Adivasi Interaction – 17 Dec

The Jai Jagat team met two small groups of Adivasi tribes who had settled separately near villages the team walked through on its 77th day of padyatra. Two sub-groups from the core walkers stayed back to collect information and understand the issues of Adivasi groups. They then presented their findings to the Jai Jagat team and the villagers in a meeting later in the day.

Two of the padyatris from the youth team met a group of Adivasi belonging to the Lohar tribes, generally referred to as Lohapita in colloquial terms, which means iron hammering. The tribe claims origin in Rajasthan where they trace their ancestry from the Rajputs, a warrior caste. The people of this tribe are tinker nomads who specialize in making iron tools used for manual agriculture mostly, though they take pride in their oral history as per which they were the traditional sword and iron weapons makers for Maharana Pratap. They claim to be expert iron tool makers since over 500 years and are found in most of the states of the northern India. The Lohar people go by different tribal names with the Gadaria Lohar being the most common group. This nomadic tribe travels in small groups, often a single family or a group of families with their bullock carts and iron making tools.

The two yatrees met a group of four families that belonged to the Ghumuntu tribe. These four families with their growing children live in small mud huts by the road. They are a hard working community with great resilience for life. Proud of their skills, they earn a living by making traditional iron tools for agriculture when mostly this art is dying slowly in other regions. However, their struggles of having no permanent shelter for the last 19 years, when they first settled here, was their major concern in addition to the danger to their children from the speeding vehicles on the road.

The families do not have land holding nor do they possess a concrete house that is safe and secure for their children. They have been continually threatened and moved from their living places to facilitate the construction of the road. The families spoke of how their mud houses leaked during rains and the way they were forced to demolish these shelters to make space for the construction of road that only endangered their lives. Only recently they had been asked to move again in lieu of an upcoming construction of a village colony.
Their appeals to the panchayat have not yielded any result. They continue to live in constant uncertainty. They also feel socially excluded by the villagers who tend to look at them as unnecessary settlers and keep creating trouble for them. Such a situation of landlessness, exclusion and discrimination and injustice are the issues that the Jai Jagat movement seeks to address.

The second team met a group of twenty families belonging to the Gond tribe, the second largest tribal group of the country. The 20 odd Gond families relocated to the Harda district 40 years ago from Khandwa because of infertile lands there which rendered them jobless, the community being traditional agricultural labourers. They were granted a piece of land for living 25 years ago, a thin strip of a single line of temporary constructions of 20 huts right by the side of a newly constructed road. The road had been constructed only two years ago. They too were worried about road accidents and were demanding new homes that were more permanent at a safer location. It was easy to see why for the small settlement of about 150 people included many young children and babies. In asking the landless group several times about their demands, they remained consistent in answering that they only wanted safer homes at a different location for which they had already petitioned the collector without any resultant action.

They get schooling facility in the nearby village which is up to class eighth. No one from the young people of the group had gone for higher education. A couple of them worked as watchmen and security guards in distant towns but visited their homes during the reaping season. The Jai Jagat representatives couldn’t find any source of secondary income and on probing found that at most they grew some vegetables while chicken could be found in some homes.

The small settlement lacked any semblance of health facilities. In serious cases, they had to go to the government hospitals in a nearby town. The government had constructed mobile toilets but they complained of lack of clean drinking water. They had necessary identification papers and seemed happy to be working on the fields of the villagers. They recounted how the villagers once got together and threatened them to move with the alleged motive of taking that small strip of land away from them. But the settlers stayed united and refused to move. The incident ended without taking a violent turn.

The jai Jagat representatives in the case of the Lohapita tribe drafted a letter to the collector with a plea to help their cause while the Gond people’s issues were raised with the local village.

In a session later in the day, both teams presented the case studies in front of fellow walkers and villagers which was followed by a talk session by Rajagopal. He invoked the example of Vinoba Bhave and the Bhoodan (land donation) movement to ask the farmers to donate land for these landless adivasis. Bhoodan was a hugely successful movement initiated by Vinoba, a prominent Gandhian, who devoted 14 years of his life walking across India to get big farmers to donate land. He was successful in getting 4.5million acres of land for redistribution in the 1950s. Rajagopal gave Vinoba’s example and appealed for resolution of issues particularly that of landlessness through compassion.