People We Serve...

Besides the Emergency Relief and Rehabilitation Programs of JVS, as a Development Organization, since last one decade our Organization has been working in 100 Tribal villages of Melghat in Amravati District. Since the year 2003, JVS expended its program interventional areas and began to cover about 40 rural villages in Washim District, 50 rural villages in Achalpur Block of Amravati District.

Our close interactions and working experiences with these communities have provided us with deeper insights into the rhythm of living of these communities, the daily hardships and struggles these communities go through, the way these communities remain marginalized from their own growth and development and the way they are exploited by the vested interest groups of the society, etc. The vast majority of the tribal population of working area (about 80%) consists of the indigenous tribal group known as the Korkus, Gonds, Nyahals, Gaulis Gaulans, tribes. Within the Scheduled Castes there are several sub categories.

General Health And sanitation

Due to the efforts of the government and some non-government organizations (NGOs), public health facilities have increased in the tribal and rural areas over the past years. After, 1994, a few new Primary Health Centres (PHCs) and sub-centres were set up by the government; and, outreach health programmes have been started by some NGOs. However, the incidence of diarrhea, malaria and scabies is quite high. The situation with regard to the reproductive health particularly of the adolescent girls and young women is disturbing. Due to illiteracy and absence of conscientization on social and sexual life, the number and rate of premarital sex and related pregnancies are high among the target groups. There is a lack of hygienic practices at the time of menstruation, pregnancy and childbirth.

Though, there is no medical study, but the data from informal sources indicate that the incidence of the reproductive tract illnesses (RTIs) is quite common among the tribal women. In recent times, trafficking of girls and young women from the tribal area has increased. This has considerably increased the threat of HIV/AIDS. Unfortunately, awareness among the local people about the causes and consequences of the RTIs and HIV/AIDS as well as their prevention is extremely limited. Although, the health facilities have increased in the region, these are inadequate considering the increase in the tribal population and spread of the tribal habitats. Most of the health services are concentrated in big villages, which are not easily accessible to residents of many interior hamlets. Because of the lack of transport, even the sick persons have to walk several kilometers to take advantage of available health facilities. And, often the quality of the available health services is sub-standard.

Due to the increase in population, congestion of houses in the villages has increased. People throw their household refuse and wastewater usually around their houses. In recent years, in some villages, government has made cemented drainage without any regard to the natural slope. In all such villages, the cemented drainage is full with solid wastes, which has been creating more problems for sanitation than before. Due to the absence of individual and community toilets, the Melghat tribal communities take to the practice of open edification. And so also due to the absence of the availability of sufficient water, many members of the Korku tribal communities especially the children do not take bath for days together or wash their cloths for weeks together. Safe drinking water is a major problem in these villages and the people of the area are accustomed to drinking any kind of water including stagnant river water, the very same water they use for washing their clothes for feeding the animals. Poor sanitation has a direct bearing especially on the infant mortality.

Malnutrition, stunted physical growth and retarded mental health of children Malnutrition in the Melghat region including the target villages is a chronic and recurring problem and, deeply rooted in the socio-economic backwardness of the people. In fact, it is the malnutrition induced sudden deaths among children in large number in 1994, which has brought the Melghat and the Korku tribe in the limelight.

The number of children below five years of age under the IV grade (or the most serious level of undernourishment) has reduced on account of the special efforts made after 1994. But, those children suffering from II and III grades of malnutrition are still common in all the tribal villages/hamlets. They account for more than 50%. Even minor problems with their health like, diarrhea, fever, cough and cold, etc. make their nutritional status vulnerable and push them down to more serious grades of malnutrition. The proportion of the children under different grades of nutrition/malnutrition varies from one season to another. It is more during the pre-monsoon and the monsoon months and less during the winter.

Careful observations of the malnutrition, the related situations and in-depth informal discussions with many people in villages during the course of the JVS work in the region, reveal that malnutrition and the related deaths were not of recent origin (during and prior to 1994). Whenever, there was shortage of food, or emergence of epidemics, people in the villages were dying of starvation or diseases due to lack of food. Children were dying relatively more in number. The evidence of the chronic malnutrition could be seen easily in the thin/stunted bodies of many tribals. The measures undertaken during the last 10 years have been able to control the incidence and prevalence of malnutrition and malnutrition induced deaths among children. But, these measures have not been able to increase appreciably the proportion of children whose nutritional status is " just on the border of danger line' or who are "on road to good health" according to the growth monitoring cards maintained by the Anganwadi workers. The nutritional measures which are started by the parents or introduced by the government and/or other agencies nine-ten months after the birth of a child have limited impact. It has been observed that, in tribal families, people don't give solid or semi-solid food to a child unless its teeth erupt (after 6 to 9 months, sometimes even upto 12 months). Until then, the only source of nutrition for the child is its mother's milk, which reduces progressively as the child grows; and, it is never sufficient after four-five months of age. The, women in the region are also undernourished and overwhelmingly anemic. Nutritional or even normal food intake during their pregnancy does not increase. As a result, the growth of the fetus or unborn child is usually not satisfactory. Birth of the underweight or low birth weight babies is very common among the target communities. Many of such babies, though survive, but their physical growth is stunted and mental growth is retarded. Persons with retarded physical and mental growth cannot produce children with healthy body and mind, which are important for social and economic advancement. This vicious circle continues year after year. Education

More than 75% of the adult population (aged 20 years and above) is illiterate. Illiteracy rate among the adult females is as high as 85%. According to the school registers, almost all children in the age-group 6 to 14 years are enrolled. The drop out rate among these children is more than 40%. Most of these tribal villages have only primary schools (upto 5th standards). Most of the children in these villages after completing the primary schooling do not continue their education further. The literacy rate among the children aged 6-14 years works out to be around 55%. Only about 35% of the children in this age group have studied beyond the primary level. Those completing education upto high school account for less than 15%. Education up to the high school is free. Girls are given monetary incentives for attending school. In addition, there are some Residential schools for the tribal children. In spite of all these facilities, the level of education of the tribal children has not improved much. As of now more than 40% of the girls in the age group 6-14 are illiterate, though their names are enrolled in their village schools. The dropout rate of children is on the rise for the last two years due to increased migration from the tribal area due to lack of employment opportunities on account of less rain. The drop out rate may further increase if the situation with availability of water for irrigation does not improve.

Another major problem of education is the official language of instruction. The school text books are in Marathi - the State Language. But, the tribal children know to speak only their tribal dialects. Their understanding of Marathi is very poor as their interaction with the Marathi speaking persons is extremely limited. Most of the children, especially in the interior hamlets, find it difficult to follow the text books in Marathi. Due to the language problem, the learning process of the tribal children is very slow.

The tribals and the rural communities in the region depend on the monsoons for irrigation of their crops. For the last few years, the rainfall in the rainy season has been less and irregular. Non-availability of water when needed for irrigation is becoming a major problem for agriculture, for most of the tribal farmers. It is becoming difficult to grow even one crop in a year. From the neighboring nalas and some wells, only about 15% of the agricultural land get some water for irrigation after the rainy season. But, nothing is grown in the agricultural fields during the summer.

On an average about 50% of the households of the Tribal and Rural Areas own agricultural land. Of those who own land, about 60% of them have less than 4 acres and the remaining 40% of them own more than 4 acres. 35% of the households are landless daily wage earners. Most of the agricultural practices are still primitive to a large extent. Many of the tribal farmers are using traditional methods (of ploughing, harrowing, sowing, weeding, etc.) and also traditional equipments for agriculture. The agricultural output from such methods is limited. The main crops grown are jowar, toor and Bengal gram (chana), wheat and rice.

Lack of employment/self employment opportunities leading to poverty:
Agricultural land is limited. Agricultural practices are largely primitive. Limited land and lack of irrigation make it difficult to generate additional employment for the growing population. In fact, due to wide fluctuations in the rains, lack of irrigation facilities, it is not possible for the agricultural sector to continue providing even the same level of employment opportunities every year. The forest policies have further reduced the opportunities for self-employment. Earlier, the tribals were allowed to cut bamboos, wood, and collect some other produces from the forests, which were taking care of their basic needs, at least for their survival. But, now they are not allowed to do so. These unfavorable factors combined with increasing population have been causing very serious rather unprecedented problems for economically gainful employment opportunities for the tribal population. One could see the growing effects of the lack of employment opportunities and the consequent poverty in the form of increasing seasonal migration.

There is a major road passing through the thick of the Melghat forest. There are some minor roads also connecting the Melghat area with the neighboring towns. But, a large number of villages and hamlets are still not accessible easily by four wheelers. The tribals have to walk several kilometers for reaching the main road where public transport is available. But, the frequency of the pubic transport is very limited. The people find it difficult to carry heavy goods from one place to another. One can rarely get a conveyance during the night even on the main roads. Absence of the availability of adequate transportation facilities restricts peoples movements especially when they are sick or in danger of death. It also adds to the segregation suffered by the native people.

By their very nature, the Tribal Communities of our Region are very innocent people. The unscrupulous forces in and around Melghat region try to exploit them in the areas of wages, sales and purchases, loan, interest, mortgages, government welfare schemes, etc. Some of the examples from the target villages could be mentioned as that of the labour contractors giving less wages, or taking more commission, or cheating in accounts; conductors of the passenger buses ask for changes (coins) but some of them often don't return the small balances; traders in the weekly market buy their produce very cheap and sell their own on a higher price; in matters related to bank loans, the bank managers ask for several documents, make the clients to visit the bank several times, and, when the loans are sanctioned, a cut from the sanctioned loan amount is often expected. Though, there are no moneylenders in the target villages, some shopkeepers sell their goods on credit at a very high rate of interest (5% to 10% per month). Most of the tribals lack proper knowledge and information about the government's welfare schemes meant for them. The tribal of our Region, by and large, are politically exploited groups and are used as vote-banks during the elections. Political consciousness is almost absent in these groups. Most of the times, the adults of the target groups sell their vote for a bottle of liquor or a price Rs. 10.

The tribal and rural communities of our Region are innately superstitious in nature. From birth to death, from health to illness, from house to farm, the tribal communities of Melghat area practice various kinds of superstitious practices. They relay more on mythical healing processes. For example, when a person falls sick the village magician is called up and he pierces a burning iron rod to the body of the sick person or the sick person is beaten with heated iron rod to remove the evil spirit from the sick person. These communities have more faith is such village magicians and their crude and mythical practices than to relay on medical practices which is often seen as the last resort. In this processes the family of the sick person shells out quite a lot of money to the village magicians or they are given their remuneration in the forms of goats, cocks, etc. Another example of superstitious practices of Melghat tribal communities is that at the beginning of the monsoon every householder conducts a mythical religious ceremony in his farm, offering goats and chicken to please the deity, which is followed by common drinking and celebration and in this process the family spends quite a lot of money as most of the time, they borrow money or animals for such celebrations. Giving intoxicating alcoholic drinks to sick people as cure for the sickness is quite common among the tribal communities of Melghat. Although such suppositious practices have come down in the recent past but still some of these practices are continued in varying degrees.
Consumption of local made intoxicating drinks had been an integral part of the tribal and rural life. A family or common village celebration is incomplete without common drinking. And these communities have 12 to 15 such common celebrations in the villages all through the year. During the social celebrations where common drinking is a must, even the small children are also given alcoholic drinks, which gradually form drinking habits in them. Most of such drinks are prepared in the house with the ingredients available in the village and in the nearby forest. In the Melghat Tribal communities, both the husband and wife drink equally. One of the striking things about the Melghat Tribal communities is that they have been living in these areas in the same situations since many generations. When their population was very small, the households had enough land to grow food for themselves, they had freedom for collecting the forest produces needed for their consumption and they had no restrictions on grazing their livestock on the forestland. But, in the recent years, the newly promulgated forest policies have come on their way, infringing their inalienable natural rights. Also, the land holding of each family has reduced after its division and sub-division among its male members. Due to poor land holding and absence of irrigation facilities most of the families have become economically unviable. Further subdivision of the land holdings has compelled their owners to forego them in favor of their other siblings. Some of the families with very small pieces of land have sold them. In the process, about 25% of the families have become landless. They are being segregated, alienated from the land, and uprooted from their natural way of life. In addition, some of them are being victimized and pressurized by the vested interest groups to evict from the forestland. The tribal communities, which have been instrumental in preserving the forest and maintaining its eco-systems, are now branded as destroyers of the forest and poachers of the wild animals. The Korku tribals, of the Melghat forest region, by their nature, are submissive, silent, and passive in suffering oppressions and exploitations. They are voice-less when it comes to their rights, and suffer from inferiority complexes. Absence of sufficient motivation from within the community and lack of direction and guidance from external sources have further added to their present difficult situation. Use of the primitive methods of agriculture, lack of land development, etc. keep them bound to their poverty. They have little or no purchasing power. In recent years, seasonal migration from many villages in the Melghat area has increased. It has been observed that for the tribal communities, education, good health, nutritious food and friendly environment for the growth and development of their children have not been important priorities. Beliefs such as "we live for the day", " it is our fate", "we cannot change our destiny", "some of our children will die anyway and so we will have more children", etc. act as psychological blocks in their development processes.
The root causes of almost all the above-identified problems are
1) Economic poverty leading to very poor purchasing power and subsequent seasonal migration of the whole family in search of work,
2) Illiteracy of the people leading to superstitious practices
3) The denial of the fundamental rights of the tribal as the people of the soil/Adivasis which make them victims of severe oppressions and injustices,
4) Absence of tribal-friendly Forest policies,
5) Fragmentation of ancestral agricultural land