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Thengapalli review: Celebrating the might of tribal women as eco-warriors

Release Date: 07 May 2021

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Sukhpreet Kahlon

The short documentary will be screened as part of the virtual Rising Gardens Film Festival.

“This is our forest. We protect it,” asserts a tribal woman as she sets out with a group of women, armed with a thick wooden staff, to patrol the forest. Directed by Vandana Menon, Vivek Sangwan, and Debashish Nandi, the short documentary, Thengapalli celebrates the sheer perseverance of village women, who, harassed by the timber mafia for decades, decide to take matters into their own hands to save their lifeline, the forest. The title refers to the practice of forest patrolling, which has been taken up voluntarily by tribals in parts of Odisha. 

In the film, women recall that the forests had been completely denuded by rampant afforestation, a situation exacerbated by the inability of forest officials to keep the timber mafia at bay. Denied a voice by local authorities and kept out of the decision-making process, they decided to take matters into their own hands in a bid to save the forest.  And so they patrol the area, together with the men, taking turns to nurture nature and help it flourish.

Community-based forest management systems have been successful in various part of the world as villagers are made stakeholders in the well-being and protection of forests and the film traces the journey of the forest and its caretakers. However, now that the forest has flourished under the watchful eye of the tribals, the authorities are demanding that the forests be handed back to them. The documentary examines the perseverance of the women as they refuse to cower down before the authorities, as one of them says, “We have raised this forest, we will not relinquish it.”

The film is a bit repetitive and one wishes that other facets of the struggle of women in asserting their voice could have been explored. Nonetheless, Thengapalli is the exposition of a crucial practice, one that safeguards our future. This is a story about resistance of women, by women, for humanity at large. 

The film will be screened as part of the virtual Rising Gardens Film Festival that will be held online from 16-19 April 2021.

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