Ground Report: Why the Sahariya Tribe of Madhya Pradesh is Losing Its Roots

In Madhya Pradesh, three tribes—Baiga, Bharia, and Sahariya—are included in the Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups. Low levels of education are a major reason for their backwardness. They communicate in their regional dialect, which also keeps them away from mainstream education.
Morvan village in Sheopur district
Morvan village in Sheopur districtAnkit/The Mooknayak

Bhopal - In dozens of villages such as Karahal, Morvan, and Tiktauli in Sheopur district, there is an eerie silence for ten months of the year. This is because most of the Sahariya community members have left their traditional herbal collection work due to dwindling forests, reduced yield, and lack of employment, and have become laborers instead.

Among the backward tribes of Madhya Pradesh, the Sahariya community is facing severe challenges. Tundaram, a Sahariya tribal from Karahal, Sheopur district, shared his community's problems with The Mooknayak, saying, "I live in Karahal in Sheopur district. There was a time when this region was known for herbal collection and trade. We used to collect herbs (medicinal plants) from the forests and sell them to sustain our families. Almost every family was involved in this work. But now, neither are there herbs left in the forests, nor does anyone buy them. Even if some traders come to buy the herbs, we do not get good prices."

Tundaram from Karahal further explained, "Now there are few people who can identify and collect these herbs from the forest. Due to the decreasing yield in the forest, most people have abandoned this work."

Karahal area in Sheopur district, which was once famous across Madhya Pradesh for herbal collection, is now counted among the most malnourished and backward regions of the state. The population growth rate of the Sahariya tribal community is zero. This community, which is backward in terms of education, health, and economy, has been included in the Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs) by the Government of India.

In villages like Morvan and Tiktauli, there is an eerie silence for ten months of the year, as most Sahariya community members have abandoned their traditional herbal collection work due to the diminishing forest yield and lack of employment and have become laborers. When we visited these villages, most houses were locked, and we learned from the villagers that most people had gone out for labor work. During the day, we found only women, children, and the elderly. The people here migrate to places like Sheopur, Shivpuri, Gwalior, and even other states for employment.

The unemployment rate is rising in the Sahariya tribal community in Madhya Pradesh, leading to increased migration. Members of the Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group, residing in rural areas of Gwalior, Sheopur, Shivpuri, Ashoknagar, and Guna districts, are working as laborers outside the state.

Pradeep, a tribal from Pohri area in Shivpuri district, shared with The Mooknayak that his father and grandfather used to collect herbs from nearby forests, which were then bought by city traders from their village. This was their main trade. However, over time, the herbal trade declined. Now, it has become difficult for the Sahariya community to sustain their families by staying in the village. Pradeep mentioned, "Even today, some people go into the forest to collect herbs during the rainy season. But due to the reduced quantity and low market prices, most people have abandoned this work."

Impact of Herbal Cultivation on Livelihoods

Most herbs used in Ayurvedic medicines are now being cultivated by farmers, which has also affected the employment of the Sahariya community who used to collect these herbs from the forest. Herbs like Safed Musli, Aloe Vera, and Gudmar are now being cultivated directly. Dilip, an operator of a forest produce group from Morvan village in Sheopur, explains,"There is a severe shortage of forest produce. Herbs like Shatavari, Safed Musli, Gudmar, and Pamar, which are in high demand in the market, are now almost non-existent here. Most of these herbs are now being cultivated."

Virendra Parashar, a member of the Madhya Pradesh Vigyan Sabha working on forest produce, told The Mooknayak that the Sahariya community is no longer interested in herbal collection.

This is due to the continuous decline in herb production in forests. Additionally, the collected herbs do not fetch good prices in the market.

He further mentioned, "The elders in the Sahariya community had knowledge about herbal collection, which the new generation lacks. Incorrect methods of harvesting are depleting these plants rapidly, making collection difficult."

Stone and thatch houses in the tribal village of Karahal block.
Stone and thatch houses in the tribal village of Karahal block.Ankit/The Mooknayak

A Community Struggling with Backwardness

Imtiaz Khan, a researcher from the Sociology Department of BU, states that there are 75 particularly vulnerable tribes in the country, found in 18 states. In Madhya Pradesh, three tribes—Baiga, Bharia, and Sahariya—are included in the Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups. Low levels of education are a major reason for their backwardness. They communicate in their regional dialect, which also keeps them away from mainstream education.

Battling Malnutrition

The Sahariya community predominantly resides in Shivpuri and Sheopur districts of Madhya Pradesh. Sheopur district has been at the top in terms of malnutrition across the state. The Sahariya community living here is suffering from malnutrition. Despite various campaigns by the administration and the Women and Child Development Department to eradicate malnutrition, the results are not satisfactory.

Violation of Rights

The constitutional rights and values of the Sahariya tribal community are being violated. Deprived of education and employment rights, this particularly vulnerable tribal group is also being denied constitutional values such as equality and economic justice. The identity of the Sahariya community is being overshadowed by migration and labor. The Constitution grants all citizens the right to live with their identity, but instead of protecting the rights of these backward tribes, the government is merely witnessing their plight.

Morvan village in Sheopur district
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