Tribal welfare worker Somanna from H.D. Kote gets Padma Shri 
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Tribal welfare worker Somanna from H.D. Kote gets Padma Shri 

January 27, 2024

Mysore/Mysuru: Somanna, a tribal welfare worker from Jenu Kuruba community, hailing from Althalhundi Moththa tribal hamlet (Naganahalli Gram Panchayat) at H.D. Kote in Mysuru has been selected for the Padma Shri Award by the Central Government in the Unsung Hero category for his commendable social work. 

Filled with joy over the prestigious award, Somanna told Star of Mysore that his journey has been a prolonged struggle, and he is grateful to be acknowledged by the Central Government alongside numerous other unsung heroes who persist in their efforts despite many adversities. 

Expressing his gratitude, he remarked, “Everyone has supported me and shown their love irrespective of caste, creed and social barriers. Even the media has shed light on tribal welfare, revealing the challenges faced by tribals under administrative control. I am truly astonished to realise that grassroots activists like me have been recognised.”

At 66 years old, Somanna has dedicated over four decades to the upliftment of the Jenu Kuruba tribe, a honey-collecting community comprising around 40,000 individuals. His notable contributions include assisting over 500 tribal communities in obtaining title deeds, ensuring their legal recognition and protection in forest areas. 

Somanna’s commitment extends to environmental conservation, advocating for the preservation of natural habitats. Having experienced bonded labour earlier in life, Somanna transitioned to become a staunch advocate for the rights of tribal people. 

16 years as a bonded labourer

The ninth child of his parents, Somanna survived along with his sister after losing his siblings to various diseases. Having studied until class 4, he spent 16 years as a bonded labourer in Althalhundi until the Bonded Labour Abolition Act of 1976 provided relief. After the implementation of the Land Reforms Act, which conferred land occupancy rights to tillers, Somanna fought for and secured 31 guntas of land for himself. 

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Somanna’s real life story resembles the story of the recently released Kannada movie ‘Kaatera’ starring Darshan Thoogudeepa, where the protagonist tackles many challenges to help the farmers of his village implement Land Reforms Act in order to escape from the atrocities of feudal landlords.

His journey in tribal welfare, tribal rights and conservation of the forest and environment began in 1978. He played a crucial role in the protests against a five-star resort in the ecologically sensitive zone of Nagarahole in the 1990s and even pledged his wife’s ear top (vole) to collect money for the legal battle. Additionally, he fought for the implementation of the Forest Rights Act of 2006.

Beyond his advocacy work, Somanna engaged in a relentless struggle against the eviction of tribals from forests and even acted in a Kannada movie, ‘Kanneri’ depicting the tribal struggle. He has served as the District President of Jilla Budakattu Krishikara Sangha and is also an agriculturist by profession. 

Misses Rajyotsava Award

Interestingly, in 2016, he was honoured with the ‘People’s Rajyotsava,’ conferred by activists after his name was omitted from the official list of the Karnataka State’s Rajyotsava Award. Somanna lost his wife Rajamma on Jan. 7 and the Padma Shri comes at a time of his grief. He has two sons and two daughters.

Somanna has collaborated with organisations like ‘Aadivaasigala Munnata Sangha of Kerala,’ and represented the tribal community of India in a conference organised at Philippines in 1991.

Along with another author, Ksheera Sagar, Somanna has written four novels including ‘Jene Nee Aakashada Aramaneye’ (which was made into ‘Kanneri’ movie) and ‘Aadivasigala Makkala Vidyaabhyaasa’ which have become movies, ‘Hasirodala Dani’, ‘Aadivasigala Antharaala’.


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