The Sahariya TribeA saga of struggle for existence
The Sahariya Tribe Saharia is a little-known tribe in India. The Saharias are found mainly in Morena, Bhind, Gwalior, Datia, Shivpuri and Guna districts of Madhya Pradesh and parts of Rajasthan. They live in the Khair, Kardhai and Babool forests of the valleys of the Kuno, Parbati, Sindh, and Kali Sindh rivers. Their agricultural income is marginal but they get substantial additional income from working in the forests and collecting minor forest produce such as honey, edible gums, manufacture of kattha, collection of chironji, tapping Salai trees etc. They also find employment in large grass reserves of the Kuno valley. They are good huntsmen.
Name :Saharia People Name General: Saharia Alternate People Names: Bamrawat Banrakha Harauti Soprahiya Suraiya Population in India:623,000 Population in all Countries:627,000
Population Break Up Madhya Pradesh (454,000) Rajasthan (82,000) Uttar Pradesh (40,000) Bihar (20,000) West Bengal (16,000) Chhattisgarh (1,600) Uttaranachal (600) Jharkhand (500) Andaman and Nicobar Islands (50) Assam (Unknown
Social Life Sahariyas generally reside in separate basti in the village which is called Saharana. The religious practice by these tribals is Hinduism. The Sahariyas maintained ecological equilibrium with their environment for ages, despite low level of technology. Mostly they were engaged as gatherers of minor forest produce and agriculture labourers. The main business are gathering & selling of forest wood, Gum, Tendu leaf, Honey, fruits and vegetables. Though Sahariyas, in general are primitive, but all of them are not so. Some of them are settled cultivators. Others are landless labourers and forest produce gatherers. They live in small families. The elder sons live separately after marriage and younger son bear the responsibilities of the parents amd unmarried brothers-sisters. Marriages are performed after attaining the age of 15 years. There are some arranged marriages and some in the ceremony in the fairs.
The Community One of the scheduled tribe has been named as `Sahariyas’ only because it was totally dependent upon forests for its very existence in terms of its society, family, livelihood and everything else. The people of `Sahariyas’ tribe never bothered of their future, because they were confident that forests, which they respect and protect, would never leave them hungry. However, the other groups of Society have exploited the forests to the tilt, for meeting their own self-interests. Consequently, the very source providing the food security to the families of `Sahariyas’ tribe has been irretrievably damaged. Left with no alternative, the people of `Sahariyas’ tribe had to look out for labour work in the local stone mines to earn their livelihood. Slowly and slowly, they were becoming a tool of exploitation in the wider perspective of our social system.
A bird Eye View Their habitations are located outside the main villages. It is generally a cluster of houses. The housing reminds of prehistoric scenes. It is made of some stone boulders and roofing is also of stone slabs. In some villages mud structures are also constructed. Brick and concrete are very rare. Government has attempted at providing housing to them. But Sahariya prefers to live these stone huts- locally called as Patore. Most of their livelihood resources are in the control of powerful people .e.g. land, water and forest produce. In most cases their land is bad and that too is usurped by others. High indebtedness, land alienation, abysmal literacy level, preponderance of tuberculosis and malaria, and lack of social security are some facets of their vulnerability. Severe malnutrition among the children and starvation deaths has also been reported. Shy and submissive by nature, they fall easy prey to the manipulation of corrupt people. The services like health, education, electricity and nutrition care and social security exist mostly in profound sentiments of the policies; most Sahariyas have been denied access to them.
Bird’s Eye Continues As the forest cover is disappearing, Sahariyas are forced to work as casual labor. Formal administrative system has never been understood by them. Complex procedures of the Government have further scared them away from seeking its support. Government has been pushing scheme after scheme for their development, little benefit reaches to them. Middlemen and Government Officials have taken benefit of these programs. At many places Sahariyas have been tortured to leave their native village by the mischievous people to take over their land. In such cases they have migrated to other places in search of security. The area is also infamous for dacoits and organized robbers. These groups move from place to place looking for hideouts from the police. Poor Sahariyas are forced to entertain these hooligans with monetary, food, liquor and women. Any attempt to refuse brings heavy penalty on them in the form of physical beating, gang rape and rampage of their villages. Police looks at them as informers and tries to use force and threat for gathering information about the movement of dacoits.
Critical Concerns Land tenure and related conflicts have become a part of Sahariyas very existence. They were never known to own land but had a major contribution in converting forestland for agriculture. It is this land or the ambiguity of their ownership of it, which has been a constant source of conflict with their more powerful neighbors as well as with the Government. The conflicts range from oppression by the Gurjars and Sardars, who are constantly trying to drive the Sahariyas away from the land, to the local officials who perpetuate amazing forms of mal -governance and injustice. For instance: (i) Giving pattas without actual possession of land, or vice versa; (ii) Year after year realizing a fine from encroached forest lands but not maintaining records of the same thus, depriving the Sahariyas of proof of duration of occupancy (iii) There is a constant conflict between the Forest Department and the Revenue Department on the issue of the demarcation of land. Often it is found that jurisdiction of both the departments overlap and the Sahariyas who occupy such areas are caught between the two government departments, who never seem to be in a mood to resolve the issue.
Critical Concerns Exploitation - Khadaans(Stone Quarries), bonded labour, dacoities(robbers) and liquor have become synonymous with the lot of the Sahariyas. The mode of abuse is as varied as they are cruel. The Khadaans or the mines are a hotbed of exploitation. The Sahariyas are encouraged by the mine or land owners to take petty loans which, more often then not; they are unable to pay. Workers are charged for absenteeism and also at times chained up in the mine premises so that they are unable to run away and instead forced to work. Dacoities are a common feature in this area and they particularly target the Sahariyas. The dacoities are more often perpetuated by the landed Gurjars or the mine owners themselves or supported by them with the intention of forcing the Sahariyas to penury as well as terrorizing them to abandon their land and run away, thus providing the former a chance to snatch away the land. Liquor is another mode of well-planned exploitation. Liquor is often sold by the mine owners at the site of the mines and the payment deducted from the wages of the workers
Migration After the festival of Holi, the people of Sahariya tribe migrate for about 75 days between March 15 and June 30. During these 75 days neither they get full employment nor they earn sufficient enough to meet his livelihood requirement during coming monsoon season.Statistics of migration period: Total period of migration: 75 days No.of days preparatory to migration: 5-7 days Days spent to secure work: 5-7 days Period of unemployment/holidays: 5-7 days Sickness or emergent days: 3-4 days Preparing to return back: 5-7 days Total No. of non-productive days : 23-32 days
Income During Migration During Chait period, the maximum wages earned by Sahariyas people are for harvesting the wheat crop. But instead of cash payment, they receive a part of total crop. As per prevailing practice, they receive about 5% of the total crop as their wages i.e. in return of harvesting one quintal of wheat, they receive 5 Kgs. of wheat as their wages. Here also they face exploitation. In return of harvesting 21 Pooras (local measurement: 1 Poora = 2.33 Kgs.), he receives 1 Poora as his wages.
Effects of Migration The fact remains that during migration, the tribal women are exploited to the extreme. Children had to leave their studies during migration. Elders of the family, handicapped members and pregnant women had to suffer problems beyond words without any safety arrangements for them. Migration in itself becomes a web of indebtedness to moneylenders. Many a times they had to sell their animal husbandry and their temporary huts are totally destroyed. They are unable to use their entitlements such as Public Distribution System, ICDS and Mid Day Meals.
Exploitation The migrant Sahariyas are generally exploited and are made to work for long hours and paid wages less than the local labourers, even below the prescribed minimum wages. Taking advantage of their illiteracy and poverty, middlemen practice exploitative recruitment practices and retain a major portion of their wages as their own commission. Moreover, wages are adjusted only at the end of the season and workers are paid some advances, which are not at all sufficient to meet even their basic requirements. The condition of women labourers are far more vulnerable, who are invariably paid lesser wages as compared to their male counterparts. Sexual exploitation of women migrant labourers is a matter of deep concern. Most of the migrant workers live in conditions below the minimum accepted standards without adequate shelter and toilet facilities. In most places, migrants stay in make shift shacks or in the open and have no access to safe drinking water. In the urban areas, shortage of open space and harassment by local musclemen add to their misery The non-inclusion of migrants in the electoral rolls also deprives them of political patronage and results in their extreme political marginalization. The employers and contractors also adopt exploitative practices against the migrants and employ various methods to circumvent the provisions of Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act (ISMW) in such a manner to escape from the purview of such Act.
What is needed Administration to be accountable for quality education and health services. Any negligence should be strictly dealt and concerned persons to be penalized. Social security and legal aid support for each family should be insured. A comprehensive development plan to be developed considering specific needs and demands of the Sahariyas. Declaring Sahariya Zone with special senior level committee to look into their day to day problems. Present Food distribution system is not adequate to meet their needs. It should be totally overhauled. Mobile shops for grains and cooked food are put in place to ensure availability of food to every one. It is taken for granted that all the Sahariyas can pay for medicine, food, electricity and education. The truth is that many do not even eat meals two times a day and go without food on some days. Children are highly malnourished and suffer from skin and other infections. The ICDS program has to be held accountable along with ANM if cases of severe malnutrition are identified in the village. NREG program has gone totally in corrupt hands. Soon the Sahariyas would refuse to work since the payments are much less than daily wages otherwise available. It is leading to serious restless among the poor. Immediate district level monitoring committees should be made with representation of credible NGOs and Media Personals. Land disputes continue to harass the tribal everywhere. Special courts should be setup to hear these cases. Disputes between Forest and Revenue departments over land maps and ownership has caused insurmountable suffering to Sahariyas.