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HomeGrassrootsSahariya tribal communities still live a neglected life in their remote hamlets 

Sahariya tribal communities still live a neglected life in their remote hamlets 

The Sahariyas are often named in the development schemes proposed by the government for the welfare of tribal communities. But how many of the benefits actually reach this marginalised group is moot, says Bharat Dogra and describes his recent visit to remote hamlets where the tribes live

On a visit to some remote hamlets of the Sahariya Tribe in Babina Block of Uttar Pradesh’s Jhansi District, this writer found that the Sahariya Community still lives a precarious life and struggles to meet basic needs, including water and shelter. Most Sahariya hamlets tend to be located away from the main village settlement, often on hilly land, reflecting the community’s marginalisation.

In Mathurapur Village, even the path leading to the Sahariya settlement located at a distance has been encroached upon, making the approach difficult. All except a very few families in the hamlet are landless. Only a few households have received the benefit of the PM Awas Housing Scheme. And even they had to put in some contribution of their own, and so were forced to take loans at the high interest rate of 5 per cent per month. A pipeline for water has been installed there but the people are yet to get water from the taps. The hamlet is still entirely dependent on two hand-pumps for their water needs, and in heat wave conditions the supply falls.

The Sahariyas of the village are unable to get work under government schemes and have no alternative but to migrate to places where there’s short term employment available – harvesting, for instance.  Even when they do find work in other places, living conditions can be extremely difficult as they have just a few polythene sheets or pannies as they call them, as protection from the rains and extreme temperatures.

In the Sahariya hamlet of Semariya Village, the women complained bitterly that sometimes the agreed upon wages are not paid fully and at times they aren’t paid at all.  Being in unfamiliar surroundings, they find themselves unable to counter the exploitation, they say. The Labour Department should intervene promptly when such complaints are made, and ensure that these labourers get some relief. The people say they are able to get ration supplies under the public distribution system, which is a big relief, but find it difficult to get the nutritious food from supplied by the anganwadis (nurseries or day-care centres).

This settlement in particular faces a special problem of exposure to low-hanging high tension electricity wires, a constant hazard. Some time ago, some of the wires fell and five houses in the hamlet were burnt.  Some officials visited the village to make some enquiries, but no compensation has yet reached the victims, despite their poverty and vulnerability. The villagers say a protective shield should be provided under the wires to prevent such accidents in future.

The women raise another issue – that of rampant alcoholism among their menfolk, which is draining the meagre income to which the women contribute too. The money could be better spent on nutrition, health and education, but addiction to liquor and the resultant domestic violence has a very adverse effect on children, they say. The gutkha (chewing tobacco preparation) habit too is spreading very fast, adding to the health issues of the community. The women say that along with better livelihood opportunities and welfare schemes, social reform to reduce consumption of liquor and other intoxicants are also needed.

Parmarth, a voluntary organisation, has been trying to help these communities in various ways. As Gaurav Pandey, a senior member of the Parmarth team explains, the focus is mostly on educational and water issues, but the organisation also tries to help locate employment opportunities close to home so that the need to migrate for work can be reduced. He underlines that much more needs to be done to provide more sustainable development opportunities for the Sahariya Community.

(The writer is a senior freelance journalist and author who has been associated with several social movements and initiatives. He lives in Delhi.)