I have been travelling far and wide since the day I was associated with Sevabharathi a Voluntary social development organisation. In the process had the opp to work with various tribes and communities.
Only to name some of them , Lambadas, Chenchus, Gonds, Kollams, Koyas, Kondareddys. Though its a piecemeal study Its a fabulous experience for an MBA who thinks hes a Know all and India is what he thinks. It was a sort of a revelation for the felloa thats me. Initially it was undigestable, that there were so many people in so disturbing condition exploited not somewhere else but just in my state and in the very vicinity i use to travel and interact.
Chenchus of the Nallamalla
The Chenchus (Andhra pradesh) of Nallamalla forest are one of the most Primitive Tribal Groups in India. They can be traced back to centuries even in todays “modern days”. With Forests fast depleting, nowhere to go the tribals are in a fix. They unlike other Tribals of the state (Gonds, Pradhans, Konda reddys, Khollams) have been unable to try other sources of livelihood.
Chenchus primarily are dependent on hunting, forest produces etc., for their food needs. But with no forest covers left to survive on and the non-tribals intrudinginto their food sources the forests they are left nowhere. A survey by the NGO Sevabharathi reveals that almost 3% of the population (total pop: 40,000 and odd) is affected bt TB and the tribe is fast loosing its numbers due to numerous other diseases (Malnutrition, Skin diseases, fevers during monsoons). The other more worrying fact is that their reproductive capacity is noose diving, making sociologists and anthropologists more worrying.
Chenchus initially depended on the Tax that they levied on piligrims (Piligrims visiting Srisailam, Kurnool dist) for guarding them from the wild animals of the Nallamala. Then after a while the Transport improved and the same tax was levied on travellers in Private buses passing through the area. Now with no source of income they have become a week and dying tribe.
Neither the govt nor the non-govt agencies have been able to do anything remarkable for them to walk into the mainstream life. If left that way we would miss one of the rarest food gathering tribes (only one of its kind in India) forever.
Visit to GOKAVARAM and Adjoined Hamlets for Evaluation of the CAPART Funded Awareness Campaign in the PTG Chenchu Community
The Program started with me (Chowdary) and Shravan leaving from Hyderabad on 20th Jun’03 to Kurnool for a night halt at Kurnool. We were to receive Mr Gangireddy a Faculty in Ruaral Industries NIRD appointed evaluator by CAPART, who was on another assignment in TADIPATRI and will arrive at arround 12:00 am night.
The next Morning was a freshness all around away from the cities pollution. At about 5:45 am we started off to the Gokavaram village. The Team Included Myself Shravan and Sri GangiReddy Faculty Rural Industries NIRD accompanied (who has come all the way from Hyderabad to evaluate the Awareness Campaign for Chenchus Conducted by SEVABHARATHI and Funded by CAPART) were Sri Rajeswar Reddy Coromandel Fertilisers Ltd, Zonal Marketing Manager (Retd), Sri RaghuRamaiah the President Sevabharathi Kurnool Unit. We Reached Gokavaram at about 8:45 am to meet the Project Director and Vice PresidentSevabharathi Sri Mallikarjun Sharma. After a brief of the terrain and the local conditions we started to the CHENCHU gudems (habbitations) ofcourse after a light breakfast. We were joined here by Sri Vasudevreddy a co-ordinator of the Tribal aid and Research Project, also was Sri Mallikarjuna Sharma the Director of the Above Mentioned Programme. Our Program was to visit the Beneficiaries of the Awareness programme funded by CAPART, evaluate the impact on them, also to Pre-evaluate the fresh proposals submitted to capart.
The First leg of our evaluation programe started with musallamadugu hamlet inhabited by 15 families. When we got down the vehicle we could see nobody in the school but for the smoking kitchen (under the midday meal scheme) but by the time we got near it there were half a dozen children. Three women attended the AWARENESS PROGRAM from the place. The woman nagamma has started shouting and complaining on bad quality of food as soon as we started asking if the school was running regular and the PHC is accessible. The village has water facility potable. Power was not a problem as there were ILLEGAL power points and Decks with latest Telugu Film Songs were being played. The Women who attended the Awareness program activly came forward and wanted their kids to be joined in the Gurukulam run by sevabharathi. Vasudev reddy has been recognised and people flocked to him. Shravan was enquiring of the childrens health they were complaining of frequent fevers and no food. No SHG has its presence in the hamlet.
The headman was pullanna a SC appointed as VSS President and VTDA incharge (Duplicated as ST in the official Records). We visited his home there was his son who revealed that his brother was studying MPC Junior college in a Private institution in Kurnool. The villagers go to picking the Forest produce if not for the mud and soil transportation illegally carried out by the contractors.
The next leg of the program was Yerramatham a village shifted from the banks of river Krishna to the place now it exists. The Chenchu gudem also named Yerramatham is just 1 and half km from the village. The first sight we saw of the hamlet was some women buying sarees they stood up to wish vasudevreddy and Sri Gangireddy. The hamlet was full of ruined pukka houses, with big houses built by the govt of AP only to be inhabited by goats, sheep and hen. We were curios as to why they left the concrete pukka houses and live in small huts. Their response was the pukka houses collapse and we do not like to be killed. Then the tribals were curios if we would give them some loans to buy buffaloes and Goats so that they can sell the same and have something to eat. Mr Gangireddy was curious to know what next after three months of selling the cattle. Then the woman yellamma wanted water as the villagers were exploiting the bores specially drilled by the govt for the tribals. She also demanded for immediate distribution of medicinal plants to grow them and earn thir living. There was a bore and engine room but the machine was seen nowhere but a pipe connected to the engineroom went all the way to the village. The hamlet survives on the
Suganda pal a medicinal herb in high demand in the area for making the cooldrinks locally branded. They also collect tamarind and a special type of Gum that is taken as a dish when cooked with oil. There was a SHG once but today nobody wants to save as theres no income at all. All the tribals were of praise to Sri Chinna veerabhadrudu as he was visiting the gudems frequently and mingling with the locals.
The third and final was the Janala hamlet we had to cross the Krishna (drained due to drought) by the vehicle and we could witness a magnificient temple of Sree Sidheswara (Lord Shiva) it is sumerged most of the time and in the summer only it could be
seen. This Shivrathri there was a glorious worship and celebration to please the rain god. The temple they say is a complex of temples (15) but most of them shifted because of the backwaters taking them. Our journey continued on a tideous curvy and difficult terrain for over half an hour and we reached the janala hamlet inhabited basically by fisherman. The people chenchus there are exploited by the landlords / big farmers, in the migration that took place when the back waters were increasing in intensity many of them the marginal and large farmers went away after claiming their compensation to the loss. But now again the same farmers have come back to claim their lands as they say. When asked of why not protest for their right the Chenchus earnestly denied saying they want peaceful living and not quarrel. There were lots of dumped fishing nets and fishing boats now useless also there were the harvesting and small farm machinery supplied by the dept of tribal affairs. One glaring instance of insensitiveness towards their needs was the Borewells that were dug in the river bed which shall by all means get submerged in the Krishna when the water is full. Even otherwise the bores are pretty faraway. Out of the seven bores only 3 have water in them and the other dried but the three are in the riverbed. When asked what they would do if the bores submerge the simple reply was we should drink the Krishna.
The plight of the Chenchus was too much to see but none to act towards their upliftment. On paper there is so much development and they say Chenchus are developed So the Govt has shifted the ITDA now to Nellore to work for the yerukala.
We were back to Gokavaram ofcourse not before we had a breakdown of the vehicle and then you could imagine what sort of a terrain it was that the vehicle had to be abandaned and we went by bus to the Residential hostel or the GURUKULAM as it is called. We had to wait till 12 in the night before our vehicle was up and ready to transport us. Mr Gangireddy was curious of the details of the GURUKULAM.
SEVABHARATHI CHILD LABOUR SCHOOL: Sri Chidatmanandas visit
Children of Child labour school distributed Uniforms by Swamy Chidatmananda
Sevabharathi runs Child labour Rehabilitation centers (4 in Mahaboobnagar and one at the Proddutur) schools. The children are from the cotton seed plots and the cattle raring families (major chunk) of Bhootpur, Makhtal, Balmoor and Anwada mandal. But the major problem for the children taking to child labour is the Migration of the elders who donot find work to earn their livelihood.And one fact that astonishes everybody but is commonly known is they travel as far as the Gujarat for a minimum contract fee of Rs.9,000 p. a. (This years official statistics of migration were put at 10 lakh migrants till date from the district.) Usually its a 15 month contract and sometimes more but the Parrents take the childre along with them. Now what all sevabharathi has done is to convince the parrents that Sevabharathi shall take care of their children until they are back.
So we had 600 children from all sections of the respective mandals (Taluq) . The children since they are the Child labourers they have been exposed to bigger things than their age can bear with. So the children have to be handled in a better trained and smooth way. Sevabharathi has designed a curriculum with Song, Dance, two way dialog and the small skits and plays. The result is there, for everybody to see. Thanks to the continuous efforts by the teachers, volunteers and all the well wishers. We could mould the child labourers in to good Students. And Today 130 of them had been mainstreamed into reggular schools. The Govt has alloted Seats in the Social Welfare hostels the children as they would again go back to work and not school.
CHINMAYA MISSION GIFTS SCHOOL UNIFORMS TO SEVABHARATHI SCHOOL CHILDREN (CHILD LABOUR REHABILITATION UNIT) July 19th ’03
In the Early hours at 4:45 am of a fine day (19th july’03) the swamy chinmayananda missions AP regional chief swamyji the poojyaniya Swamy Chidananda chaitanya started to the sevabharathi Child labour Rehabilitation ceneter. The programme was to Gift the children a pair of uniform. Two ceneters were selected for distribution 1) AMISTPUR center 2) Makthal center for the distribution. It was a total of 200 pairs to the children. Accompanied by the Brahmachary Anshuman Chaitanya (the incharge of the seva activities of Chinmaya mission), trustees sree Ravindar, sree Murali krishna, sree Shiva and one Mr Poorna chander all of them chinmaya sewa trust. With us also were me (Chowdary) information incharge Sevabharathi, Sree Thirumal also from sevabharathi Functional incharge of the Deendayal seva samithi a slum development project of sevabharathi and Mr Vijaya Kumar Director of a Software company also incharge of country affairs IDRF (AN NGO based in USA).
We reached the ashram at 4:45 am and swamyji was waiting we quickly took over and started at 5:15 am we were surprised to see the swamyji simply sliding in to the driving seat. It was a two and half hour journey. The swamyji was silent meditative and swift in driving. I was just trying to explain the swamyji of the condition of the children before they come to sevabharathi rehabilitation center and all the things i mentioned above. The swamyji was absorbing all the (little bits of information I knew) information. We reached the school at 7:15 am and as we planned the programme to start at 8:45 am the children were just bathing. The swamyji wanted to know where from we brought these children, how they are motivated to read from their working background, what we taght and how. Brahmachary anshuman Chaitanya was curious of the educational part of the programme while we were trying to get the children quick to the assembly. At 8:45 am the children were at the assembly hall and stood up to wish the swamyji with folded hands and Namaskaram Acharyaji. The swamyji blessed the children there were 86 children and the rest 24 were at home as they were feeling home sick. (The children visit their nearest relatives for half a day or so). The programme started with introducing the assembly and then the children reciting their usual prayer (Swamyji didnot want their usual sessions to be distrubed) and then the Dhyana shlokas recited by a child “Jyothi” (a lambada girl) and so clear was her accent that sanskrit seemed pleasant. The Head master of the center gave the introduction along with a report of the activity of the school. The Swamyji inspired the volunteers and teachers with a simple blessing and his words and I Quote” You are doing the divine work of guiding the child labourers deprived of child hood with Education you are the blessed. And this is the real SEWA. After the prayer the actual programme of distribution of clothes started.
As mentioned above 86 children were gifted the uniforms along
with the blessings of his highness the poojya swamy Chidatmananda chaitanya. the children wore the smile and that has lit the campus even in the daylight. The Children I would like to mention here have only a single pair of clothes that too torn and worn out. I shall give you an anectode at the end of this program which i came across in the school. The programme at the school ended with thanks giving by the caretaker Mr laxmaiah and Children reciting Shlokas from Bhagawatgeeta bhakthiyoga. And with the shanthi mantra the programme was wound up leaving the dresses of the absentees with the head master. The swamyji and all others took their morning breakfast with the children. One day a girl child was crying in the school and I asked her why she was crying, to which she replied nobody wants her to sleep by her side and she was beeing kept aloof. I asked who it was actually the name of the akka (The children call each other by akka, anna or chelle, thammudu ie brother / sister) she told that evrybody was but could only remember Shiva neela akka. I called up shiva neela and after a bit of pursuation she told acharyaji this girl doesnt take bath and is dirty (Shivaleela too was in the same condition when she came here initially she wouldnt have her bath for the same reason). Then I turned to her and asked why nanna what happened why dont you take a bath Its bad that you dont take a bath. The answer struck ” but acharyaji I have only this pair and none to change to” with a very innocent godly face. I couldnt say anything but leave for mahaboobnagar to get her a pair of used clothes. (We didnt have provision of funds to buy the clothes and medicines as also the haircut). Thats how i came to know the value of a smile that blossoms when you gift a child a pair of dress ( even if it is USED). We have lots in our houses but those USED UNWANTED stuff of clothes can bring SMILES to 100 ‘s of faces of innocent children. All the children are in the age group of 6-14 years and they shall be excited to have the luxury of this small favour.
Comming back to the programme the swamyji had another programme a yagna the next day and had to leave early. Sree Ravinderji and sree vijaykumar, Sree Thirumal and myself were assigned the job to gift the remaining 58 pairs of clothes on brehalf of the CHINMAYA MISSION to the children of the second unit run by SEVABHARTHI at MAKHTAL 75 kms from the Amistapur unit (3 hours drive from the city). After an hour and half s drive to Makhtal we reached the school in makhtal. There the children were quick enough and wore the dress then and there that was the amount of the excitement they are expiriencing and ravinderji wanted all of them to come in the new dress. All the children were thrilled by the gift and it was not possible for the best poets and scholars to express in words their feelings and happpiness. Thanks to chinmaya mission.
To be Contd….