Editor's Note: Even after 72 years of Independence, the Mawasi community — a Scheduled Tribe — that lives in the hills of Madhya Pradesh, is deprived of many facilities. The tribe, from the villages of Satna district in Vindhya region, depends on forest produce and struggle for employment. Lack of employment opportunities, migration issues, incidents related to caste discrimination and drought conditions have put this tribe in a crisis. This three-part series looks at the issues being faced by the Mawasi people and how there is a wide gap between state policies and their reality.
Satna: For the Mawasis, a Scheduled Tribe which dwells in the forests of Madhya Pradesh, sustenance has had a direct bearing on the bounties collected during summer. Being dependent on forest produce for a living, the summer brings a rich haul of wild fruits, vegetables and other plants that the Mawasis collect and live off for the rest of the year. However, with recurrent droughts in recent years, things are changing rapidly.
Mahua and chiraunji are two forest products that have great market value. These plants thrive in the summer months, a time of the year when the Mawasis begin their days early to enter the forest and pluck the fresh produce. However, with changing weather conditions, the once all-providing summer months have turned into a nightmare for these tribals resulting in a significant decrease in the collection of forest produce.
Water woes and migration
Between the period of 1 June 1 to 26 June this year, Satna district faced a monsoon deficiency of 58 percent. The last week of June proved worst as the deficiency increased to 87 percent. The district received only 6 mm of rainfall during this period, against the average of 46.3 mm.
Though the situation improved later, the district is still facing rain deficiency of 12 percent. To make matters worse, this grim phase has prevailed over the past two years. In 2018, Satna received 784 mm of rainfall, while in 2017, it was just 743.2 mm. In stark contrast, the normal rainfall in this region is 1,039 mm.
The continuous drought in this region has not only pushed it to a famine-like situation but has also destroyed the age-old agricultural traditions and food habits of the people living in the district. Due to the water crisis, Mawasi women and children are forced to fetch drinking water from faraway places.
"The struggle for water begins right in the morning itself. I have to walk nearly four kilometres from my village every day to fetch water from a neighbouring village. Sadly, I cannot fetch more than a bucket of water in the morning due to the heavy rush at the hand pump. Therefore, I have to make another trip in the afternoon to fetch more water," says Savitri Mawasi, a 25-year-old woman from Kirai Pukhari village. On average, women like Savitri walk close to 16 kilometres every day to fetch water.
"The drought has impacted our lives terribly. It has ruined our farmlands, the forest and even our lifestyle," says Buddha Mawasi, a resident of Barha Mawan village.
The biggest casualty of drought, however, has been the forest itself. "Most of the vegetables and other forest produce have vanished in recent years. We can no longer fulfil our daily needs from the forest," says Shyamlal Mawasi from Putrichuwa village.
The groundwater profile of the district shows that rainfall during Southwest Monsoon forms the sole source of water to naturally recharge the groundwater. For a district, where only 37 percent of the net sown area is irrigated and rest of the area is rain-fed, rain deficiency in monsoon could still be disastrous.
Shyamlal informs that with no other option, the male members of the community migrate to nearby towns and cities and take up daily wage jobs.
The drought has also affected cattle and other farm animals.
"Only goats can survive in this condition as they need a very little amount of water and food. But the bigger cattle are dying and many villagers have abandoned them this season," says Rameshwar Mawasi, 75, from Barha Mawan village.
"Only those who have borewell are able to continue farming here. But none of the Mawasi in the village has that facility. In fact, in some of the other villages, the borewells too have dried up. Rainwater alone is not enough for irrigation," says Gudia Mawasi from Kiray Pukhari village.
Surprisingly, according to the Central Ground Water Board's report, the Majhgawan block in Satna, where the majority of the Mawasi population resides, is considered safe in terms of groundwater. The block also contains 350 of the 437 ponds in the district.
Yet, the Mawasi people in Majhgawan block face water crisis every summer due to depletion of groundwater.
A 2018 research released by three scientists — RS Negi, SS Kaushik and Himanshu Shekhar Singh — reveals that people of the Majhgawan block feel the change in the climate. The study says that farmers are already feeling and responding to the effects of climate change on agriculture and their livelihood. People reported changes in intensity and duration of rainfall. The data also shows variable, but very unusual and erratic rainfall since 1993, till 2016.
Shrinking forest cover
According to the latest survey of Forest Survey of India 2017, Satna has witnessed a decrease of 3 percent forest cover as compared to the last survey in 2011. In a span of six years, the district has already lost one of its 13 dense forests while losing as many as 32 moderate dense forests during the same period.
The shrinking forest cover of the district may be responsible for the water crisis.
GD Mishra, a senior scientist from the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), says that their observation of rain finds that green cover and proper forest canopy is very important for rainfall. "Every place in Madhya Pradesh is witnessing irregular rain and the weak monsoon added more problems. Smooth and regular rain is beneficial for groundwater recharge and increasing forest cover," Mishra added.
Another research by RLS Sikarwar presented at National Conference on Forest Biodiversity says that the biodiversity of Chitrakoot region in Madhya Pradesh is declining fast due to the degradation of habitats by heckles and indiscriminate cutting of forests. The report says that the rich biodiversity of Chitrakoot region has reduced to a great extent. A major part of Chitrakoot region falls in Satna.
Ineffective government schemes
With agriculture failing, villagers are solely dependent on the public distribution centres, which provide only carbohydrate-rich food such as wheat and rice. Commenting on the sate of government-run schemes in the region, social worker Prateek Kumar says, "Anganwadis (rural childcare centres that also provide supplementary nutrition for children) have been working smoothly only in a few villages. It has failed in all the other villages. This is because these Anganwadis are managed by corrupt people. The Mawasis, being a socially backward community, do not have the courage to fight for their rights against such people."
Aggravating the situation further, other government schemes are failing to create the desired impact in Mawasi villages as well. "Even the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) has failed in Kiray Pukahri village. Due to the unavailability of water, the construction work has come to a standstill. In this village alone, three under-construction houses, including mine, have to wait till the monsoon to resume work. But we don't have a safe place to stay during the monsoon as the old houses that we live in are dilapidated," says Raja Mawasi.
According to official figures, 1,425 houses building under PMAY are under construction in Majhgawan block.
Commenting on this situation, state tribal welfare minister Omkar Singh Markam, says, "We are implementing the right to water act with a fund of Rs 1,000 crore and the rural and tribal belt of Madhya Pradesh would also be benefitted from this scheme."
"We know that the current schemes are archaic and temporary. I want to make some permanent arrangement for their livelihood so that they can become self-sufficient. Our department will focus on keeping traditional practices of the tribes alive so that they can survive in their own way."
The author is a Bhopal-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com
Updated Date: Jul 26, 2019 22:48:39 IST