Monday, March 5, 2018

A Story of Tribal People in Satna

Guest Post By Mridul Upadhyay

Photograph Credits: Suresh Singh, Ekta Parishad
What's the best thing offered to you to eat, as a mode of gesture, when you visited someone's home?

For me it was 'clove', a spice, and it was offered to me by an old tribal woman in an Indian rural village. I don't know why it was offered instead of anything else. Maybe it was one of the costliest or most special things available in the house to offer or it's their culture to offer such things to the guests, or may be something else which I am unable to think of, because of my different upbringing. But I got to know later that it was not grown or collected, rather purchased by family from the market.

Surprisingly, the East India company brought clove from its native home in Indonesia to company's spices gardens in Tamil Nadu in 1800 AD. Then how offering it became a part of tribal family's mode of hospitality?  Agree that it is a good spice and there is a probability of it being used for a long time in India due to our efficient see trade, but, it's just that 'clove'.

Such demand and supply based globalization has also had negative effect on these minorities by affecting their choices to grow, eat and get things in market. Previously, they used to grow and have 7-8 grain meal, but now they are growing, getting and eating rice and wheat based staple food mostly, which also has led many families to malnutrition.

Previously, I used to think that I have been raised up in a lower middle class family and have been to many villages, so I know the poverty. But this village was different for many reasons. It was not just poverty. First thing was tribal population, second was people who had been displaced for 'development' and of course poverty at last.

This village is called 'Kakra' and is in Maihar block of Satna District of Madhya Pradesh.
In this village, the people settled when displaced during construction of a big dam two-decades ago. Currently, some 70
families have made their huts, kuccha houses and farms here. They have got power connection after years but fetching water is still a big issue. Now, because of construction of highway and some cement factories, the land price has increased here. So, the administration, maybe in pressure of businessmen or maybe acting from a thought of 'more development', is trying to displace them again: not letting these tribal people stay at this land as these people don't hold the property right on this land. People got shifted here with whatever they could, 20 years ago, now again you want to displace them for development!

These people, once landowners, had got money when their lands were supposed to be submerged in the water of the dam. People spent most of it in transporting whatever they had. For some, they didn't know what to do with so much money and couldn't reinvest it mindfully. Soon they lost the money and land both. Some on ground activists suggest that it would have been better if some royalties according to the area of the land is also setup for livelihood of the family.

India has over 105 million tribal people which constitute 8.6% of India’s total population. Tribal people were the native inhabitants of the land in India, before Aryans settled approximately 5000 years ago by sending tribal people to deep jungles.

Meeting tribal people is completely different reality to think about. Am I able to think for them? They are not even someone whose culture and practices I'm aware of or have been reading extensively. If I leave what I have read, a bit of history, they are as unknown to me as the people of Benin in South Africa. They were the original inhabitants of the land and I could be someone like 'Muslims for a conservative Hindu' for them. I felt like having empathy, rather sympathy, first time with Muslims, when someone told me, 'aap Arya (Aryans) hain and ye Anarya (Non Aryans)'. Many conservative Hindus think that Muslims didn’t do good when they got settled and ruled in India, then why Hindus forget that they did similar with tribal. Peace!

There are strange incidents weaved to this perspective. At a place, even after getting elected as the Gram Pradhan (Sarpanch), the ST women was stopped from hoisting the flag in village on the Independence Day, by the 'so-called' upper class people. The reason might be of being a low caste or Anaary, both status given to them by Hindus.

The struggle is not just getting empowered, standing in the election, winning it and working in the position, it doesn't end even after being the term over. The ST PRI women Sarpanch once getting elected is not able to win again when seat is not kept reserved in the next elections because of rotational basis reservation, then she's left to work in the fields of rich cultivators, Zamindars and Feudal Lords, etc again.

On the other hand, a rich and Hindu upper-class person is ruling the gram panchayat at the place of an illiterate Gond ST, whom they had adopted as their uncle and kept as puppet head of the gram panchayat because the gram panchayat seat was reserved for ST this time.

This is how class, religion and culture of majority is affecting almost everything related to these tribal people.

Aryans brought their religion which was called Hinduism later. And while making Indian constitution in 1949, tribal people were subsumed in Hindu religion. Previous social interaction with Hindu religion had diffused caste system in tribal people and constitutional process increased such forced interaction. Tribal people had been living in small groups with their local governance and rules, so there is no political unity for them to challenge strong national parties.

In the words of Santosh ji, a social worker, 'They read in secular government run schools, taught communist philosophy sometimes in workshops, approached by Christian missionaries and then at home they are tribal. They are confused of what religion/philosophy to follow. They are never trained in keeping their culture alive, which is perfect in their own imperfections. They are forgetting their rituals, festivals, traditional food and practices and following the majority around them.’

‘There is no political unity for them. There was Gondwana Samiti active till few years ago, now only national parties run the shows here. They include them in Hindus for religious vote bank politics and put them in caste system which was never a part of tribal culture. Being at lower caste level is again discriminatory for them. They include Gonds as Thakurs (middle caste Hindus) because they had Gondwana empire previously and Kols as lower caste Hindus. They also use this difference to make these two tribal communities to fight against each other. Rest, if I'm Hindu, I hesitate from eating non-vegetarian. This is happening with many of us and leading to malnutrition in us."

In the constitution, India gave freedom of worship and following religion but what if the minority is getting influenced by majority religion and culture, in an unprotected environment for them. It might not sound like atrocity crimes or genocide but it's slow, systematic and unnoticed death of diverse cultures.

These are the poorest of the poor and the most marginalized of the marginalized. Can one answer if they ask why and whom to vote in election? Who cares for such minorities of just 70 families in those rural villages? What are we doing on the name of globalization, development, economy, super power, consumerism and personal comfort? Are the developed not developing by crushing not only the dreams but lives of ‘so called undeveloped’? Have we really setup our priority perfectly and thoughtfully? Overwhelmed by all these thoughts, I kept that clove in the pocket of my shirt, close to my heart.

Mridul Upadhyay is a student of Development Leadership at Indian School of Development Management. He has been working on several UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at community, national and international levels through ground projects, activism, training and policy advocacy for last 9 years. Currently, he is the Asia Coordinator at UNOY Peacebuilders and a trustee at Youth for Peace International.