Lesser Mortals: Drought hit rural, tribal people of East MP are on brink of survival
Bhopal: As a journalist of over two decades, I have had strict training to be unprejudiced and impassive. But journalistic visits like the recent one to remote tribal pockets of Satna and Rewa districts in East Madhya Pradesh leaves me feeling shaken, angry and overwhelmingly impotent.
Travelling to villages after ramshackle villages standing baked under harsh summer sun and meeting people who are deprived of all basic facilities inherent to modern civilization, one is left asking a simple question – are they lesser mortals or are they subjects of a lesser ruler?
DEPRIVED AND DISTRESSED
The scenario in most of the villages (in Java block of Rewa and Majhgawan block of Satna) is typical – no electricity, no water and quite often no road connectivity. Also due to consecutive drought years, there is no crop, no fodder and quite often no food.
Able bodied people have migrated for work. Women, children and elderly are left home and have to struggle each day even to drink a glass of clean water.
READ FIRST PART OF THE SERIES: LIFE ON EDGE, WOMAN-CHILDREN BEAR THE BRUNT
Water is heaved from distances of 1-3 km many times a day and the burden is on women and small girls. Routine food is chapati and salt (namak-roti) and that too rationed. Dal and vegetables are distant dream, let alone non-vegetarian food that once used to be staple food for tribal people.
Consequently, bodies are frail and dry – clearly anaemic and undernourished, and often dirt caked for lack of enough bathing water provisions. Clothes are tattered and hairs are dust-matted.
The houses are often as low hatched as three feet, with no ventilation and often packed with people beyond capacity. Most of the families have four to six children – clear indication that family planning efforts of government are not working.
WELFARE MEASURES MISSING
The only government welfare measure that seems to work well is the public distribution system providing subsidized food grains. But the quantity is not at all enough to sustain the big families.
Health facilities are far off and harsh attitudes turn the villagers away. Anganwadis (pre-school care centres for children) are often at distances not suitable for kids to travel to during harsh summers. They too just open to distribute food under supplementary nutrition programme, but end up giving chapati or rice with watery dal/potato curry. In some villages, the food supply is irregular.
READ SECOND PART OF THIS SERIES: NO CROP, NO WORK, MIGRATION IS THE ONLY ANSWER IN MP
In most villages the works under Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGS) have not happened since months and wages are pending for previous works. Pensions for aged, widows and disabled have not been received for months, for reason as strange as finger prints not being matched on biometric systems.
APATHY ALL THE WAY
Political leaders appear only to seek votes and officials are a rare sight in the villages. For years together, no one actually comes to see how people are surviving in these critical pockets.
READ THIRD PART OF THIS SERIES: THOUSANDS OF CATTLE DEAD DUE TO SEVERE DROUGHT
I was left more shocked because I visited the area barely a fortnight after I had been to opulence strewn Simhastha in Ujjain – the mega religious congregation where the state government spent Rs 3500 crores on arrangements. Only Rs 100 crore of this was ostensibly received from centre.
It was It was also a time when the country and the state was running the ‘Gramodaya se Bharat Uday’ (rising India through rising villages) campaign to mark two years of the incumbent government at centre. The idea seemed to be integrating necessities and decisions of rural people into developmental scheme.
READ FOURTH PART OF THIS SERIES: ONLY CHAPATIS TO EAT WITH SALT IN DROUGHT-HIT EASTERN MP
Political leaders of all status and stature were speaking out at public functions, underlining commitment for development of villages.
But did anyone actually bother to really look at the villages and find out why systems were not working at all despite so much of hype and repeated commitments? The only response that comes from the responsible people is that of denial of the drastic situation and claims that welfare schemes were running hunky dory.
So was it that what we witnessed in those Godforsaken stretches of human settlements was our imagination, or were the villagers with sunken stomach and vacant eyes lying to us?
(C) Photos Courtesy: Rakesh Malviya