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Devidas Gaonkar is a poet and journalist, and a proud member of the indigenous Velip tribe. He lives in a remote forest reserve not far from the beautiful and touristic beaches of South Goa. Devidas dropped out of school in 2003 because there was no money for education, and of boredom if he had note found film-making, his passion.
One of the earliest members of Video Volunteers, Devidas has used camera and storytelling to document the struggles of his own community against the rampages of mining, focusing on the environment, tribal rights and fading traditions, all of which found no place in mainstream media.
He has captured the Velip community's oral stories on video to stop it from being erased in the coming future. "There are stories about jungle lore and the importance of the environment. Almost all the stories are narrated in a local adaptation of the Konkani language,” says Devidas, who has captured several of these stories on his camcorder. One of his first stories documenting his tribe's folk music - Sarantari which captures his tribe's cultural and genealogical history.
Having lived in the rich surroundings of Canacona and witnessing the effect of environmental damage on the surroundings, Devidas knows the importance of environmental preservation. Asking the hardest questions when addressing the most difficult situations has not only reconnected Devidas with his community but has helped his community win some important battles. When the tribe's home, the Canacona Forest reserve's indigenous flora was under threat at the hands of the Goan Forest Department, it was Devidas's insistence for answers and action that led the whole community to join hands. In the battle that lasted one and a half years, Devidas gathered village residents, youth leaders and students and eventually won the rights to keep the indigenous flora of the forest reserve.
Devidas mantra to bring justice to marginalised communities across the country? He says “If you or your community is suffering from any problems, come together as one and fight the problem. Become your own saviour.”