The forest people of India lost a warrior, and we all lost a brother in struggle, when Kajuam Pandu Dora died last month.
I met Pandu in Brazil during a dream-come-true learning exchange in 2016 connecting Xurkuru people in Pernambuco, Brazil with Koya Dora Adivasis people from India working in defense of their land and territory. It was one of the most impactful and spiritual experiences of my life, and my memory of Pandu Dora continues to inspire me.
I am reminded of this quote from the Xukuru People of northeast Brazil who said, “When we lose a warrior, we do not bury her. We plant her. Because from her seeds will be born many warriors.” Thanks to his many years of leadership and service to his people and Mother Earth, Pandu Dora will continue to produce resistance and power for generations to come.
Pandu Dora was a founder and national convener of the Adivasi Aikya Vedika, and instrumental in the formation of the Food Sovereignty Alliance. Grassroots International also had the honor of providing funding for Yakshi, an Indigenous Indian farmer alliance that Pandu Dora helped found. Below is a reflection from Sagari Ramdas, a member of the Food Sovereignty Alliance of India.
Kunjam Pandu Dora, a great adivasi leader, visionary and embodiment of the adivasi worldview-Buen Vivir, left us on 27th July 2019.
Pandu Dora was the founder of the adivasi community organisation Girijan Deepika (GD) in East Godavari, as also the founder member of Yakshi. He was instrumental in the formation of Adivasi Aikya Vedika( AAV) in 2001 a platform of adivasi communities from Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, and served as the National Convenor of AAV. He was also the convenor of the National Adivasi Working Group called Adivasi Dishum, a forum that bought together adivasi movements from Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Maharasthra, Gujarat, Orrissa and Chattishgarh. The group’s vision was towards asserting the Adivasi worldview and building solidarity amongst adivasis across the country.
Pandu Dora was a key member of leading the Forests Rights movement from 2002 onwards, mobilising and organising adivasis and other traditional forest dwellers across Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. He and AAV networked with several National Platforms like the Campaign for Survival and Dignity, towards the making of the Forest Rights legislation, its subsequent implementation, and in foregrounding the importance of community forest rights and customary governance. He was also a member of the International Indigenous Peoples Climate Change Assessment ( IPCCA) through which indigenous peoples from Peru, Panama, Finland, Ecuador, Thailand, China, Philippines, Kenya, Bolivia, India and North America asserted their indigenous strategies of climate resilience. The IPCCA severely critiqued the market driven, carbon trade solutions to climate change, such as REDD and REDD+. As part of building international indigenous people’s solidarity, Pandu Dora travelled widely to Brazil, Panama, China, Malaysia, Thailand and South Africa.
Under his leadership AAV played a critical role in the formation of the Food Sovereignty Alliance, India, that brought together landless, small and marginal farmers and pastoralists from Bahujan communities along with adivasis towards a common assertion of Food Sovereignty and Social Justice.
Pandu was a theatre activist, a brilliant orator, storyteller and was a repository of satirical and humorous metaphors that captivated the lives he touched. As‘ Pandu mama’ or ‘dearest uncle’ to all the children who grew up with him, his stories of animals and adivasis were mystical, entertaining and reaffirmed the coexistence and harmony between people as part of nature. His vision embraced the adivasi epistemology of thinking for future generations. His leadership and desire to build the second generation of adivasi youth leaders, was abruptly cut short, by the advanced stage of brain cancer with which he was diagnosed, and was being treated for under the best medical care, with the support from so many friends from across the world. He went peacefully, sharing with us with humour and love his last thoughts and wishes: this was to gather together – old and young, under the Jiluga chettu, one of Pandus favourite trees, which we had planted together, some 20 years ago in the middle of the GD training centre, and which was now ready for its first harvest.
To celebrate, and dream of ways to move forward in the midst of these troubling times. Pandu we miss you, but appropriately the day you moved on, was the day so many young adivasi youth gathered at Kudali- another one of the spaces we dreamed of together, continuing in the path of your struggle.