Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Udaipur -- Where "Bharat Uday" is a funny sarcastic trope

A visit away from the campus was always on the cards with friends. It never came about though, for a variety of reasons. An opportunity was found at last; a class trip ostensibly on a field survey, as part of a research methodology course to Udaipur, Rajasthan. (Aside: This was the 13th state in India that I was visiting, 15 more to go). My pal, Caesar, put it more eloquently: "Srini, here we are, wanting to go out sometime, forced at last to do so, by "State Intervention"". Well, of course, the entire trip was sponsored by the university, and so Caesar was very right indeed. What followed after 4 days of bonding, travelling, investigating, noting down and analysing was a thorough dose of reality-intake; and surely I returned from the trip further wizened and introspective.

Details of the Trip:

We reached Udaipur and camped at a NGO training centre in mofussil 'Bedla' and after a quick briefing, packed our bags to go on a junket to a tribal enclave nearby the tehsil 'Kotda'; our mission to research on the notion of Tribal Self Rule in these areas. Our stay in Kotda & interaction with the officials of administration, governance, legislature and the people themselves gave us a decent picture of the institutions at place at this area. What was sobering was the fact that all HDI indicators for this place were abysmal (Sample: Literacy: 20%) and we got it confirmed from the interaction we had with the tribals themselves. Their living conditions were probably among the worst in India.

People in these tribal villages were staying like animals, I say this with the utmost respect for them. Families averaging 7 per household, living on subsistence farming, forced to work as contract labour, uneducated though willing to be educated, least exposure to the changes in the world (not even electricity has touched their lives yet), the tribals paradoxically were living this life with a contented demeanour!

After a while, I found it increasingly futile to study the efficacy of institutions in a place where individuals were so poorly lacking in enough modern "conscience" of the necessity at all of such institutions. Ergo, I wanted to further go about yet another day of research and what followed, with the graceful consent of my accompanying professor, was a permitted visit to another tribal village with a different team of classmates who were studying Tribal Human Rights. I worked with them in the village, Morella, gleaning enough information to supplement the work of the previous day.

The second village was better off in its facilities and education levels. The issue in question here was Tribal Displacement, that was brought about due to an archaic custom of reparation in a dispute (called Moutana) followed in the tribal village. The displaced tribals were actually though driven away from their homes because of a land dispute and these people had stayed away from their village for nearly 9 years, before intervention by mainstream Naxalite groups in the form of registration of peaceful protest, help in registering voter cards, etc brought the deaf administration to bring these people back to their village.

I checked then upon the work done by the Naxal groups and what action they had in mind for the future, somehow, though I was discomfited by their reference to a more radical strategy, which I felt was going to bring further state oppression on the hapless displaced tribals.

I also had the first hand opportunity to interview an agricultural farmer while ploughing the field alongwith him. Surveys of households were also part of the job. The women were more forthcoming about problems and were more eloquent about the role of politics in their village surprisingly.

In the end, I got enough material to make a decent report of the political institutions, processes and dynamics of contestation, hierarchy in the tribal villages that I had visited. Plus these, we also got enough sobering memories of the depressing socio-economic profiles of the impoverished tribal villagers. All in all, I returned home in a rather sombre mood, mulling over the images that were etched about the conditions of my fellow countrymen in hinterlands, far removed from the brouhaha that is reported so sanguinely by the mainstream press in our country.

Next time, someone tells me that India is shining on my face, I plan to give him/ her a mouthful.

5 comments:

Dust-Biter said...

Interesting...and sad...I believe that such downtrodden people exist in all states in our country...

I wish there were exhaustive analyses on the root causes for their problems - why the institutions fail etc..

Kesari said...

Nice post.. and should have been an interesting trip.. very true, such groups exist in most parts of India..

I wonder how any change can be brought about in their lives.. government intervention -or- NGO action -or- ?? Wish someone comes up with a model that can solve most if not all of the issues..

Srini said...

Simha,

Our expedition was merely a survey report. Exhaustive analysis on Tribals' issue, I believe already exist. I suggest you go to the archives of Economic and Political Weekly (EPW- www.epw.org.in), and search for stuff on the issues of tribals and that of institutions in these areas.

Ganes,

I think that NGOisation is strong where grassroots political movements haven't been good enough. Personally, I feel that Political mobilization and articulation is the best means of achieving progress, because come what may NGOs have a) sometimes a vested interest in themselves, b) they only try to improve upon the status quo and do not bring any worthwhile earth shattering change in essence. Its my understanding therefore that without political articulation be it in the form of movements or even institutional processes such as electoral mobilization, there cannot occur any proper change in the lives of the afflicted tribals. Its easier said than done.. Why would take a long time and a longer analysis to explain and elucidate. I am keeping that exercise for the sake of posterity later.

vjanand said...

VRS

This blog entry brings me a lot of memories from my Enercon days when I was travelling up and down the west coast most of the time.

For about three months, Ezhil and I were stationed in Porbandar, GJ and we would travel daily to a wind-farm site in Navadara, a nice coastal village about 70 km away on the Dwaraka road.

The village folks there ate rotla with dahi, shared one television, mostly kept to themselves and went about minding their own businesses, which for most of the time was nothing significant. Their living conditions match your description of Udaipur tribal folks.

One more thing I observed: the socio-economic conditions in villages in South India starkly differ from those in the north. In that, the southern states (all four) stand better in most if not all of the HDI indicators. Any particular reason for this? I don't know!

When Independence happened, about 70% or so of the populace lived in rural areas and it is still not below 50%. I think any reference to 'India Shining' should either be considered a political farce concocted by BJP et al or be quickly perceived as nothing more than few tiny gold particles in a big sand bucket.

--Vijay.

Dust-Biter said...

I am not sure about all 4 southern states being better than those in North, but TN 'seems' like it is better...

There may be a few reasons -
1)probably it is just a perception that we get, because probably many NGOs and news agencies seem to focus on areas North...
2)Have social justice movements in TN and Maharashtra made these 2 states better ?
3)Or is just that there are fewer tribals in southern states and their tales go unheard of...
4)May be the southern states are really better off...

Some broad-minded, unprejudiced sociologist can shed light...