Droughts and Tribal Sustenance

drought pti

As most of the country reels from the shock of the water shortage, those who belong to the marginalized classes of the society have water taken away right in front of their eyes, from the very places where they live in need and desperation of finding water to drink. In Mokhada, close to 150 km from Mumbai, the commercial capital of the country, people are fighting a life and death battle each day to survive on the minimal amount of water that they are left with. With the drought affecting about 330 million of the Indian population, and the vagaries of the “non-existent” Global Warming raising temperatures year after year, the poorest of the poor are having their life literally leeched out by the high temperatures and lowering water levels.

The census town of Mokhada, which lies in the Konkan region of Maharashtra is predominantly occupied by tribal population, most of whom rely upon the forest for their livelihood and survival. The area, filled with lush green vegetation and forests, has five rivers originating from the region, while those who live there walk for miles to collect drinking water. Several years of neglect by the State and the Central Government for the populace of the region is only contrasted by its subservience to the urban population who rely upon the very region for their daily water needs. The five rivers in the area feed four dams, all of which together cater to more than a thousand million liters of water to Mumbai, while the tribals themselves live in a constant state of distress.

Most tribal women in the area wake up at ungodly hours to travel miles to dig holes to find water in the forests of the region, risking disease and contamination on a daily basis, destined only to watch the pristine river water flowing out of their reach. The wildlife and the rough terrain only add to the misery of gaining access to water, while facing a clear case of environmental racism.

Moving further into the hinterlands of Maharashtra, one stands witness to an unprecedented phenomenon of ghost villages and towns around Beed in the Marathwada region, where several villages have been emptied due to the scarcity of water. This can largely be attributed to the fact that the region’s water infrastructure caters largely to the industrial and urban needs, which are geographically concentrated, while the geographically distributed needs of the rural population are ignored. This assumes further severity among the marginalized sections of the society like the tribals of Maharashtra, who are largely dependent on water and forest as a means for their livelihood. With about 80% of Maharashtra and 78% of Karnataka being drought prone, the water distribution infrastructure of the region still caters majorly only to the urban populace, while largely ignoring the lives of farmers and tribals, to whom the government can only offer a stepmotherly treatment.

Elsewhere in Odisha, surrounding the Bonda hills live the Bonda tribes, one of the PVTGs- or the Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups. Divided into the Upper Bonda Tribes and the lower Bonda tribes, these tribes still have stuck to their own traditional methods to form a self-sufficient society, which has increasingly been disturbed with deforestation and climate change. The practices of shifting agriculture, or dongar chaas, become increasingly difficult owing to government legislation banning the practices, and the lack of water due to the drought. In this case, the government laws regarding the banning of shifting agriculture are regressive in the view that these practices cause deforestation. On the contrary, the tribals usually burn only the undergrowth to plant a variety of seeds which are usually more nutritious than the wheat and paddy that the government wants them to produce. Their self-sufficient systems thus disrupted, these tribes now have to rely on government mechanisms in order to find sustenance. However, inefficient government machinery feeds them with propaganda, but not with any food. For a tribe that has forever grown its own crops and domesticated cows and pigs for beef and pork, the new narrative from the schools that the children go to forbids them from cow and pig slaughter and makes them reliant on the nearby markets which require money, a concept that they did not require in plenty owing to their self-sufficiency. This forced integration of ideology without a proper development mechanism in place has destroyed livelihoods, their identity, self-reliance and started a phenomenon of migration to other states, in a quest for economic improvement.

The drought has also affected tribal populations by bringing down the Minor Forest Produce or MFP, which accounts for more than 40% of their total income. The absence of honey bees, nuts, and fruits has affected their gathering practices of various forest produce, further pushing them to the brink of starvation. With no official nomenclature for forest drought and no mechanisms in place, the tribals’ are subject to a two-pronged attack on both their agriculture and gathering practices, leaving them with no path to turn into in order to meet even the minimum needs and sustain their traditions.

The argument here is not a question of just the drought, or the benefits being made available to them owing to the short term phenomenon of the drought. This must be viewed in the larger context of continued marginalization, and the environmental racism that these tribes face, in spite of being closest to the natural resources that they should rightfully have access to. The government, in its quest for development and modernization, has continually ignored the needs of these people to cater to the needs of the rich and the affluent, supplying water and other natural resources to the wealthy and “productive” industries, destroying self-sustaining communities in the process. With the continual denial of any global warming, the government further displays a callous attitude that indicates no intent to change, let alone change itself to be seen in the near future. As the lives of the people grow more and more desperate, the children of the Indian forests seem to have no option but to suffer in silence.

Kasinadhuni M is an aware citizen who believes in the upliftment of the marginalized and the provision of equal opportunities for every human, irrespective of caste, creed and religion.


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