Sahariyas: a story of hope or despair??
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‘Sahariyas’ is a native tribe of the state, Madhya Pradesh. This tribe also resides in Shivpuri district and their life conditions are far too pathetic. This tribe faces absolute poverty and serious child and women malnutrition leading to a low life expectancy. Food security includes being able to have access to nutritious food in order to lead a healthy life but this is a major problem faced by the people of this tribe. Sahariyas are expert woodsmen and forest produce gatherers but due to government control of forests they were displaced and their sources of livelihoods also came to a standstill. They are settled cultivators but don’t have adequate land to be self sufficient and also lack of access to irrigation facilities is one of the reasons of their poverty. Therefore, they are forced to work as laborers in the fields of the high caste Yadavs. The Yadavs hold the position in the local government or panchayat especially that of a sarpanch and have control over all government schemes including the NREGA which gives people employment for at least a hundred days.
The Sahariyas have been given cards by the government so that they can make the most of the scheme but these cards have been seized from them by the sarpanchs. The question is why?? It is because the yadavs don’t want them to get proper wages or employment, as it leads to labor loss for them to work in their fields. This tribe is also looked down upon by the people in the district and they are kept at distance from all sorts of interactions.
A good monsoon will also have a contrary effect on the lives of these people, as the government won’t declare their areas as draught-effected and no relief will be given to the tribe. Failure of the public health system and lack of a rural banking system have forced the Sahariyas to borrow money from the landlords (yadavs) and they charge high rate of interest, as a result, they have to work hard in their fields in order to pay off the debt that is incurred on them. In the recent years, these tribes have started migrating to urban areas in order to seek employment for ‘eking out their living’ but they face problems of exploitation due to casualisation of work and poor working conditions and wages. It is very difficult for them to make their ends meet with inefficient work they get with megre income and inadequate housing facility in the cities are the reasons making their lives more miserable.. In this case study, we see how agriculture can promote discrimination and corruption. There is a need for a long term government policy, rural banking facilities and a joint movement by the government and political parties
However, one activity has been taken up by the World Food Programme which has had a positive impact on this community. This organization started mixing a pre-blend powder in their wheat grain .This powder has no distinct taste or smell and helps reducing anemia by providing the necessary vitamins. Villager millers have been given special facilities to store the pre-blend powder and are repeatedly trained in the processes of pre-blending and record keeping. This is not a solution for all the problems faced by the community but it a step forward!!