Two-and-a-half-year-old Prince Sahariya cries uncontrollably as his grandmother Shanti tries to make him stand but gives up as his weak and spindly legs refuse to cooperate. “Hamara Prince bahut kamzor hai,” the doting grandmother offers apologetically, having brought him to the community health centre in Shahabad block in Baran district, Rajasthan. Prince’s mother has abandoned him and gone to her mother’s house with her six-month-old daughter. She apparently did not want to be burdened with the responsibility of a child destined never to walk properly.
There are 18 other children with Prince in the 12-bed malnutrition ward, most exhibiting signs of severe malnutrition—from bloated stomachs to stunted growth. Without adequate medical staff, the health centre clearly has more than its fair share of young patients it can look after. Some children have even been accommodated in the entrance gallery, where they are being given nourishing food supplements to get them back on their feet.
It’s a scene that repeats itself across other health centres in the district, their malnourished children’s wards filled to capacity, and then some more. Somi Kumavat, part of the nursing staff at the Kelawada community health centre, admits that most children in her ward have various health issues because of malnutrition. Most don’t stay for the full course of treatment, and so end up making repeat hospital visits.
An average of 80 children require hospitalisation on a given day, according to district records. “As we get a lot of children in malnourished state or those who fall ill frequently because of poor health, we are building another malnutrition ward,” says M.L. Verma, the additional district magistrate of Shahabad block, who’s also in charge of the Sahariya Development Project. Verma says it is an uphill task trying to get the parents or guardians of the sick children to stay in the hospital till the child recovers. This despite caregivers being given Rs 200 a day to compensate for lost wages.
Talk to the officials, however, and they tell you the situation has improved vastly over the years. This is because children are being provided nourishing daliya and milk in anganwadis and mawadis. The Sahariyas, in particular, were being offered an additional five-kilo kit, which consisted of two kilos of green gram, two kg of refined soybean oil and one kg ghee. This was in the run-up to the assembly elections in the state in December last year, when the Congress government led by Ashok Gehlot launched the initiative. It had become a lifeline for the families, most of whom worked for a pittance as farm labourers or found employment under the national rural employment guarantee scheme. The entitlements seem to have made a difference, starvation seemed to have vanished.
Hear their pleas CM Vasundhararaje
However, after the Vasundhararaje government came to power, the supply was stopped for months together and has just been resumed last week. It’s not yet clear whether the backlog from January onwards would be given. Meanwhile, in the budget session in June, the government also decided that every bpl family getting subsidised wheat under the pds would have to pay Rs 2 per kg. This would include the Sahariyas, as Baran collector Lalit Kumar Gupta confirmed.
Designated as a ‘primitive tribal group’, the Sahariyas are among India’s poorest people. The denudation of Aravalli’s rich forests has not only altered their livelihood and way of life but also their dietary pattern, says Moti Lal of Sankalp, a civil society organisation that has been working in Baran for over three decades.
In Baran district, the Sahariyas are concentrated in the Shahabad and Kishanganj blocks where wheat and soybean cultivation has replaced the earlier crop of nutritive coarse grains. “Thirty years back, one did not hear of malnourishment among the Sahariyas as the tribals had a rich diet of millets—jau and bajra—and access to forest produce. Till now, there was only the assurance of 35 kg of wheat,” says Moti Lal. That too shall cease to be free.
It will be a pity, for the plight of the Sahariyas has improved somewhat since the time the Supreme Court had to intervene to ensure the tribals right to food on account of starvation deaths among the Sahariyas in the drought of 2001. Currently, there are an estimated 25,000 families and their population has crossed a lakh, up from 79,372 in the 2002 survey. Hunger deaths have been reported in 2004, 2009 and even in 2011, but from the 93 per cent Sahariya children who were reported malnourished a decade back (15 per cent of them severely malnourished), the official record was 5,240 children last year, while 2,287 children have been reported malnourished in the first six months of this year.
“My study as the Supreme Court commissioner for right to food has shown that Sahariyas of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh and Musahirs of UP and Bihar are the most dispossessed. There were very high levels of bondage and starvation among them when I first studied their case in 2002,” says social activist Harsh Mander.
Following a protracted struggle by the Sahariyas, the Rajasthan government had in 2011 stepped in to get many of them freed from bonded labour. Today many of the Sahariya families are undertaking cooperative farming on their newly returned or allocated plots of land. The assurance of 35 kg of foodgrain through pds, the special entitlement of 200 days of work under NREGA and incentivised education facilities has also helped to improve the lot of the Sahariyas.
As Purshottam Sahariya, the 23-year-old ward panch of Sunda village says, “The ration we get may not suffice for a big family, but in the case of a poor family, it helps to keep hunger at bay and put aside some money. For many, the 2 kg dal is the only nourishment as they cannot afford to buy it themselves.” Vijay Mehta of Sankalp narrates how children often opt to take home the meal provided in the anganwadi or mawadi home to be shared by all. This is one reason why the village schools have good attendance.
Many, however, allege that the Sahariyas have become used to free handouts. In response, Mander says: “While I don’t expect the state to provide for the deprived adivasis forever, it should do so till their condition improves which will need to be for a long time.” Death due to malnutrition and in some cases hunger persist, as Mander discovered when a decade later, he traced his footsteps to the same families he had visited in 2002. In the light of this, withdrawing their entitlements could push the Sahariyas back to the brink it has taken the system almost a decade to pull them back from. Is the Rajasthan government listening?
By Lola Nayar in Baran district, Rajasthan
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
The greatest gift to the impoverished people ( incidentally, it is the poverty of the individual, and not the community that should be taken into account ), is condoms and feminist sterilisation.
First in the assembly elections in Rajasthan and then in the Lok Sabha election, the people have given their verdict on a certain philosophy of misplaced governmental philanthropy that has never worked anywhere in the world.
The Abject Poverty of Sahariyas speaks volumens of the FAILED SOCIALIST EXPERIMENT OF the CON PARTY THAT HAS RUINED INDIA IN MANY WAYS IN LAST 60 YEARS..
Sahariyas should be taught skills to survive in 21st century India. Giving the minimum nutrition (subsidised food as promised by Food Security Act) is fine but LEFTISTS MEDIA thinks that these social groups should permanently depend on government largesse. We believe that Sahariyas are capable and competent like other Indian citizens of being able to lead a life on their own and aspire for higher development than entitlement lifestyle pushed by UPA morons.
Considering that the Sahariyas have a history of being subjected to bonded labour and of starvation deaths as recently as in 2011, stopping free ration is obscene - has the Rajasthan government solved all other problems of corruption and cronyism that this has become a priority? Unless the government is able to create a condition (by providing training, jobs etc.) where the really backward communities could earn a living without being exploited, stopping free ration is cruel indeed. Do our netas think that people are so lazy that they would rather die than earn a living for a better life?
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