The so-called civilised society has a lot to learn from the tribals.

Acceptance speech – Hannumappa R. Sudarshan / VGKK

Dear Friends,

With a sense of joy, appreciation and gratitude for the deep concern of the noble people of the Right Livelihood Award Foundation in conferring the award for the humble work done by us at yet another part of the globe, I accept this award, though with some hesitation that there is a lot more work to be done. I thank all the concerned who have taken our work so kindly to heart with great concern.

As a medical student in the late sixties, I was inspired by the ideal of Swami Vivekananda, Gandhi and Albert Schweitzer. After finishing college education I had the choice of working for the poor in remote areas or at hi-tech hospitals and I chose the former. This ultimately brought me to the tribal people of B. R. Hills where I and my friends are working for the past fifteen years. I had landed up at B.R. Hills with the idea of just doing curative health services and I thought medicines would be a panacea for all the ills of tribal people but found in due course that what they needed was something beyond that: education, organisation and consequent redemption from hunger, ignorance and exploitation – subtle or gross.

Here I may mention the two popular theories, poles apart, held by experts regarding tribal development. Some anthropologists seem to believe that there should be absolutely no intervention in the tribal life whereas a few modem development enthusiasts hold that tribals should be totally amalgamated to the mega culture with a big bang. We do not subscribe to both these theories and think that tribal development is a gradual silent process which needs thoughtful action, giving due regard to their culture and tradition. Efforts are made in our work also accordingly so as to blend with their values.

In order to achieve our goal of tribal development Vivekananda Girijana Kalyana Kendra (VGKK) was founded in 1980 (formally registered in 1981) with the following main objectives:

* To make tribal people realize the dream of a self-reliant united and progressive Soliga society.

* To elicit latent human potentials of the tribals through motivation, education and training, keeping intact their intrinsic values.

* Promote people’s organisations (sanghas)

VGKK is governed by a Governing body of seven members, five of whom are ‘yajamans’ (Chieftains) in their ‘podus’ (Village).


Health has been the entry point the rough which we started our social work and I found that there is a lot to learn from the people’s traditional health practices. For example the Soliga type of delivery viz. delivery in the squatting posture has advantages of gravity and comfort for the mother; the external versions done by the traditional birth attendants also speak of their expertise in the subject, as a result of which there are very few complications in child delivery. As regards tribal traditional medicine, 30-40% of illnesses can be managed in its fold and can well serve Primary Health care. The simple life style of tribals and living in harmony with nature has helped them to be free from stress related illnesses. The so called civilized society has a lot to learn from the tribals.

Our programmes in health include Tribal Hospital with 10 beds, outpatient unit, Mobile Medical Unit, Community Health, Sickle cell Anaemia research and screening, training of house surgeons and Health workers, Nutrition program and Promotion of Traditional medicine.

An off-shoot of our health program is Karuna Trust for addressing Leprosy, Epilepsy and Tuberculosis in the entire Yelandur taluk for 70,000 population (BR Hills is a part of Yelandur Taluk). Survey, Education and Treatment method is followed and during the past six years, leprosy prevalence has gone down from 21.4 to 0,39. Similar progress is being observed in the other two diseases which were taken up later.


The tribals do suffer social inequality and much worse, exploitation and the cause is not far to search. In the ever changing competitive world, lack of education does have a big say. But in the tribal context, for the children who are used to more outdoor activity and forest oriented outlook, just formal education is neither possible nor desirable. Hence innovative education, by way of qualifying the academic with five components viz. value based, experiential, vocational training inbuilt, environmental and social work education, is being done with an overtone on tribal culture. In our tribal school there are 450 children in 1 to 10th standards and another 200 children are also cared for in other schools. There are 150 boarders. Another healthy trend is that girls are also now showing up in the schools and their education is getting a boost.


The tribal areas are normally in the thick forest and hence there is little scope for land based activity. Also with increase in population some of the family members need alternative occupation. A third consideration is meeting of simple services like tailoring within the community itself, so that the dependence is removed and not much money is drained to the outside. Tribal youth get benefited.

With the above points in mind we have started a Vocational Training Centre which trains tribal youth, both men and women, in about 16 crafts. These are Agarbathi (incense sticks), Tailoring, Knitting, Handloom weaving, Hand spinning, Handicrafts in wooden articles and inlay work, Cane and Bamboo craft, Bakery, Candles, Lacquering and Dolls, Herbal and minor forest produce processing, MCR (micro-Cellur rubber) footwear for leprosy patients, welding and fabrication, Printing (letter press), bee keeping and carpentry. These crafts are done under our own arrangement except a few in which we are associated with KVIC (Khadi and Village Industries Commission) and “ishwa” (Government of Kamataka) programmes.

Another dividend of the Vocational training section has been the possibility created to conduct literacy classes to tribal youth and also organize them into a dynamic group. Most of them have joined the cultural Activity Group which takes part in village development.

In addition to the above trainings, self help activities such as dairy, poultry, fisheries are also done. A EDP (Entrepreneurship Development Programme) cell takes care of the entrepreneurship training for tribal youth.


Community organisation has been the sheet anchor on which empowerment of people is done. Earlier the tribal people had their Nyaya Panchayat (court of Justice). With a slight reformation of the earlier Panchayat the present People’s organization (Sangha) has been formed. The educated youth is the secretary of the SAS (Soliga Abhivriddhi Sangha) in each village. A group of such Sanghas have come together to form Taluk (Tehsil) SAS, which is the functional unit for taluk level and all important matters. We have nearly a hundred village sanghas in the four taluks of Yelandur, Chamarajanagar, Kollegal and Nanjangud in the Mysore District.

The taluk San-has of our district (Mysore) have joined hands together to form ‘Zilla Samithi’ (State Level Committee).

It is a matter of great pride and confidence that one tribal youth by name Muthaiah from our pail is the convenor of the committee. Similarly we, voluntary organisations working for tribals, have also come together to form Tribal Joint Action Form at the State level.


Yet another programme is the Conservation of Medicinal plants in collaboration with Foundation for Revitalization of Local Health Traditions (FRLHT) and DANIDA. It has programmes such as raising Herbal Garden, Gene Park. Herbal Plants Nursery and Herbarium. Another programme of production of herbal medicines is also on the anvil. As another part of the environment (Biodiversity) protection activity, efforts are made to enrich people’s knowledge and specially youth are addressed.

Also people’s social action was undertaken to stop black granite quarrying at the hills which was damaging the flora and fauna of the virgin forests.


I have been associated with VHAA I (Voluntary Health Association of India, New Delhi), VHAK (Voluntary Health Association of Kamataka, Bangalore) and Federal ion of Voluntary Organisation in Rural Development (FEVORD-K) working for the policy changes in Health and Tribal development.

VGKK supports other organisations than self-expansion and some innovative youthful social workers and doctors who were associated with us have started their own organisations. Even this prize money is intended by us to support such voluntary cause.

At this memorable juncture I wish to place on record my heart-felt gratitude to all the philanthropists and other noble persons who have helped us, the Government and non-government officials, our spirited staff at VGKK who have worked day and night for the tribal cause and last but not least, the tribal people themselves who have risen to the occasion and achieved their goal to a large extent.

Thank you!

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