OBJECTIVE OF THE TRIP
The 3 day rural immersion program at TRTC, Chaibasa was a thoroughly inspirational experience that shook down the walls of usual disregard towards the increasing plight of Indian Villages. The premises couldn’t have been more involving and direct than talking to the villagers ourselves and deducing the exact standards of facilities and the penetration of rural policies set by the government. The objective was not just to understand but educate in whichever possible fashion we could with regards to the time constraints.
When there are concerns of the larger kind, language ceases to be a barrier. Tapping their discontent was not an easy job as we were fairly unfamiliar to them and breaking down the ice was always one of the fundamental steps in interactions. The villagers pretty soon emoted to us and their distress about multiple issues (economic, social and welfare) was more than palpable. If the spread of cellphones can be forgotten for a moment, none of the other more crucial and relevant privileges (Water, Electricity, Allowances/wages) were steadily present in either of the villages we visited, as the report would further explain.
TRTC officials played their part in initially elaborating the need of the visit and the problems which today have unfortunately, fortified as characteristics of these villages. The anti establishment sentiment that is growing in the rural areas of Jharkhand was immediately understandable. We soon planned our key approach to amassing as many data points we could, broadly about
MNREGA schemes and justice
Income and liquidity patterns
Medical and Sanitation issues
Visibility of the village issues on district levels
Perceived credibility of the elected MPs etc.
These interactions were insightful for both the villagers and us. We were lucky to have Ms Sneha Singh in our group who is a doctor who gave us an added vital perspective of assessing rural families and their food and health patterns. It was heartening to persuade the villagers in the aspects of Schooling for children and apprising them about the whole system of Education Loans that would actually relieve them of any kind of academic expenditure. But at the same time, it was disappointing to learn the irregularities/demerits in the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan scheme while being implemented on the grassroots. Consequently, though schooling was being interpreted as a necessity at younger ages for kids, the same kids were duly withdrawn from studies in later grades for farming training.
About Chaibasa and the surrounding area
The village trip we undertook to the interiors of Chaibasa was a good reflection of the real Bharat. Chaibasa, located 60kms away from Jamshedpur in the district headquarters of West Singhbhum, is a town with an average literacy rate of 74%, very close to the national average of 74.04%. It is a prosperous town with good educational facilities and infrastructure. We stayed at Tribal Research and Training Centre (TRTC) which is involved in research, training, development and awareness of the tribal people.
There are a number of schools up to standards 10 th and 12th in Chaibasa. However, in case of college education and degree courses the choices are limited. Recently the Kolhan University has been constituted with its head office at Chaibasa. Children from the surrounding villages usually join Tata College too for higher studies.
Our village immersion programme included visits to 3 villages surrounding Chaibasa – 1. Gamharia
Major issues that were surveyed during the visits
We tried to identify a broad set of issues before the trip so that we would have the framework for a broad set of questions with which we could begin our interviews. We are providing an overview regarding these issues below
Literacy is a major issue among the rural citizens of our country. The villages around Chaibasa are no exception. The lack of standard schools catering to this need is the major road block in this regard. The limited amount of government schools which are there grossly inadequate in terms of teachers, both their number and qualification and the infrastructure. The other factor is the lack of awareness among the people regarding the importance of having an education vis a vis having an extra hand on the fields. This trend is however on the decline as more and more families send their children to surrounding major cities for further education. The literacy of girls is lower compared to their male counterparts. Early age of marriage, at 18 and some even at 16, being one reason and the other being the traditional role of woman as a homemaker and education having no role in it.
The plight of rural India on parameters of health care services is appalling to say the least. Most villages do not even boast of a single qualified doctor with their role being usurped by local quacks. In the case of an emergency, the villagers have to fall back on the health facilities of the major cities which face patient overloads and hence decreased efficiency. The lack of education combined with the absence of a trained health care worker leads to a major lacuna in the knowledge and awareness of the villagers in various health, hygiene and family planning related issues.
Anganwadi- it is the basic health care delivery unit of our entire system and is entitled to convey all health benefits offered by the health ministry to the villagers. They provide the following services:
Vaccination of children
Health talks to women and children
Growth chart maintenance of children below 5 of the village
Information regarding prevention of vector borne diseases
Medicines for minor ailments
Census of the village
Moreover, the limited income of the villagers combined with large family size restricts their food intake resulting in an epidemic of malnutrition, rickets and kwashiorkor among children and anaemia among women. Traditional beliefs and practices make improvements difficult but they are improving notwithstanding.
The plight of villagers in the face of lacking the basic necessities available in urban india brings home to us the inequitability in distribution of our resources. Be it electricity, potable water or good roads we fail our villages on all fronts. Water is sourced via handpumps and is seldom boiled or treated in any way. Electricity is highly irregular and is mainly a campaigneering issue for the politicians. The houses are mostly khacha with them still lacking an indoor lavatory. The connectivity with the neighboring areas is poor because of the double whammy of bad roads and limited means of communication.
The major source of income remains farming with working in the fields, their own or hired is the only difference. It is hardly a wonder hence as to the migration of villagers to urban India. Per capita income being low, mouths to feed many. The stagnation of education prevents their being hired to a better job.
Women of rural India mainly remain confined to their homes, limited to household chores and child upkeep. Their literacy is low with the average being upto 8th standard. In some villages, women form women centric self help groups or ‘Mahila Samiti” which address the issues faced by women and convey it to the munda who conveys it to he authorities. Women are now increasingly a part of Gram Panchayats which help bring their problems to the forefront. The average age for marriage of girls is also rising though it remains 16 or even less at some places.
DAY 1: VISIT TO GHAMARIYA
As a part of our village exposure program, we visited village Ghamaria on day one with our guide. This village has around 150 households. It is administered by a Panchayat. There’s a Mukhiya and a Sarpanch of the Panchyat. And for fast settlement of issues there is a separate head of the village called the munda. The munda calls for regular meetings to address the grievances of the villagers. After seeking permission from the munda, we went to individual houses to interact with the residents.
Farming is the main occupation of the villagers. The main crops that are cultivated are wheat,
moong dal and urad dal. The crops cultivated are mainly for self-consumption rather than selling in the market. There is no means of irrigation apart from the wells and hence the farmers are left entirely to the mercy of the rains. The women are mostly homemakers and occasionally help out in the farm by sowing seeds. Each household on an average holds about 4-5 acres of land. Some villagers who do not own land work as hired labourers in the farms of the other villagers. Some of the people are employed in labor work under MNREGA provision while there were a few amongst them who had migrated to metropolitan cities to seek their means of livelihood.
Housing and Infrastucture
Most of the houses were kachcha, made of mitti (mud) and stones with an outdoor sitting area. The Munda’s house was pucca, made of bricks. The village depended on water from the handpumps which were three in number. Electricity is provided by government here and is highly irratic and infrequent averaging 4 hours per day. They make do with kerosene lamps at night. There are no health facilities/ hospitals available in the village. The village Anganwadi seems to be active in organizing health talks for the women and children. Any medical issues, the villagers have to rush to Chaibasa. There is an ambulance service which is effectively functioning except at night. Near about all households have a mobile connection. Education
There is one school present in the village. It is a middle school and caters to standard 8 students only. The school runs for 6 days in a week and mid-day meals are provided in the school every day. Almost all the children go to school, though some of the adolescent girls still don’t go to school. This is a Hindi medium school where Hindi, English, Math’s is taught by a teacher who comes from Chaibasa. Children who wish to study beyond 8th go to a Kendriya Vidyalaya.
Government has taken various initiatives in the village. They have established hand pumps in the village. The MNEGRA scheme is already functional although with some glitches in the receipt of the payments. The residents even have Aadhar cards. All such provisions started in full flow initially, but have now reduced in number. Some of the villagers do possess ration cards. The ration cards and voter ID cards are mad e in Barkhila. A family can buy around 35 kilos of ration on this card. A Gram Sabha Work is also arranged in the village with the help of the government.
Most of the villagers worked in the field from mornings to evening. They enjoy social work and counseling of the villagers in their free time. Though they have lot of difficulty managing their finances and other major expenditures, the still have higher aspirations for their kids. They wish their children can study more and have a better living condition for themselves. Most of the goods at the store were procured from the nearby towns and the travelling was tiresome and cumbersome.
Lack of economic aid and other facilities are the major issues faced by the villagers. The money they earn is insufficient to fulfill some of the very basic needs. Apart from that the Government Initiatives that were started have now mellowed down and hence they can’t extract any benefits out of it. As a part of one of the Government initiatives, the families of the village were supposed to get 100 rupees/family member from the government to support their livelihood, but this provision is inactive now. The nearest Thana or Hospital where they can report is in Chaibasa, which is around an hour from the village.
The major festival celebrated by the villagers is Mangepuram which happens around February and is accompanied by gatherings, fairs and community dances.
DAY 2: VISIT TO RUIDI
On reaching the village, we took permission from Munda, the village Mukhya, to interact with the local inhabitants. Although everyone was busy in their daily household chores, they gathered together around a big tree. However, the women and young girls chose to sit a little far away on the porch.
It took us a while to enter the comfort zone with the villagers as they seemed apprehensive. 2 of us, Sheena and Sneha, sat with the women while the other 3, Prateek, Ritwick and Paritosh interacted with the men. We learned about the village demographics and also came across a number of issues faced by them day in day out.
There were 79 families in the village residing in about 60 houses. Each family had at least 3 children and some families also had 5 children. Their major occupation is agriculture – rice crop. Unfortunately, they don’t have a water irrigation system and hence are dependent only on the monsoon. They use this primarily for self-consumption instead of selling it in the market. Surprisingly, the rice they buy at subsidized rates is used for making Handiya. There is no other additional source of income with the village youth being uneducated and forced to do agricultural labor work in either the village fields or outside the state in other states like Punjab, Haryana etc. There are 3 hand pumps across the village and the roads are well built. The good part was that the village did not face an electricity shortage; there was supply for about 22 hours daily.
Students went to a nearby school which had only one teacher to teach subjects like Maths and English till standard 8th. The midday meal scheme for serving lunch to the kids was not implemented well – the egg served to them once in a week per students was actually shared by 4 students. Also, the common disease prevalent in the village was Malaria. The village Anganwadi was available for medical facilities and the doctors provided regular instructions and guidance for the villagers. All the vaccinations were given on time and pregnant women were guided well. In spite of this, the ambulance was not available after 10pm for deliveries and so the women delivered inside their houses.
Each family owned about 1-2 acres of land. Government schemes like PDS and MNREGA implementation was inadequate. While the amount disbursed under PDS was underweight, MNREGA implementation was erratic with no work in the year 2013 and issues regarding payment of past dues. Some of the villagers also had bank accounts with PNB and BOI but as expected, they were not using it to their full advantage. They thought that a meager amount of 1-2K was not big enough to be deposited in the bank.
We distributed small packets of biscuits to the excited young kids scattered around and also took them for a joyous car ride. The smiles on their faces were indeed heartwarming! As a number of problems came to the forte, it became clear that a number of steps should be undertaken to ensure that the villager’s at least take advantage of the various government schemes available for their benefit.
DAY 3: VISIT TO TUTTUGHUTTU
We visited Tuttughutu to find that the road to the village was rendered unusable due to the rains and ended up walking the last half kilometer to the village. We entered to find a concrete road leading to the Munda’s house. We were invited to sit in an enclosure in the Munda’s brother’s house which appeared extremely lavish and out of place in the village setting. The reason for the affluence, as we later found out, is that he Munda overseeing 8 smaller villages with over 2000 people residing in them. The Munda’s brother too worked in the city and thus could afford a lifestyle well above the average villager’s.
The villagers in Tuttughutu were primarily engaged in agriculture, with rice being the most grown crop. However, due to lack of irrigation facilities, the villagers manage only one harvest a year with all of it being used for domestic consumption. Cheap rice is available for those who hold a ration card while the rest earn money either through MNREGA or by temporarily going to urban centres for 6 month to 1 year long periods to work as labour. The village, having over 2000 people, experiences subtle pressures to vote as a block and this was very apparent in the fact that over 90% of all the villagers had voter IDs while less than 25% had ration cards. Lack of support from the local administration and governance was a severe
issue with new ration cards being tough and cumbersome to issue. Payment due through MNREGA was also delayed, sometimes by as much as 3 months. Educational facilities are another area where the people were facing severe difficulties. The school in the area is woefully understaffed and the staff that are currently employed are disinterested and indifferent. Even after repeated complaints about this, no changes have been made so far. The mid-day mean plan is implemented fairly well here, the only exception being the rule for 1 boiled egg per child per week. This too was because of the fluctuation price of eggs in the region.
Drinking water is a scarce resource with only 5 tubewells servicing the entire population. It was interesting to note that one out of the 5 tubewells was inside the Munda’s house complex. Even though a few more tubewells are present, they were all dysfunctional at the time. Alcoholism, through consumption of the locally made rice brew called ‘Hadiya’, plagues the village and has resulted in several conflicts, physical fights and escalation of petty issues. It also leads to health issues. However, no case of death due to consumption of spurious alcohol has been registered as well.
The villagers had no toilet facilities and were still defecating out in the open. The village did have an aanganwaadi and ambulance services were available at time of emergency. The village did not receive any electric supply. The use of mobile phones was extremely widespread with an overwhelming majority using them. The villagers paid Rs. 10 for every time they charged their phone and the charging facility was available at chaibasa.
After conducting in-depth interviews in three villages, and speaking to people belonging to different age-groups and gender, we have been able to develop a broad picture of the issues plaguing the people of Chaibasa and its neighboring villages and some key root causes behind the issues. Based on these root causes, we have come up with a set of recommendations. These recommendations are preliminary in nature, based on just 3 days of work, but we sincerely believe that if they are developed further, they can lead to some very favourable changes in the long-run.
Broader participation for villagers in the decision making process: As discussed before, each village has a headman known as the “Munda” whose post is ancestral in nature. Most of the decisions in the village, especially regarding nomination of people for different responsibilities, are supposed to be taken in a common “Gram Sabha”. However, a lot of times, such decisions are taken behind closed doors and villagers constantly complained that people who were nominated for different responsibilities were not fit for the task, and during their nomination, the villagers were not properly consulted. To give a specific example, one of the villages had a process of nominating a person from the village who would be responsible for the day-to-day working of the school and who would provide a connect between the villagers and the school authorities. However, the person nominated was himself illiterate and completely unfit for the task (according to the villagers). Hence, there is a need to make “Gram Sabhas” more participative.
Create a direct link between school authorities and villagers: On talking to most of the villagers, we realized that they are generally open about the idea of sending their sons and daughters to school but they have no trust on the school administration or the teachers. There is a very important need to develop a communication channel between the teachers and the parents. This will help the parents to develop trust, and also to at least get a broad idea of what their children are learning in school and how it might help them.
Here, it is important to mention that most schools seemed to be under-staffed and (according to the villagers) the teachers were non-serious. It is first critical that teachers take up their duties seriously and then take up the issue of communicating frequently with the village population. This communication can be done in monthly gram sabhas where teachers can present a report about the happening in the school in the last one month and parents can voice their concers, not only about the quality of education but also about related schemes such as the mid-day meal scheme.
Creating co-operative societies for selling “Dhan”: The main occupation of people in all the three villages visited by us was cultivating rice (known as “dhan”). The people are not very enterprising and hence consume most of their produce at home itself. Individual farmers also do not have the scale to bargain with buyers or to sell in markets farther away from their home. It is possible to set up co-operative societies in villages where a each farmer contributes a portion of his produce to be sold in the market. If multiple villages come together in this way, it can help them to access broader markets and get better prices for their produce. This way, they will be able to save some money which they can use to improve their quality of life.
Dual season cultivation: The villagers only cultivate rice once during the year. They should be taught about complementary crops (crops that can be cultivated after rice in the off-season) and farming in the off-season. This can have a huge impact on their financial situation as they can sell the complete produce from the second cultivation.
Controlling malaria and other diseases: Malaria is the most common disease in the villages and even then, proper medicine for its cure is not available in the local “Anganwaris”. Most of the major hospitals are located near Chaibasa, and hence it might make sense to reach out to these hospitals and procure medicines for malaria, especially during the current monsoon season. Also, government agencies should be contacted so that at least the bare minimum medicine can be made available to the villagers.
Financial literacy: There should be a provision to hold regular financial literacy camps in the villages so that farmers become aware of the basic financial concepts such as savings, bank accounts, loan etc. Quite a major fraction of the villagers had bank accounts, but they had no idea how to use them or what all facilities they can avail from a bank. Hence, constant information on financial literacy will inculcate saving habits among villagers and also make them financially secure in the long run.
Empowering women: Most of the women that we spoke to did not have a major say in the decision making of the family. Some of them were even not allowed to speak to their neighbours during free time. However, we believe that this is not a cultural constraint, as culturally, tribal societies have never tried to subjugate their female members. We can bring in small changes by giving women responsibility for small tasks such as maintenance of the water pump etc. This way, women will be able to come forward, share ideas with their male counterparts and contribute more towards the development of their society. Women are also generally considered to be more adept at handling money than men, and through these small initiatives, we might see women taking more important decisions for their families in the long run.