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Isolated Indian tribes struggle for basic facilities

Church social workers are helping some of India’s most underdeveloped villages

Ritu Sharma, Lalitpur

Ritu Sharma, Lalitpur

Updated: February 02, 2016 08:12 AM GMT
Isolated Indian tribes struggle for basic facilities

Women of the Gour tribe in northern India's Uttar Pradesh state discuss the lack of facilities in their village. (Photo by Bijay Kumar Minj)

Fifty-year-old Ram Kishan went through a nightmare when his 5-year-old daughter developed severe fever and fell unconscious.

Not only is there no medical help in his village in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, there are no roads or transport facilities that connect it to the outside world.

The nearest clinic is 30 kilometers away in the Madwara area but that didn't stop him trying to get care for his daughter.

"We put her on a cot, which we carried on our shoulders, and started for Madwara but she could not take it anymore and she died midway," Kishan told ucanews.com.

He is unsure what sickness killed his daughter. "It might have been pneumonia," he said.  

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Along with 78 other families of the Gour tribe, Kishan lives in Ganthra village, which is surrounded by 11,000 hectares of dense forest.

The tribe has little contact with the outside world. Adding to the isolation there is no electricity. Televisions, phones and radios are far away dreams.

"I do not know how it feels to have electricity in the house. We do not even get kerosene oil to light lamps," Maya Rani, a woman in the village told ucanews.com.

"The only option for visibility at night is to burn some firewood collected from the forest."

Rani said that the firewood burns for an hour and in that time "we have to eat our dinner and finish our chores for the night."



The tribe, which is the most underdeveloped in the state, is mostly dependent on gathering produce from the surrounding forest to make an income.

Apart from firewood, they collect herbs, gooseberry honey, spices, leaves used for making Indian cigarettes, and various forest fruits to sell at a market.

"We leave in the morning for the forest and return only in the evening," Kishan said. "It is very tough as there are wild animals like bears in the forest. We have no choice as it our only source of income."

From forest gathering, a family can earn between 100-200 rupees (US$1.50-3) a day.

The village has a government school that teaches up to the eighth grade but most of the time it has had no teachers. The long walk through the forest is too much for them, the villagers say.

"Even though my son studied up untill eighth grade, he cannot write his name nor can he read anything. Firstly, the teachers do not come and if they do, they do not take interest in teaching," Saroj Rani, another village woman said.

In the last 15 years, only one student from the village has been able to reach college.

Despite the hardships, the villagers don't want to go to the cities to make a living.

"What will we do there? We do not know anyone in the city," said Kishan. "Here at least we have the forest. In a city, we will have to buy everything and for that we will have to earn a lot of money to survive," he added.

The Gour tribal people in the nearby villages of Papda and Lakhinjar face the same challenges.


Children in Ganthra village don't get an education because there are no teachers in the school. (Photo by Bijay Kumar Minj)


Saharia tribe

Ten kilometers away in the same area, Raju Saharia lives in Soldah village, which houses 80 families of the Saharia tribe. The village has electricity lines connected to homes but there hasn't been any power for the past six months, Saharia said.

"What is the point of having electricity connections? There was a power failure six months ago and the authorities have forgot to return the supply," Saharia said.

As part of a Jhansi Diocese community development project, church social workers have been making efforts to help these remote communities.

"For the past two years the project has been active in 40 villages in the Madwara area," said Father V.J. Thomas, head of the diocese's social work. "It is a diocesan initiative to make these people aware about the basics of life."

The project provides villagers with information about various government schemes and how to benefit from them. Social workers also provide counseling on the importance of education, cleanliness and the harmful effects of drugs.

Project manager K.N. Gautam said that the villagers initially were not very receptive but that changed over time.

"We organized a puppet show to tell them the positive impact of some basic things like education and cleanliness can have in their life," Gautam said, adding that there has been a considerable change in the living conditions of these people now.

Goye Lal, a 70-year-old man, said there have been improvements.

He said that after counseling, the villagers are also trying to cultivate vegetables on the small land holdings they have.

"What these people [social workers] tell us is for our own good. Not only the houses but we also keep the lanes of the village clean."


Saroj Rani dries bael fruit (wood apple) on the roof of her house. The dried product will be sold at a market. (Photo by Bijay Kumar Minj)

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