In one Dalit colony, the conditions of daily life of people belonging to a nomadic community are severely distressed. Social neglect, economic distress and lack of education opportunities and access to health services and government welfare schemes have all adversely affected the lives of the people of this community. The people of the community resident in the village are demanding Scheduled Tribe status.
Uttar Pradesh— Residents of the village of Tursia in Tursia Gram Panchayat of Bansi tehsil, Mithwal block, in the district of Siddharthnagar have long claimed that their ancestors belonged to nomadic tribes in remote areas who subsisted by begging. Although in contemporary times the people of this community have Scheduled Caste (SC) status, this ground report of The Mooknayak reveals the people believe that if they were given Scheduled Tribe (ST) status, their youthwould have good access to education and employment, and opportunities for a robust routine daily life.
People belonging to such nomadic communities live in about 20 villages in Siddharthnagar district in the Terai region of north-east Uttar Pradesh, at the state’s border with Nepal. The Scheduled Castes living in the Bansi tehsil area include the Ghumantu, Mangata, Pasi, Mochi, Dharikar, and Dhobi castes.
In the village of Tursia, from among the high-school-pass-age people in the community, Parshuram (42) was elected as a member of the BDC [Block Development Council] in 2007. But after that he has not had [another] chance to officially represent these marginalised people. “There are a total of seven villages in the Gram Panchayat. Every time I stand as a candidate in the election (village head/BDC) to work for the rights and development of my people, except for my own community, no-one accepts me,” said Parshuram, “Earlier, our ancestors used to beg to subsist and raise their children.”
“Most of our people still survive by begging,” Parshuram told The Mooknayak. “A few work as labourers and a few are engaged in buying and selling of animals.”
Parshuram claims that he himself and the people of his community in his village are STs (Scheduled Tribes). “Actually we are STs. The government should include us among the tribal groups. Because our people (our ancestors) earlier used to travel and live in camps in the forests. But as we started gaining some awareness, our forefathers opted to settle down.” Furthermore, “If we had remained in the tribal category, our children, despite being less educated, would have had access to basic service jobs,” he explains. “As this has not happened, we are losing out. It is our demand that the government should include us in STs, so that our future generations will benefit from this. Our people be in employment and we should not have to beg for food.”
Due to Parshuram being educated, the next generations of children in his family have been the only ones to progress in education in this village with a population of about 350 people. His son Ajit Gautam (21) has completed his D-Pharma and is doing an internship at the Community Health Centre in Tilauli.
There are around 250 voters among the 70 families in Tursia village. Of the approximately 50-60 youths in the village in the age group of 18-30 years, only four are studying in high school and fourin intermediate. The remaining youth has not received any education. There is a primary school located near the village, but practically none of the small children from here go there to study. Parshuram said, “90 percent of the youth drink alcohol.”
When The Mooknayak asked about the kind of land that the community was living on, Parshuram said, “We have been living here for almost 70 years. In the areas where we settled, some of the land is in the names of our people, and some of it is government land. If ever in the future, the government evicts us, then where will we go! We are poor people.”
Sheela, who is Parshuram’s wife informs us that they have only 10 mandis (about half a bigha) of cultivable land. Government ration is available, but that is not sufficient to fill stomachs. “The family (husband) does business for our livelihood. We rear cows and buffaloes at home, and buy and sell them. The elders of the household go out begging, and the young menwork as labourers,” Sheela told The Mooknayak.
In the same village, Vishal (16), who is a high school student, is studying hard and aspires to become a doctor. Vishal says bashfully, “My mother takes care of the cattle at home and arranges fodder for them. When she has free time, she goes begging. I have two brothers, who are live away from home.”
Like Vishal, Lakshmi (15) also aspires to become a doctor after completing her studies. Lakshmi said that her father buys and sells buffaloes and she shared an incident when she faced discrimination with The Mooknayak, “It was Babasaheb Ambedkar's birthday. When I invited a school friend who was of Brahmin caste to my home, she refused to come and even started to quarrel.”
Kailashi (61), who is also of the village, does not receive any kind of government support or pension. When asked about MNREGA, she said that she was unaware of the scheme. “We do not have access to any land for farming. My husband goes begging and we live on whatever he manages to bring. My husband goes as far as 2-4 kos to beg,” she explained.
While holding his crying granddaughter (2) in his arms, Indrajit Ram, who cleansears to feed his family, lays out the abject story of his struggles and poverty. “Both of my granddaughter’s hands are disabled. Another granddaughter has one disabled hand. We are poor people, we eat by begging — we cannot arrange treatment for them. I don’t even have any farming work. This everyday suffocation is killing us. We don't even have a dwelling. There is no one to see or hear of [our plight].” His son is Umesh and his daughter-in-law is Suman.
Prabhavati (60) has a big family, but no one cares for her. Only when her husband is able to bring something by begging is she able to fill her stomach? Prabhavati has not heard about the old age pension, and nor has she ever availed it. She has no access to any land for cultivation. “There is no land even to plant some garlic,” she said.
Apart from one or two houses, no one in Tursia village has a gas connection. The whole village uses firewood for cooking on mud stoves. Apart from a few people, no one in the village has received the benefit of [the government’s] housing scheme. Apart from one house, no family has a toilet. No woman in the village has got any kind of government pension. As 90% of the people in the village do not have their own agricultural land, they are not able to apply for benefits under the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi scheme.
Ramesh (26) is managing byusing plastic sheetson his thatch hut. He explains, “When it rains, the water [seeps through] and continuously drips over us. I haven’t got [any help from government schemes for] accommodation. We are poor, and it is just in this [hut] that we are spending our lives.”
Towards the edge of the village on its west, in front of a thatch dwelling, a three-year-old girl stood helplessly holding a tap, while at a little distance from her, her 10-year-old brother Vikas washed utensils with his tiny hands. Vikas has another sister, Roshni (15), she was not at home as she had gone begging so she could try to feed them. They have no-one else in this world. Roshni is like a mother and father to her brother and sister. Both their parents have died after contracting some illness for which they could not get treatment, leaving their three children alone forever. Father Lal Bahadur died first, and after 6 months mother Panguli also died.
Ram Naresh Chaudhary (65), a local journalist and resident of Tursia Gram Panchayat, is the tehsil correspondent of a daily newspaper. He shared his experience with and knowledge about this community with The Mooknayak team while we were working on the ground report in Tursia. “The scheduled castes in Siddharthnagar play an important role in the political context here. The Scheduled Tribes (STs), however, are in very few numbers here. Many Gram Panchayats of Bansi tehsil, being of the scheduled tribes, were even left without a pradhan [head of the panchayat] in the last Panchayat elections. Because there were no candidates and so elections were not even held.”
He told us that when elections come around, the candidates come to Tursia and seek votes by telling the people (the villagers categorised as Scheduled Caste), that ethnically they are similar to their [the candidate’s] party. But then no-one brings about any improvement in their condition. “The population here is eligible for Scheduled Tribe status, and they are [STs]. But due to some reason the government is not paying any regard to this and these people continue to remain categorised as Scheduled Castes. Whereas they should be included the Scheduled Tribes.”
“In around 1970, about three-four households came and settled here. These were nomadic people, they used to come here for a short time and then used to go begging for subsistence. At that time, these people did not settle in one place permanently. Later, after the land consolidation in 1975, these people were allotted leased land by the government. Then there were only 2-4 households. But with time their numbers have increased, so many families have no land left for farming. Even those who still have land, have very little left. This is because from generation to generation the land with the families kept being divided up,” Chaudhary explained. “Because they do not have land, they cannot avail the benefits of the PM Samman Nidhi scheme. Women do not get old age pensions. The widowed women here do not get even the widow pension. The only benefit they get here is ration.”
“There is a huge lack of education among the people here. Because of which the youth and even little children have become caught up in various kinds of addictions. Drug addiction is prevalent even among the elderly. A large part of the earnings get spent on alcohol. This has adversely affected their economic condition in a significant way. There is a particular need for whichever social organisations are working here to conduct de-addiction awareness campaigns among the people so that they can become drug-free to be able to live a healthier life.”
“Even if some people in the village have access to a gas cylinder under the Ujjwala scheme, they are not able to get it filled due to their impoverishment. Even though a road has been built to access this Dalit colony, it lacks a drainage system and the wastewater from the houses has no way to flow away. This also has an effect onthe people’s health. A long time back some people were given houses under the Indira Awaas Yojana, but since then they have not been given houses in proportion to their increasing population. There is also some political grudge behind this. Due to which government schemes have not been extended here,” Ram Naresh told The Mooknayak.
In response to a question by The Mooknayak aroundthe lack of available toilets in this settlement, Ram Naresh says, “Those who are advisers or engineers or administrators of government schemes, they allocate such a small amount for the construction of toilets under the scheme, that it is beyond the comprehension of the villagers. Rs.12,000 is not enough to construct a toilet, and still the government is turning its back on itself, so what is there for one to say about it.”
Nomadic communities are known to be those groups ofpeople who move from one place to another for their livelihood. These include those working in the salt trade, fortune tellers, magicians, Ayurvedic healers, jugglers, acrobats, storytellers, snake charmers, veterinarians, tattooists, grinding mill makers and basket weavers.
Some anthropologists have identified about eight nomadic groups in India, whose total population is around one million, which is about 1.2% of the country’s one billion-plus population. Aparna Rao and Michael Casimir estimate that nomadic people constitute about 7% of India’s population.
The nomadic communities of India can be broadly divided into three categories of hunter-gatherers, pastoralists and migrant or non-agricultural communities. Of these, the traveller nomadic communities are the most neglected and discriminated social group in India. Today, their livelihoods arebeing threatened due to the drastic changes in systems of transport, industrialisation and modes of production, and entertainment and distribution systems.
Story Translated by Lotika Singha
Watch full video report here
Support the Janwadi journalism of The Mooknayak, which prominently raises the issues and problems of the exploited/deprived, Dalit, tribal, women and minorities. The Mooknayak is run by your support. Click here for Support.