This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Adivasi Lives Matter. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

My Mother Is Inspired By Birsa Munda To Protect Tribal Culture, And I’m Inspired By her

More from Adivasi Lives Matter

Written by Leelavathi and Translated from Tamil by Nisha Felicita

One of the best gifts I’ve ever received in my life was from my mother on my 33rd birthday. It was a drawing of Birsa Munda, the legendary Adivasi freedom fighter and leader. My mother is a Malekudy tribal woman, and she wanted to celebrate and remember my birthday by drawing a picture of one of the most well-known figures of Adivasi resistance. 

The drawing of Birsa Munda my mother gifted me

My mother, Kaveramma, is an educator and has a deep desire to serve as a great official to our tribal community and the larger society. She was born in the village of Yavakapady in the foothills of Tadiandamol Hill, the highest peak in Kodagu district of Karnataka. She wanted me to be a good example and become a high ranking official who would help our community and do social work. 

After marriage, I am now able to raise and educate my children, who are now from the same village as my mother. When I was a child, I used to go home once a week while I was studying at Kakkabbe Ashram School from 1st to 4th grade. I shared whatever I learned in school with my father and mother, especially the poems. They still remember some of these and teach the same songs to my children, Darshan and Sadhana. 

My mother worked as a child, and she dreamed of ensuring a different and better life for her children. She wanted us to be educated and make something of themselves. She often helped my father with his work with the community.

My father was a social worker in Kodagu district. On the day of the 50th Indian Independence Day, he was recognized and awarded for his extensive social work in the district. My mother was overjoyed that day and the look on her face as she was greeted by the Deputy Commissioner while my father received the award was priceless!

My mother worked hard to keep the work my father started going. She mentored 14 women from the Adilakshmi Self Help Groups that my father had started. 

Songs About Tribal Life

While doing her work, she used to beautifully sing folk songs in the Kodava language, many of those songs are composed by her. She used to have us write down what she composed. The songs composed by my mother are about the lives of the tribal children, the relationships of the tribals with the forests and their work for the forest. Some songs were also about the effects of human activity on the forests.

Every single word in these songs encompasses layers of meaning and guidance for human beings on how to live in harmony with nature. She also used to perform the Kodava folk dance called Ummatat with her friends and also received an award for her dancing skills. 

My Mom’s Unforgettable Cooking

Apart from her dancing, singing and professional skills, my mother is also an excellent cook. Nobody in my family can cook like her. In fact, her cooking is so delicious that the owners and staff of the Taj Hotel in Madikeri (Coorg), who enjoyed the pork curry, kanile curry, kayi puli chutney and akki roti my mother cooked, once invited my mother as the Chief Guest for an event at Taj. 

Every year for a week, about 60 to 100 people were trained by my parents, and my mom cooked for the trainees, too and everyone enjoyed the tasty dishes she cooked. 

As a tribal woman, she enjoyed an independent life, knowing the importance of education, living life in balance with the environment- knowledge she also passed down to us.

Her Cardamom Plantation And Its Destruction

Prior to the passing of the Forest Rights Act 2006, the Forest Department cut down and destroyed 10 acres of cardamom planted by her mother. When we were still children, we used to visit and help out with work at the plantations. I too had started working in the same plantation with the hope of keeping it thriving. The plantation was surveyed under the Forest Rights Act. After getting permission for it, the then Chief Minister Siddaramaiah obtained the documents for their land. 

Both my parents were labourers, but they also knew the importance of education. They knew if they sent us to school, we would read, write, and accomplish what we had in mind. They also taught us to live comfortably and content with what we have in life and not be greedy for things that are not ours. 

A newspaper clipping featuring my mother

At the forefront during tribal rights protests

Along with my husband, my mother was at the forefront of every protest organized in and around Tadiandamol Hill. During those protests, they fought for 500 acres of tribal land that was encroached upon and occupied by the upper caste men, to go back to the tribals with the proper documents. These types of protests have been the highlight of her life, these protests are the ones that left an imprint of Birsa Munda in her mind.

This drawing of Birsa Munda that she gifted me reminded me of all her struggle and strength and inspired me to be strong, just like her. I am always learning from her how to be brave, courageous and work to protect tribals, our traditions and practices so that we can pass them onto the next generation. 

My mother is a strong tribal woman, and I hope to become more like her as I grow older.

This article is created as a part of the Adivasi Awaaz project, with the support of Misereor and Prayog Samaj Sevi Sanstha.

About the author: Leelavathi belongs to the Malekudiya tribe of the Kodagu district of Karnataka. She has completed her Masters in Social Work (MSW) and is now actively working for the welfare of the Adivasis and tribals and their rights. She works with the Center for Justice and Peace in Pollachi, Tamil Nadu. She aims to promote Adivasi and tribal culture and traditional knowledge. 

You must be to comment.

More from Adivasi Lives Matter

Similar Posts

By Adivasi Lives Matter

By Adivasi Lives Matter

By Uday Che

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below