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The homepage of the website of the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, government of India has lovely pictures of tribals in their traditional costumes and enjoying their traditional dances.  From the time that Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was the Prime Minister we have seen photographs of dignitaries enjoying cultural activities with tribals.  One has been conditioned from childhood to associate innocence, a care-free attitude, colour, gaiety and festivities with tribal groups.  This is true, to a certain extent…..but it is not the whole truth…

The assessment teams which had been present in the area for a few days before the arrival of the Padayatra did not see any gaiety… They found hunger, malnutrition, illiteracy, exploitation in almost all families they spoke with. In these villages a typical Aandh tribal family of 6 lives on yield from rain-fed agriculture. The area is hilly and soil poor : this contributes to abysmal levels of yield when compared with other areas even in Yavatmal district. The yield is normally adequate to feed the family at subsistence level for around 4 months.  Almost none of the produce is sold and the family has very little cash income for meeting other requirements. Degrading forests means that access to Non Timber Forest Produce is also negligible. In any case forest guards do not take tribal forays into forests lightly. To survive the tribal families are forced to migrate for sugarcane cutting. The tribals are exploited even more in this fundamentally exploitative business. A couple gets an ‘advance’ of around Rs. 6000/-. They are employed in the backbreaking sugarcane cutting work for 5 months and at the end of that they end up getting an additional amount of Rs. 2000 or so as wages. This translates to a princely amount of Rs. 30 per day where 16 hours of labour is the norm. A labourer from Marathwada would get 25% more for the same work. But then the Aandh tribal is illiterate and ignorant and can be exploited easily.

We do not need to belabor the point… it is clear that the Aandh tribal is involved in a daily fight for survival.

Now this is not unknown. Everyone, including government of India and Maharashtra knows that tribals are a special groups and need special attention. After all does the government not have all those departments and schemes for tribal development? In the budget speeches, year after year, we are told that the government is spending more money on developing the tribals. Schemes and programmes are announced with fanfare… At the ground level the assessment teams were not able to find a single tribal family in 4 villages which has knowledge of these schemes let alone having benefited from them. The tribals have been left to their fate : at the mercy of exploiters of all hues.

These families are still engaged in the very primary struggle for survival. We cannot really expect them to scale the ladder of development when they have not even taken the first step.

One of the most poignant aspect that the assessment team has spotted is that Children in these families have no dreams.. Its not strange… How can they dream on empty stomachs?  Who will teach them to dream : their parents have no emotional space left and they have no teachers in schools built for them…

The situation is such that life of the poor in Marathwada seems to be easier!  As a nation we have spent close to 60 years in empty promises to people like the Aandh tribals. It is time that we, civil society, corporate and government, wake up and contribute to upliftment of the tribals. Not dole mind you… sensitive and sensible development programmes.