Planet Diversity World Congress on the Future of Food and Agriculture

Selvi's story

Author: N. Selvi
Contact: Keystone Foundation
                Tamil Nadu

About Me and My family

My name is Selvi and I am 28 years old. I belong to the indigenous Kuruma community. For the past 6 years, I have been working for Keystone Foundation, a voluntary agency in the Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu, India. I was born in Selarai, one of the Kuruma villages in the Nilgiris. I am my mother's only child and she has brought me up, ever since my father left us.

About School Life

I have studied up to the 12th standard in a Tamil medium in Tribal School at Kunjapanai. Since my home is far away from the school, I stayed in a hostel for 10 years. For higher secondary school, I moved to a school in Kil Kotagiri village, which is 10 kilometers from my home. I did not study more since I wanted to start earning and support my mother. I worked for many years in a tea plantation for wages.

About my village

My village is 20 kilometers from the main town of Kotagiri. I have many cousins there. My family is a honey hunting family and we collect Non Timber Forest Produce from the forests around the village. We have revenue land but the forest department claims this is forest land and we don’t have land records which causes problems for us. We have small tea plantations in our village lands and my mother like other women in our village goes for wage work in the neighbouring large tea estates.

Near my village, there are many other people living, both non tribal and from other tribes than the Kurumas. Everywhere in this area, we see forest being converted into tea plantations. Now only small patches of forest remains. There are some disagreement between outsiders and the people living in the forest, it is a conflict about who is owning the land and has the right to use it.

About my work

After I joined Keystone Foundation initially I worked in the marketing section doing packing. During those years I watched many things about my community. I met other Kurumas from many villages and was able to see some of the issues which my people face, no land, bad housing, low wages, poor health, lack of governance. We then decided two years ago to have a program which we called Institutional Development and Local Governance. I was offered the chance to co-ordinate the project and I took it up.

Some of the activities we undertake are to hold village meetings, bring out a monthly news letter called Nilgiri Seemai Sudhi, produce an indigenous calendar for 2008, publish a book about sacred groves and facilitate environmental education programmes for the children from my community. I am really enjoying this work, and my life around it. Last year I learned a lot about cultural aspects in my job, and the work gives me opportunities to learn more.

In March 2006 I went to Pakistan to take part in the World Social Forum. This was my first flying experience and I went to several places in India like Delhi and Bhopal. I really enjoyed this trip and could hardly believe it was happening. It is very difficult to get jobs like this without higher education. I enjoy my work and have many oppurtunities to learn new things. When I joined Keystone I didn't know how to use the computer, camera or a GPS, now I do. I have moved to a rented house in Kotagiri and go to my village on long weekends. I enjoy reading articles in English as it helps to improve my skills. I write in English, Tamil and Kuruma. The Kuruma language has no script.

I like to sleep without dreams but I have many dreams for my community especially to revive our culture and traditions. I would like to work to help my people improve the health and populations. I wish to bring back our traditional agriculture so that we can eat the good food that we used to grow twenty years ago. We have lot of work to keep our culture intact.


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Local Organising Committee