Design Jatra started with the urge of the founding members to do something meaningful in their native land and with their native people. However, this was not a top-down decision made overnight. The initial years of Design Jatra were just friends coming together every week to discuss future possibilities of collaboration — not only with each other but also with the native tribals of their district. The Umbilical Connection series was an outcome of these discussions.
Realizing that we as people hardly knew anything about the context we were set to work with, we decided to plan a three year long documentation project set in the village of Veti-Murbad. This village would later become the location of our office to come. In the month of May 2013, we started this program with an intention of just understanding the village.
A group of around 20 students came together to document the various aspects of the village. The methodology chosen for documentation was more ethnological than architectural. Students would spend days with certain families in the village and help them in their daily lives. Observations made by these students are now being compiled into various documentaries about tribal life in the region.
The second workshop series in May 2014 focused on documentation of the tribal commons, majorly the forests. Our studio — back then, a small open verandah in the village — played host to ecologists, architects, foresters and tribal forest guides. Intense documentation followed, both of the tribal commons as well as the issues related to the sustainable use of the same, leading to a pressure analysis of the utilized resources. This gave us a very comprehensive understanding of how resources in such a context are used and how we could be using them more sustainably.
The final leg of the workshop in May 2015, focussed on taking the findings of the first two years as a basis to formulate a participatory action plan with the community of the village. As a result, the Saksham Self Help group was formed. The group of tribal youth and architects then explored several options of possibilities for sustainable development. Various initiatives like the Seed Bank Initiative and Tokar were born through these deliberations. And many more are yet to come. These three years, with our attempt at creating a repository of local knowledges, transformed us. It made us familiar with the tribal ethos of the area. It also led us to facilitate bottoms-up development opportunities for the village. We hope to facilitate more such programs in whichever context we choose to engage with. We are also confident that such organically built relationships are essential when it comes to grassroot development programs.
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