Bhopal: In the heart of Madhya Pradesh, nestled approximately 60 kilometers from the bustling city of Bhopal, lies Damdongri, a village that feels strangely isolated despite its proximity to a six-lane highway. Here, in this remote corner of the district Raisen, resides a tribal family of thirteen. Their humble dwellings, made of cow dung and mud, paint a picture of poverty and struggle that extends far beyond the confines of their homes.
Amidst these modest houses, we find Kalavati, a 27-year-old woman with her head covered by a saree, cradling her one-year-old child. With a voice filled with despair, she utters, "Kisiko humari nahi padi hai (Nobody cares about us)." Standing amidst the narrow lane separating the two mud houses, Kalavati gestures towards a broken mud wall smeared with cow dung—a futile attempt to restore a semblance of shelter and security.
The family of thirteen consists of six adults and seven children who belong to the marginalized 'Ghumakkad Community,' listed as free tribes in Madhya Pradesh. These villagers are deprived of their fundamental human rights, including access to education, healthcare, and basic amenities. The male members of the family eke out a living as truck, tractor, dumper, and car drivers, earning a meager daily income of 500 Rupees according to Kalavati's husband, who often travels to different states in search of work. The question that naturally arises is, can 500 Rupees a day suffice to support a family of thirteen?
The state of education in these isolated villages, Damdongri being a prime example, highlights the privileged nature of this concept. Roshni, a nine-year-old enrolled in a government school in the area, rarely attends classes. She laments the apathy of the teachers who spend their time engrossed in their mobile phones instead of educating underprivileged children like her. Roshni doesn't possess any textbooks or notebooks, and she despises going to school, perceiving it as a fruitless endeavor that fails to impart even the most basic knowledge.
The government school in Damdongri compounds the challenges faced by these children. Situated on the opposite side of the village, it is separated by a six-lane highway teeming with heavy traffic. The arduous journey to school becomes even riskier, deterring parents from sending their children regularly. In this grim reality, underprivileged children remain trapped in a perpetual cycle of struggle, mirroring the hardships endured by their parents.
Two small mud houses accommodate the thirteen-member family, their ceilings so low that residents must perpetually stoop. This living situation in Damdongri exemplifies the harsh realities faced by its inhabitants.
“We don’t have land, a place to call our own, or any work to do. How are we supposed to live? We collect the mud beside our kutcha houses and sell that for a living,” said Maidabai, demanding a small piece of land from the government. Maidabai’s husband recalls the electricity bill generated last month and tells us that, without even using electricity, their bill was generated for Rs 4000.
He further states, "How is this possible to get a bill with such a high amount when we have zero electrical appliances? There is clear discrimination that we are facing. In the same area, people with some influence and apparently far more income are getting electricity bills of Rs 45 or something, and then there comes our family. These people are clearly benefiting from the terms they have with the lineman and other people in authority,” he says.
When asked about the water supply, we encountered another problem that the people of Damdongri are facing. The water supply comes every second day. People have to store water to utilize it for the other two days. This is part of a larger problem that one can witness.
The Mooknayak asked the family if any politician or government officer from the area had ever visited them in the last few years, to which Maidabai replies, “We are vote-giving citizens of this country. We cast our votes with sheer honesty and as a duty. But in the last 15-20 years, not even a single politician or government officer has visited our area to inquire or even look around the conditions that we are living in. They only come to seek votes and make false promises.”
In the year 2023, where people in power claim that we, as a country, have progressed and are still progressing, they fail to understand that they are neglecting the underprivileged section of society. They are skipping the fact that there is a large section of society that constitutes the citizens of this country and that they are even further left of the term "underprivileged" if put on a spectrum.
The Mooknayak asked Maidabai about the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojna to know the ground reality of the free ration scheme implemented by the government for the welfare of the poor section of society.
Maidabai is the sole person in the family of 13 people who is getting free ration, and that ration is meant to fulfill the whole family's needs. Maidabai receives 35kg of ration per month, which only consists of rice and wheat. Now, this 35kg of ration is meant for the whole family to sustain on.
Maidabai is also the only person to get an LPG cylinder among the other 13 people, which includes two of her daughters-in-law and 11 other people from the area. However, getting an LPG cylinder is not enough. They are still forced to cook on a clay stove, and their cooking fuel is lumber. The reason behind this is that the cylinder that some people might have received came by paying a price of Rs 700, and now when this cylinder needs to be refilled, it has to be refilled at the original market price, which is Rs 1100 and changes as per the market rate.
Now, imagine a family that can barely sustain their livelihood having to refill an LPG cylinder for such a hefty price. This is not possible for families like Maidabai's, and this remains the reason why, even in 2023, there are millions of people who are still forced to live under conditions below the level of normal living conditions.
This is the same time when people in power are claiming to work for the betterment of the poor section of society, but all they are doing is making the rich richer and the poor poorer. Maidabai made a strong statement that is enough to describe the current situation of this country. She says, “The poor have no identity apart from being and remaining poor.”
Poor have zero dignity
Maidabai’s husband talks about the behavior of the police towards them in comparison to people belonging to the upper caste. He says, "The police can frame us in any case without even thinking twice, without even bothering to inquire if we have done something or not. The police favor the upper-caste section, and we have no say in anything."
He further elaborates on the situation of police favoritism towards the upper castes, saying, "If an upper-caste person has committed a crime and denies it in front of the police, while in the same situation a lower-caste person is involved, then the police will not even bother to listen to our side. They will frame us in any case, and their justification for doing the same would be that these people come from the upper section of society, so why would they lie? It's you who can commit a crime or violate certain rules."
Discrimination based on caste and class is still prevalent in the majority of areas, and what the Ghummakad tribe from Damdongri is facing is just a small example of the brutal reality of today's times.
Women in Damdongri are living on the edge, and their basic necessities are not being fulfilled. Kalavati made a bathroom covered with old torn bedsheets from three corners to create a private space for bathing. She says, "We wear sarees while bathing so that we aren't exposed to anybody since this bathroom area that we have created is outside our house, and we are bound to hide even while bathing since there is no other option."
Women cook food on clay stoves without even having the proper materials to prepare a decent meal. Children here are not receiving basic necessities in terms of food to receive proper nourishment during their developmental age. For instance, there is no milk in the entire household as they cannot afford it. Even when we visited on the ground, they offered us black tea because there is no milk in the house, and they have never had the basic necessities to live a healthy life.
There is an official site of the Madhya Pradesh Government specifically dedicated to the welfare of denotified, nomadic, and semi-nomadic tribes in Madhya Pradesh. However, when we compared the website claims with the ground reality, they didn't match at all.
The website mentions the Prime Minister's Accommodation Scheme, stating that Rs. 1.50 Lakh per beneficiary is provided. But sources reveal a different story. According to a source, beneficiaries do not receive the full amount; they only receive Rs. 1.36 Lakh, which includes the amount received from MGNREGA.
Another village, Gautampur Colony, which also falls under the Raisen district, witnessed the problems faced by rural people due to the Prime Minister's Accommodation Scheme. Three years ago, Premabai was allotted funds under the PM Accommodation Scheme, with an allotment of Rs. 1.20 Lakh. However, these funds are allocated in installments and not all at once. After the allotment, Premabai started the construction of her house, and it has been three years now that she hasn't received any amount allotted to her as a beneficiary under the scheme.
Premabai says, "The Panchayat head and Secretary have kept our money, and we haven't received a single penny from the scheme. We were constructing our home by ourselves, without involving laborers from outside."
Premabai, a single mother along with her two kids lives in a kutcha house, which they built themselves. The condition of the house is extremely poor, and during the monsoon season, it is susceptible to destruction as it is not strongly built. Adjacent to this temporary house, Premabai was building her own house under the scheme provided by the Prime Minister. However, this dream of having a home that is not vulnerable to extreme weather conditions remains incomplete due to the scams surrounding such schemes that are meant to help the minorities and weaker sections of this country.
The economic development plans listed on the website do not seem to be implemented on the ground. The website mentions four plans for the economic development of these tribes: Mukhyamantri Swarozgar Yojana, Chief Minister Economic Welfare Scheme, Delegated Caste Basti Development Scheme, and Electrification Scheme in Delegated Caste Settlements.
However, all of these plans remain mere plans without action and implementation. The government and people in politics only seek votes from these tribes in return for false and broken promises, which are empty promises without any action taken. Madhya Pradesh is going under polls this year, and this is the time when the vicious cycle of false promises and fake development will be repeated.