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Survival Practices of Marginalised Groups

Most vulnerable to poor agriculture productivity in Bundelkhand are marginalised groups like scheduled tribes. A 2003 account of livelihood practices of Kol tribals in the rocky Patha region of Chitrakoot district reported the following situation [Vijayvergiya].

Most Kols have unirrigated and poor quality land, in which only coarse cereals can be grown without fertilisers and other inputs. If there is inadequate rainfall in June, around sowing time, and again in September, production will be very low. Hence, many Kols give away their lands on lease to bigger farmers. Rent is often received in kind, in the form of 20 kg jowar, 10 kg gram and 10-15 kg arhar dal per year. The Kols not only lack the capital or the credit-worthiness that will enable them to make investments to get a decent produce from their lands, but also the skills to seek good wage employment opportunities.

Produce from land (leased or self-cultivated) meets minimum food needs of families for two to six months. The Kols also rely on the forest to meet their food requirements. Liquor brewed from mahua flowers is often the main meal in cold winter days. For four to eight months of a year, most adult members of families migrate to nearby areas or other states to find work. Those who stay back cut and sell firewood. Generally, men go into the forest for cutting wood (women would be vulnerable to sexual harassment from forest guards) and women and girls carry the wood on their heads to the nearest market, which is 12 to 20 km away.

With the money they earn, Kols buy wheat, but generally families cannot afford to buy all the wheat they require; hence they mix kudo, a coarse cereal they grow, with wheat to make chappatis. Rice and maize are generally consumed in semi-liquid form. Emergency cash needs are met by local moneylenders who charge 5% to 20% interest per month.

The yearlong activity calendar of the Kols who were interviewed was somewhat like this: In the months of February to March, people migrated to Lalitpur, Jhansi and parts of MP to earn money from cutting wheat of large farmers. April to May, families collected forest produce like mahua, tendu leaves, chironji and amla. While some of the produce, especially mahua, is stored for home consumption, most of it is sold to middlemen at very low rates. June to September, families worked on their own lands; those who owned no land, or rocky patches, migrated to find work. In October, people migrated to get wages for harvesting paddy; some migrated to find other kind of work.

November to January was the most difficult time; no agricultural labour work is available then. Except for those who had been lucky to save some money from wage earnings, families either migrated to seek non-agricultural labour, or borrowed from moneylenders. By a horribly cruel irony, November to January is the 'festival' time of extravagant expenditure and consumption of rich foods for middle class India.

Reference:

  • Vijayvergiya Sanjay, Oxfam India Trust,  Drought and Livelihood in Bundelkhand: A Report, Lucknow, June 2004

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