as I found it easy to work with and also my mentor for the day, Sir.Biju was guiding me well and providing better suggestions for my design. After a satisfying day of hands on work, we thanked the team of Uravu and left for Bangalore that night.
Kerala is rich in biodiversity and they mainly focus on crops such as banana, coconut and rubber apart from bamboo. You find undulating tea and coffee estates side by side with tall palm trees. There are a lot of stores that sell many products made from natural resources like green tea and varied spices, lemon grass and eucalyptus oil. I could sense the immense amount of respect that the people of Wayanad had for nature from the bamboo workers to the scientist who guided us through the forest.
As picturesque and beautiful as Wayanad and its whole community is, it comes with its own issues. Uravu has drawbacks in its system that needs to be taken care of. I find it to be neither here nor there. It could go both ways depending on what Uravu wants to focus on. If their focus is on a viable business model, they have to improve their marketability and their market range by sourcing out their products to urban markets. Bamboo is becoming a must have product for the eco-conscious city dweller.

Life in Uravu !

By Nimisha Singhal


Day 1 (and a small introduction)

    On the first day we of course traveled from Bangalore to Kalpetta by bus. It was freezing but fun! After reaching M.S. Swaminathan foundation, settling down and eating breakfast, we immediately left for our first mission.
    We went to the main workshop of the Uravu foundation, where we were introduced to the president of the NGO (Non-Governmental Organization). He gave us a small presentation and a brief introduction to the association, working with bamboo, and the craftsmen.
    After this we were introduced to some of the workers, they were a group of women sitting in a room, all working together to make similar products, only two people in our whole group including the facilitators could speak in Malayalam(The language spoken in Kerala). So they were mediators between the rest of us and the workers. We were shown the weaving sector, the blinds sector, later on we were even taken to the where they had displayed their products for sale. Many beautiful handicrafts, all made from bamboo, were available including candle stands, ornamental masks, pen holders, even pens!
    In addition to this workshop we were shown where they made handbags, wallets and such goods. They even had quite a few finished products displayed there. We went for lunch at about 3pm after which we went for a trek through the bamboo forest where apparently one hundred and thirty six species of bamboo grew. The most interesting bamboo species that caught my attention were the elephant bamboo and the laughing Buddha.

    We saw a tiny waterfall, we had to cross over a stream by a bridge made out of a single log and we even saw a crab in the stream! There were many tiny little frogs hopping about too, they were fascinating, not bigger than the tip of your thumb!
    After the trek were taken through rice paddy fields, we were taken to a conventional kerala temple and were also shown the bamboo nursery where they were growing and tending to 30 different species of bamboo.

Day 2

    We went to different workshops in different places where small groups of women (SHG’s – Self Help Groups) worked together to produce bamboo products. Each cluster focused on the production of specialized items.
    The first cluster we went to, was called Neravu, the second; Unarvu, then went to Sneha and finally Soubhagya.

 Day 3

    We climbed up to the Edakkal caves to see the stone carvings and to get a sense of the history of the place, we then visited the Wayanad Tribal Heritage Museum, and then after having a nice lunch at Hotel New Taj, we traveled for about forty minutes to get to the Soochippara waterfall, upon reaching there, we still had to walk about two and a half kilometres to arrive at the actual waterfall. Through out the trip, I especially enjoyed the treks and looked forward to them.

Day 4

    This day we went for a trek in the morning through the forest behind M.S. Swaminathan foundation. We learned about the tribals, the flora fauna and many other things about the area in general, after coming back, having lunch and resting for a while we then went to the kanavu school which was started ny local people who wanted to educate the children or upcoming youngsters who were willing to learn whatever the elders or teachers had to offer them.

Day 5

    We designed out own products and were helped by the bamboo craftsmen to reach the closest that we could manage to the product we desired. After this we ended our trip and went back to Bangalore after a fun and academic trip that were both equally satisfying.


   What is Uravu?

    URAVU is a non-government organization working with people, governments and businesses to implement programs for sustainable employment and income generation in rural areas. Uravu is a non-profit trust, established in 1996, registered under the Indian Trusts Act.

    Uravu promotes employment of talented bamboo craftsmen from villages, providing skill training in bamboo processing, establishing micro enterprises, marketing of bamboo handicraft, cultivation of bamboo and promotion of eco-tourism.
    It tries to empower marginalized social groups, especially women.
    Uravu heads six clusters and renders support to several others. These clusters are mainly self-help groups, like Sneha, Neravu and Saubhagya, which are based in the Wayanad district. Uravu is deeply dependent on the government for funds and projects. Uravu has a finance team, a designing team, marketing company and trained laborers. The main aim of Uravu is employment generation.

    They have their own bamboo nursery and permission to cut bamboo from different parts of Wayanad.


    Clusters or SHG’s are small groups of women about 10-20 who work together to make products, usually of a specific kind. The clusters under Uravu receive orders and raw materials, capital goods, training and complete support from Uravu in every matter

    Neravu cluster has 19 working women even though they started off with 20 workers. They use reed and elephant bamboo to make flower vase, candle stand, frames and lamp shades. The women who work at the cluster live close by to their work place.

    Unarvu cluster has 12 working labourers. They used elephant bamboo to made jewellery products such as necklaces, bracelets, etc. They are free to make their own designs and implement their own ideas in making bamboo jewellery. Earlier there were 18 workers but most of the women who left, left due to dust allergies.

    Sneha SHG was started by 15people initially but 5 of them left because they got married. They took orders from Uravu as well as third party people. They received orders and raw materials from Uravu. They made utensils and photoframes etc.

    Soubhagya cluster consisted of 15 members, all of whom were making various objects like trays, spice boxes, bottles, wall hangings and pencil stands. Each member deposited 20rs every week into the Malabar Gramin Bank. It was mandatory for them.

Edakkal Caves, The Museum and The Waterfall

    The Caves were beautiful, Edakkal(which means in between two rocks) is a false cave formed by large rocks that have gotten stuck between two walls of the hill. Inside the cave, there were carvings which are said to date back to the stone age.

    It was a tiring but exciting climb to the top, the rocks and stairs that we had to clamber over were steep and dangerous, but the view from the top was amazing, you could see all of Wayanad along with snow covered peaks along the horizon.

    On entering the caves you need to walk down a short flight of stairs behind which apparently there is a tiny painting that has been done, it is said to be the first geometrical figure made in India, dating back to almost sixty thousand years ago. This discovery has created debates and dilemmas and is causing the rewriting of history.

    There is no security near the painting and people are not allowed to go near it. Mobile phone photography was not allowed however to be allowed to take photos with proper cameras, a ticket needed to be bought for 20 rupees. Even plastic bottles were not allowed to be taken up to the caves as it was a plastic free zone, until and unless we deposited 15 rs at the counter and took a sticker for the bottle, only upon returning the sticker would the 15 rupees be refunded.

    The Museum was located in the middle of town. It was home to many ancient local artifacts, products made of bamboo that had been preserved for years. The Museum too required an entry ticket.

    The Soochippara Waterfall was huge and the falling water was so powerful that it was spraying drops of water as far as 20-30 yards away from the point of impact. People were allowed to bathe in the water which was so freezing cold that on entering the water one would immediately start shivers and would get chills up ones spine. Walking on the rocks was a challenge as they were slippery and covered with moss and smoothened out by the flowing water. Many people slipped and fell numerous times. There was one guard standing around in the water helping people.

Ecological Trekking

    We were taken for a trek up the hill behind M.S. Swaminathan foundation, we were being guided by a local scientist. We walked on for about one and a half hour, occasionally stopping to let some people catch up and to rest for a few minutes here and there. The forest was full of different kinds of herbs and plants. The land belonged to the tribal people of that area or the “aboriginals”

    Many of the aborgines did not buy food, they picked food from the forest and survived on those. Apparently they did not adhere to the rules of scientific medicine, they had their own remedies and herbs and ointments, and their life expectancy was about a hundred years old.

    The forest was a habitat to different kinds of animals, insects like pretty butterflies with beautiful patterns on them, etc. even some rare flowers.


    We also visited an unregistered indigenous school named Kanavu which was started by Joy Mon Baby located about 20km from Kalpetta. That school is run by the indigenous families. They follow the gurukul system of education. The elders teach folk music, martial arts, history and other subjects which are learnt or practiced by kids and teenagers. They go for exchange programs all over India to learn pottery, weaving, agriculture, etc. That land was bought was Vistar in 1993 for the adivasis of that region for cultural and educational reasons. Vistar used to provide for their exchange programs and other expenses but they stopped doing so in 1996. The aborigines have to carry out their own expenses now. They perform music and dance in troops in order to collect money. The children there start working at an early age and hence are exposed to substance abuse at that age. They also have rehabilitation center for the indigenous who are addicted to substance abuse to have a fairly better future.

Possible Issues and Solutions

Uravu and Clusters

  One of the issues that the NGO faces is that they do not have great demand for their products, there is a shortage of funds and of skilled employees. To rectify this they could possibly begin to construct products that are more useful and practical. Objects that can be used daily to make our work easier for us.

       Another issue is that this NGO is sort of small and not widely renowned. They need to spread the word about the usefulness of bamboo, the history of bamboo craft and its future market. It would benefit the workers greatly if there was more publicity of the NGO. They could probably advertise and increase the number of consumers. They could have bamboo workshops, inviting people to see what it’s like to work with bamboo and to see the skilled craftsmen at work to spread awareness along with exhibitions to display some of their best products and designs.

       Due to the relatively poor wages, the number of workers have gone down, therefore production rates are low. If they could employ a few more workers, at better wages for a short while, create a bit of a buzz in the local areas and neighboring towns and cities, production rates would go up, and as there would be more publicity, the demand would increase too. The salaries can be increased, the product prices raised, the company would grow and become more known.

       Better health facilities can be provided to the workers to ensure their safety and to reduce loss of employees.

       If they maybe formed a bit of a more complex working system, created a brand for themselves, opened up retail stores in bigger markets, and sell products that are coveted, then again the demand would increase, income would increase, salaries could be raised and more workers could be employed, in turn, again, increasing the production rates.

       Their main target should be the general public.

The Caves, the Museum and the Waterfall.

    The Geometrical Painting in the Edakkal cave should be allowed for public viewing. Security around the painting should be increased or some sort of barrier should be installed so as to avoid the damage that can be caused by people messing with it.
    The Tribal Museum should invest in an English-speaking guide and maybe improve the signs and write ups that are displayed for the different artifacts, to make it more interesting and easy to understand. They could open up a gift store to make the visit more interesting and maybe invest in the physical display of articles a bit more.
    The Waterfall, though it was a beautiful place full of greenery and clear water, many an adjustment can be made to improve the way the place is maintain

Maybe the tribal could use the medicines a bit more commercially, sell them to people for a certain price whatever value they decided was appropriate and then buy food, processed and sanitized, and also a wider variety than just picking their food from the forest ground.
They have problem with getting students to enroll, after which they have a problem getting even the enrolled students to study, They could probably expand the school, the teachings mainly, to other places where people were willing to learn people who had no money for school people who had no prospects and would rather learn and be part of a sustained community by learning the ways of the tribes, they should not just make sure that their own kids learn they should make sure that everyone who wants to learn and have a chance at a comfortable life is actually awarded with that chance to be as good as they can be, and to instigate more discipline among the kids who are enrolled and not studying or learning anything even though its not like they don’t want to do well in life they just don’t know how badly off you can be if you don’t know how to take care of yourself.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Waynad Trip, Kerela

by: Aakash Banja

Waynad, Uravu field trip Itinerary

15th- 21st November
-Bus from kalasipaliyam to Waynad
-Accommodation- MS Swaminathan Research Foundation, Arani Community Training Centre. All meals provided in the facility.

Day 1:
-Visit to Uravu’s main centre to familiarize with bamboo (Morning).
- Followed by an outing into the bamboo forest (afternoon)
- Finally   a look at the Uravu Bamboo Nursery. (Evening)

Day 2:
-Visit to four bamboo clusters, namely:
v  Niravu
v  Unarvu
v  Sneha SHG
v  Soubhagya

Day 3:
-Climb to Edakkal caves. (Morning)
- Visit to the Wayanad Tribal Museum. (Post lunch)
- Venture into the Meppadi Forest Reserve-Suchipara Waterfalls. (Evening)

Day 4:
-Early morning hike up a hill close to the research foundation.
-Visit to Kanavu tribal school. (Post Lunch)
- Kalpetta town visit. (Evening)

Day 5:
-Revisit to Uravu to have hands on experience with Bamboo (All day).
-Night bus back to Kalasipalyam from Kalpetta.


The primary objective of the trip was to observe the NGO Uravu (Uravu Indigenous Science & Technology Study Centre) at work, analyze its system of functioning, setup, marketing etc. And in response come up with possible design interventions to improve the existing setup.
Uravu is a trust, an NGO which has been operation for the last 16 years. The word ‘uravu’ means ‘a source of natural spring water’. The non-profit bamboo craft trust is headed by the President C. Surendra Nath. It is based in Wayanad because of good growing conditions for bamboo, its rich flaura and fauna and apart from this it is also a very backward district where revenue generation is minimal.
The main goals of the NGO are to:
v  Give back access and control of natural resources to the indigenous locals.
v  Provide knowledge and skill in bamboo craft to the locals so that they are independent and self sustained.
v  Improving the current setup by investing in new technology, consequently leading to greater efficiency in product manufacturing.
v  Marketing of goods i.e. providing a market as well as looking for new markets for expansion of craft.
There have been several positive impacts on the lives of local craftsmen due to Uravu’s initiative. The organization strives to provide opportunities for backward classes and rural women and it has been successful to a certain extent in this aspect. The lives of local craftsmen revolve around bamboo and it has helped them make more out of their livelihood. Uravu functions in a decentralized manner, with production taking place in bamboo clusters or Self Help Groups, building on the concept of Micro Enterprises. Masks, lampshades, Wall hangings, pens, jewelry kitchenware, floor mats are some of the products manufactured by Uravu in the decentralized units.
There are 22 bamboo clusters in total. The clusters that were examined closely were Niravu, Unarvu, Sneha and Soubhagya. Niravu has been functioning for the past 8 years. There were 20 artisans in the start and currently only 9. The ones currently employed seem satisfied with work hours from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. The families of the women are supportive and encourage their independence. Members were previously paid on a weekly basis and now on a monthly basis. Niravu is one of the clusters that supplies products to Uravu. Uravu pays Rs.120 for one photo frame and sells it at Rs.400; a series photo frame, consisting of 3 frames makes the artisans about Rs 380 and is sold at Rs.900 (approximate figures). Other products made include pens, flower pots, candle stands etc. The SHG members seem satisfied with this agreement and ask for a raise if they feel it necessary. Niravu is subject to a certain level autonomy by Uravu. Although it supplies to the NGO it falls under the ‘Kalpetta Bamboo Producers Association’ and is therefore not directly under Uravu. There 18 clusters under the federation out of which 6 supply to Uravu and others handle marketing by themselves. All federation craftspeople receive training for 45 days by the RSVY.

Another cluster ‘Unarvu’ shows a similar system of working and patterns of progress. There is a comparable trend in the decline in the number of members. Initially there were 18 and now there are 12, women have left due to personal reasons, marriage or even health reasons such as dust allergies. The currently employed artisans are paid around Rs. 125/day and feel that with this and the revenue generated by the rest of the family they are able to finance the education of their children. They are given paid leave only on ‘Onam’.
In the 4 clusters which were looked at women constitute for the majority of the workforce, at times having only women members. The general level of education of the women is till 12th grade.
The financial state of Uravu however isn’t very reflective of their efforts with their current turnover at 62 lakh. It is funded mainly by the government project funds. Mr. Surendra Nath feels that the government isn’t giving bamboo enough importance and is failing to achieve its goals in the sector.
In between 1963-1998, one pulp mill, Grasim Industries had monopoly over bamboo in Kerela. It was exploited single handedly and it was supplied initially by the govt. at Re. 1/ton. Uravu has made an effort to change the monopoly over the market. However discouraged artisans are turning to other occupations. In 1983 30,000 families made their livelihood off of bamboo and by 1998 the number had dropped to only 4,500. There are several reasons for this, the most important one being that other unskilled work opportunities provide better wages than bamboo craft. As a result, mostly underpaid women are commonly employed by Uravu. The artisans were paid around Rs 30/day initially, which still kept them below the poverty line. Gradually over the years there was an improvement in the wages of the artisans and they are now paid up to Rs. 200 depending on their level of skill and productivity. The marketing of goods, the rent of the production building are handled by Uravu. The NGO isn’t the best example of a functional self sustenance model, as it is not profitable yet.

On the other hand, looking into the economics of the clusters at a little more depth the financial condition of the indigenous crafts people has seen a major boost due to their own efforts. Formation of Self Help Groups has led to the Banks responding much more positively to their loan requests. The Niravu cluster has saved over a lakh at the South Malabar Grameen bank (SMGB). Something called ‘thrift’ is practiced, where each member of the SHG deposits Rs 50 in the bank. SMGB and other such banks provide them of upto 3 lakh without collateral.

Natural Resource Management
Wayanad is now becoming a very popular tourist destination due to its rich flora and fauna, waterfalls and even as a result of its indigenous population. The tourism sector is now generating a lot of income; however it is affecting the natural state of the land greatly. The government is attempting to regulate tourism and control its waste trail. The geography of the district supports the life of several indigenous communities, flora and fauna. The Rain hills behind the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation contribute to the Kerela water supply significantly. Upon doing some field work and collection of samples in the same hills, a lot of medicinal plants with uses ranging from treatment of arthritis to hair growth were found. There were holes next to the bases of the trees as well. The tribal people consider the roots a delicacy. A considerable amount of the land in Waynad is declared as land belonging to the indigenous people. They are allowed take whatever resources they want from these lands. Unfortunately, outsiders are now trying to gain control of these lands due to their potential in the industrial sector. Commercially oriented parties are venturing into these lands and seizing them by introducing alcohol and drugs into the tribal community. As a result alcoholism is a growing concern in Kerela’s relatively backward parts. Waynad is rich in many resources with its tea, coffee plantations and eucalyptus trees. Cottage industries are selling lemon grass and eucalyptus oil in certain areas. Paddy fields, banana and bamboo plantations are also spread across the varied topography of Waynad.

12.5 million People today directly or indirectly use bamboo every day and hence should not undervalue its importance as an eco-friendly resource. Kalpetta in particular is starting to be known for bamboo. Uravu is trying to build on this through the concept of ‘bamboo for living and living with bamboo’ by attemptings to reengage the tribal population in bamboo craft, calling it ‘rediscovering bamboo’.

There are several factors that make bamboo a very good resource to invest in, in the near future.
v  Bamboo prevents erosion of top soil from downpours and helps in absorption and retention of moisture
v  Grows at a very rapid rate almost 3 times as fast as eucalyptus
v  Reaches harvestable age in 3-4 years
v  Bamboo shoots provide food security
v  Reaches maximum height at 40-60 years generally.


An interesting establishment in Waynad is Kanavu. In 1993 social reformer, writer, political figure, K.J. Baby started Kanavu as residential and educational facility. Initially made to provide alternative education to the children from tribal backgrounds, it is now free to all. It is not a school registered by the Government. The land for Kanavu has been provided by an organization called ‘Vistar’. It runs ‘like a gurukul’ and has 24 students currently (19/11/12). The students are taught ‘self learning’ here and live like a closely knit family. The school had no syllabus at first because 5 different dialects were spoken in the communities around it. Now a more definite syllabus is available in Malayalam as the local communities have caught on to the language. Music, film, dance are integral parts of the course. Sports are an important part of the teaching and Kalari Payattu the traditional martial art is taught as well. There has been a gradual diversification of the syllabus. At the outset Waynad history was taught, then Indian history and now World history. Later other practical arts, pottery, weaving, wood craft clay work were introduced. The students are allowed to choose a particular area of specialization from a range of subjects. The graduates of Kanavu are eligible to apply for the ‘National Open School’.
The syllabus was developed by collecting classical/folk art and music and books. Kanavu provides practical and directly relevant education at first and encourages learning by doing rather than through books. For this very reason Kanavu has come up with an exchange program in which they travel across the country and gain exposure.

*work in progress*

Saturday, 24 November 2012

my momoralbe trip to wayanad

by Akshita Kothari

My first trip from Srishti
I was really very excited because the description of the place and the bamboo craft sounded really very interesting. I was all set to just go and explore wayanad 
We started on 15th evening from n3 at 9:30 and went to the bus stop at Kalasipalayam, from were we took a bus to Kalpatta.
We reached Kalpatta on the 16th morning 5:45 and boarded a bus and reached MS SWAMI NATHAN RESEARCH FOUNDATION where we were supposed to stay. It was a very beautiful place, after we settled we went for a small walk around the place, saw a huge variety of trees, flowers and the we were all surrounded by greenery .

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Then we started for the day and went to URAVU which was in Thrikkaipetta there we saw a presentation on what Uravu does and what products are been made, we also saw the different machines on which bamboo is processed, and went on a small trek were we saw a bamboo nursery and bamboo houses being made.In uravu we saw women working with bamboo and making lampshades ,it was good to see that they enjoyed what they did and were really good at their work. DSCN4978.JPGDescription: Macintosh HD:Users:akshitakothari:Desktop:kerela pics:kerela trip my pics:DSCN4951.JPG
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 On the17th morning we had our breakfast and started for the day, we went to visit the clusters, which were NIRAVU, UNARVU, SNEHA and SOUBHAGYA. In which Niravu made photo frames out of bamboo sticks.  Unarvu made bamboo jewelry, Sneha made wall hanging, masks, photo frames, pen stands. And Soubhagya made things like spice box ,flasks , baskets etc.
In al of these clusters the women were really very skilled and  were just lacking a proper exposure.
18th morning we started and after a long gypsy ride we reached Edakkal caves, and after a very long trek we reached the top ,at the entrance gate and saw the caves , I dint find it that interesting as the guide was a bit less interactive and the place should be a more interesting , so that people have fun looking at it keeping in mind the ancient beauty of it ,but anyways we had a lot of fun on our way back from the caves , Description: Macintosh HD:Users:akshitakothari:Desktop:kerela pics:kerela trip my pics:DSCN5291.JPG secretly eating the precut sour fruits. Then we went to have lunch and after that headed towards the museum which was in Kalpatta , after that the last and the most refreshing spot for the day we went to the water fall in Soojipara and had a lot of fun .It was nice of the caretakers who actually took care of certain things like helped people to cross the slippery path in the waterfall  .One thing which should be taken care of is that the inclision of washrooms and changing rooms so that there is no dirt spread in side the waterfall , and also to take care of the women or girls who don’t enter the waterfall because of there not being a proper changing room . Then we started on our way back, after a very long day to the swami Nathan foundation.
19th morning was very refreshing as we went for a biodiversity trek, and achieved quite a good height and also learned about a few medicinal plants and herbs, then we came back had our lunch and headed towards a school KANAVU ., I really liked the way they took upp the method of gurukul , and also was happy to see that the children there could also dream like free birds and choose their own line , but because of not been registered under government they had lack of funds and so could not come up to certain things.

20th our last day, today was the hands on experience day were we had to make something out of bamboo putting in our own design ,we were given three sectors i,.e handicraft , weaving and sculpture . and I selected weaving as I was willing to make a lantern . we started to work as a team and first made a rough design on paper and discussed how to go about it , there was a lady guide who told us that the design was practically possible and so we started to make it . We learned many teqniques so as to how to handle bamboo as a material and while we were working, all of a sudden I remembered the assignment which was given to me by Narendra and it was all about portraying the material exactly the opposite of its properties , example make metal look as liquid , and so was bamboo , it was a really flexible material and had many positive things which could be discovered while working with it .We ended the day with something productive made by us, and was a really good experience.

The language was a big problem anywhere and everywhere we went, but we had Kaushika with us, which made it way simpler for us to go about it.

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A non-governmental organization (NGO) is a citizen-based association that operates independently of government, usually to deliver resources or serve some social or political purpose.
Established in 1966 Uravu started its journey as a joint venture for social well being and sustainable development. URAVU is a NGO working for the upliftment of rural area by providing skill and training in bamboo craft and promotes social entrepreneurship based on value addition of local natural resources. The main focus is on developing bamboo-processing skills among rural women through training programs and introduction of appropriate tools, technologies and processes. The organization is a boon to the deprived local artisans. Uravu also undertakes several projects to protect bamboo as well as other natural resources. A bamboo nursery run by Uravu supplies planting materials of various species to local farmers and conducts mass planting programs. Uravu also promotes farmers' self-help-groups, floriculture groups etc.
Uravu also organizes a bamboo festival every year, in which they exhibit all their bamboo products and this should be actually be nicely advertised on a large scale so that people know about it , so that they have higher prospects , which would help them grow slowly.


Bamboo is found abundantly in Wayanad and Uravu and encourages the traditional technology and craftsmanship of the tribes in creating a whole range of products using bamboo. There are about 136 species of bamboo .Their livelihood is completely dependent on bamboo since it is the base material, and so they should refurbish the same so that coming generations can use bamboo and the cycle moves on. The uravu people also make bags out of bamboo and jute , in which bamboo is grown in town but jute is bought from outside and so jute can be partially replaced by banana stem as they also have plenty of banana trees.


Bamboo is Biodegradable and so is globally acceptable and if this can be advertised in a proper manner, the importance of the material and its products will increase and so will the production. I think that they should also export bamboo products to other countries that are concerned about the concept of GO GREEN. The people of Uravu have got plenty of skill but at the same time they lack the exposure of the outside world that once attained by them will open doors to success and economic development. A method of getting this exposure could be sending a few of the children to other states and countries for educational purposes as when they will come back they will bring with them the ideas and styles from around the world. The expense of the education will be treated as an investment and not a waste.
This step will bring in the outside market because such a environment friendly product has so much future prospects, and I am sure people would like to buy example as now people go in particular to china to buy furniture, then why not Uravu.


Starting with Uravu I think, Uravu even after making  such awesome bamboo handicraft and bamboo bags and stuff it is not that useful as it has not got a proper promotion for its products and has no advertisements at a big scale ,now looking at other side of the coin i.e about what kind of products does Uravu make i.e pens , photo-frames , pen stand and these kind of stuff is fine and decent enough to buy but Uravu being so good at bamboo craft and after having a good work force can also look into home appliances and furniture as it could make a difference , and people may come to buy bamboo furniture . The main thing what I think is that Uravu should realize the actual benefit of bamboo and should make that benefit as their plus point and apply it in making product accordingly such as board games, they can start a different unit for toys which are probably long lasting and can also be disposed off. For example they can also make bamboo chess board, and it would even look interesting.
Now talking about the clusters, when I visited Soubhagya the cluster which made jewelry , I made a warli art on one of the pendent and they really liked it and said that this is what the market likes and they told me to give them some more designs on paper but I personally knew that the designs weren’t that great , but due to lack of exposure they dint see much before it .

Friday, 23 November 2012


Written by : Anumeha Jain

I was looking forward to my first college trip, and I was extremely enthusiastic and curious about the place we were supposed to explore. The fact that I hadn’t been to Wayanad, Kerela before was one of the major reasons for my elation. I still had my doubts though. But when I reached there, I wasn’t even close to being disappointed.

The rays of the sun reflected on the window and shone on my face. Lush trees amidst the fog surrounded the M.S. Swaminathan research foundation. A tiny part of the sun peeped through those trees, straight into our room. And then I knew,I was already in love with this destination.

It turned out to be a completely new learning experience. Now, I am more informed and conscious about the things I had only read about earlier.

The Wikipedia teaches me that the definition of tribal is a group of people who are food-gatherers (without any habit of agricultural practice), with diminishing population and very low or little literacy rates and can be called Primitive Tribes. Yet this trip has managed to change my stereotypical mind-set, broken my assumptions about the indigenous people (“Tribal”) and has forced me to believe the contrary of this definition. It has further helped me to understand the different systems in our society.

During the first day, it occurred to me that NGOs are a system and managing them properly is the pivotal part for this system to be successful. For instance, Uravu. Uravu’s aim was to give the aboriginal (especially females) the platform they required without enforcing it onto them. Their main intention is not to make people work under them, but to provide employment, empowerment and dignify their identities. The profit Uravu makes isn’t used to start another business venture, but for the betterment of the workers and products they make. The fact that they were ready to intervene, empower and back out made it a unique system in itself.

The system felt right yet wrong at the same time. I was extremely impressed by the fact that Uravu had managed to bring about a complete change in their lifestyles by uplifting them to a new platform. But the lack of opportunities disturbed me deeply. If the same funds that were being used to promote their skills, could’ve been used to provide further education to them (since most of them were educated till 12th), they could’ve taken the same skills to a higher grade, promoted them in a better market and could’ve had a better living style within a matter of 5 years or so.
Though, there is a part of the system that could be applauded. They have successfully managed to upgrade the lives of these women. Not a single month passes without salary and they save enough funds to educate their children. They have learnt how to be independent and preserve their dignity.
And hence, their efforts are exemplary.

What fascinated and shocked me was that Uravu was willing to give employment yet the people were unwilling to work, choosing against the job security provided by them.
Such NGOs play a major role in affecting the aboriginal communities. But even Uravu, though successful in their efforts, needs a design upliftment in terms of exploration and management.

The next day was interesting and attention grabbing because I had to understand and face the issues that I had only read about- SHGs, unemployment, government schemes, wages. I couldn’t ignore the fact that they made 150 a day, while the jewelry I bought that day itself cost me 260/-. The one advantage they had over other villages in India was the availability of electricity. And hence, to increase the production, machines and tools can be experimented with.
To improve their marketing and brand name, and to rise at an individual level, the SHGs should break off from Uravu once they’re stable and promote themselves all over India instead of restricting themselves to Wayanad.
Going from one cluster to another I realized that the design of their products was pretty average and lacked utility. They weren’t efficiently utilizing their potential. Lack of exploration has actually affected their marketing system. Even though what they make is aesthetically beautiful, people don’t end up buying it because of lack of utility.
They should modernize their designs according to what the requirements of 
the market, else it would be really hard for them to compete with the products 
in the urban market. They should break away from the common convention, 
and Uravu should help them for promoting the same. They can also involve 
designers from various colleges for new designs and stay in touch with them 
through a blog.
They should explore more with the unique qualities of bamboo and experiment with the 136 species, instead of using repetitive designs. They can also make brochures of their work, and take orders for bulky stuff like furniture or try making new things in the gaming field. For storage and transportation, a fixed price can be contributed initially.
A change in the mindsets of people who treat them as backward also needs to be inspired.

Another issue that I observed was ‘Education’.
Even though Kerala has the highest literacy rate in India, education doesn’t seem to be sorted for the indigenous groups. For instance, Kanavu.
There approach to education was contemporary and forward, which untagged them from being “primitive”. They used ‘practical application’ as their main agenda, so that the students not only learn the facts, but also apply them to everyday lives. Due to this reason their curriculum included subjects like music, dance, martial arts, physical health, cinema and above all, they teach them the subject of humanity – which is extremely essential as being human is the study above all. On top of that, students have the complete liberty to choose the field of specialization.
According to me this approach should be followed, not only in the Indian system of education, but also worldwide, because it generates a high number of opportunities for the students. And in areas such as Wayanad, where there is a high requirement of social mobility for the various tribes to mix up, this school acts as a medium to do so as well.
Yet this system did not manage to retain itself, due to the lack of necessary funding. They managed to get some funds by forming troops and performing whenever given the chance, but that doesn’t fulfill the requirement to run the school. They have an urgent and crucial need to register with the government, because the government will not only advertise and make their school official, but also provide them with the required funds.

A problem they might face is the intervening of the govt. but I think that both the systems can be interdependent and work together. Instead of using the government as a disadvantage, they should use them as an advantage to improve their schooling process. Making it an official school might even reduce the number of drop out students.
They could also consider collaboration with some other recognized school with similar ideologies.

Another major issue involving their community according to me is the loss of their true identities and tradition. There culture is getting lost in the race to promote common education. And hence there is an urgent need to preserve it. Increased exposure at a very early age is also leading towards the major issue of alcoholism and violence.
I would suggest making of documentaries, films etc to make people aware of their community’s importance and significance. Till the time these people are empowered enough to take their own stand, others will continue to exploit them at all stages; for which, equal education for all becomes crucial.

Another important lesson that I learnt in the past 5 days would include the value of our heritage and the need to preserve it. What amused me was how a particular finding can change the history of the world. Proper preservation of such areas becomes highly important.
Edekkel caves were a fun learning experience. What I loved the most about the place was the natural surroundings. Making proper roads and stairs would’ve spoilt the natural ambience. But what they really needed to improve was the protection methods. Govt. should at least put a glass covering to protect the inscriptions on the walls.
The tribal museum could also use the same suggestions, because both the 
places couldn’t retain the crowd. The abandoned feel degraded the ambience 
further. Even though it was interesting to look at but not informative enough.
They should at least provide more information about the inscriptions so that people’s interest is maintained. To further improve the facilities and market these places, skilled guides who know multiple languages should be hired to show around the place. A lot of the free area outside could be use as another tourist attraction, or probably just a momento shop that the museum could lead to.
(Even a bamboo shop could be made to promote the work done by the clusters)
Eco tourism was another challenging part of the course. There is so much debate on the definition itself. The Soochipara waterfall, on one side was absolutely beautiful, yet on the other hand a little disturbing. Proper toilets and changing rooms should be made somewhere close by so that the waterfall isn’t trashed and mishaps don’t take place.

Continuing on the same line, we went to the Biodiversity Park for trekking. Not only did we manage to achieve a great height but we also managed to learn about some of the extremely beautiful parts of the environment. The variety of flora and fauna amazed me. From spiders, ants and flowers that resemble peacocks to herbs that cure health, coffee and banana plantations (lemon tree, plant that cures arthritis, eucalyptus), we covered it all.
These medicinal plants can prove to be of extreme help to the aboriginal people.
Since they are unconsumed resources going to waste, judicious use of such 
plants can be made to add onto the funds of the school, or even for the clusters. But only the people who are learned enough about the herbs should manage them, 
because over- exploitation might lead to problems in the overall society in the 
Natural resource management becomes a pivotal requirement in order to move towards sustainable development. The natural beauty needs to be retained.

The last day was full of enthusiasm as we got to make our own products! The hands on experience made us learn more about bamboo as a product. Even though I failed  to make a book rack in one day, they approved and appreciated my design. It was a cumbersome task, but if given the chance, i would go back and work with bamboo again.

According to my point of view, the defect did not lie in the system, but the management and the marketing procedure, which can be improved. For improving the marketing system, they have to move beyond Wayanad, and be open to more exposure. The fact that they restrict themselves to Wayanad, results in limited sales. Considering the amount of skill and training they have, financial aid would take them to new heights, and help them achieve their maximum potential.
At designers level we need to start questioning the already existing perception. Positive steps need to be taken towards helping such communities sustain by themselves without harming the environment as a whole, which will further lead to sustainable development. The Policy decisions should be made at the base level and awareness about all the schemes like tribal act, NREGA , right to education should be generated. We need to be judicious and sensitive towards their system. NGOs like Uravu need to be advertised in bigger cities like Bangalore, Delhi etc.
A commendable effort needs to be made in order to change the portrayal of various communities in the urban system, before the beauty of those communities is lost.
The urban people need to reach out to the others who are in need of help. New design perceptions need to rise.

This trip was a new and refreshing point in my life. I did a lot of things I never thought I would. I spoke a new language without really knowing it, ate food without spoons, without even knowing what it was, worked with bamboo and failed in the attempt of making furniture in a single day, had intense interaction with the locals, without even realizing the language barrier, realized that 5 days are enough to make good friends, ran downhill, got wet in the waterfall, jumped from one bed to another fighting with pillows, made sense less songs and yelled them a the top of my voice, learnt that you don’t really need a reason to laugh, got a new perspective about design, and on the whole, I realized that this is that time of my life that I will never be able to forget.

Now when I look back, I can easily claim that I’ve bought a lot of things back from this trip.


Tribal Act

Right to Education Act

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