Major Problems

The following are the major problems which affect the operational area and the people in it.

Feudalism and Bonded Labour

Social relations in Bundelkhand are still based on the feudal system. Thakurs (landlords) and Brahmins dominate the traditional power structure. A caste-based hierarchal order still prevails in the region. The poor cannot question the dominance of feudal lords, who control land, mining, forests and forest produce.

Feudal relations are characterised by the traditional socio-economic dominance of the top peasantry over the middle and poor peasants and the agricultural labourers who are mostly landless. The top peasantry or big farmers are mostly from the upper castes, namely Thakurs and Brahmins. Trade and business is controlled by Vaishyas and Jains (traditionally trading communities). The middle and lower peasants are essentially from the middle and backward castes. Agricultural labourers are mostly from the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.

The upper castes got educated first and thus control polity, bureaucracy and services. Elements of untouchability are widely prevalent in the rural areas. No SC or ST person can think of crossing the door of a Thakur home without taking his shoes in his hands and lowering his head to look at the ground. If a Thakur's shoes are outside the home of an SC person and the Thakur is inside the room with his wife, the SC person cannot dare enter his own house and question the Thakur.

Officials visiting the villages go to the landlords first. Teachers of primary schools prefer to sit in the homes of the landlords. Elected panchayat representatives belonging to SCs and STs are playing into the hands of such forces. If an independent surveyor visits an SC/ST house first and then a Thakur's house, he/she may have to face consequences.

Livelihood Issues and Illegal Occupation of Land

SCs and STs are mostly landless. Whatever land they possess is either barren or has no irrigation facility. Taking a loan from a landlord often means losing the land to him. So, manual labour is their only source of income. Whether working on the farm, or in the quarries, they are exploited. They are not paid proper wages. Forest resources are dwindling and they are not allowed to avail of forest produce. Traditional caste occupations are unable to survive open market competition. The landless poor are forced to migrate to other parts of the country for their survival. They migrate mostly with their families and live in pathetic conditions at their places of migration. Back home, they live on what they had earned and then again migrate to earn more. Brokers supply cheap labour to other states.

Mining and quarrying are the major non-farm activities in the region and provide employment to large numbers of manual labourers, who are mostly SCs and STs. Bundelkhand is rich in minerals, limestone and other stones used as building material. Mining and cutting of stones is hard work and labourers work for long hours, get relatively low wages, and suffer from diseases such as tuberculosis and respiratory problems.

Non-timber forest produce (NTFP) is abundant all over Bundelkhand. Of these, mahua is probably most important as it meets the food requirements of many families for at least four months in a year. But now access to NTFP is getting more difficult with each passing day.

Acute Shortage of Water

In all the districts of Bundelkhand, non-availability of water for drinking purposes and irrigation is a major problem. The irony is that there are a number of major rivers like the Betwa, Dhasan and Ken flowing in the region, but because of improper management of rain water and degrading forests, these rivers serve the purpose of only draining the water of Bundelkhand into the Yamuna. The recharging of ground water through collecting rain water in traditional ponds is not taking place now due to degradation of such ponds, encroachment of forest lands, cutting of forests and blocking the catchment areas of watershed regions. The result is that wells are being used for drinking water and irrigation and are not providing enough water to last the entire year.

Exploitation of Women

Women, particularly those of lower castes, are open to exploitation, assault and harassment, including sexual harassment. In a feudal society, male dominance is clearly visible. This extends to the males of lower castes too. Women have to bear the abuse of feudal lords outside their homes and of husbands inside their homes. Women working in the houses of landlords are more likely to be sexually exploited. Such cases go unreported either because the police refuse to register the complaint or because of the fear that it will invite more trouble for the family of the victim.

Leaving one wife and getting another is also common among the lower castes. Wife bashing is widely prevalent, particularly under the influence of alcohol, now becoming increasingly and easily available to men. Abandoned wives are sometimes sold to another person or to a widower because poor parents cannot look after them for long.

Police Atrocities, Exploitation and Violation of Human Rights

The police in Bundelkhand are a centre of power as power comes out of the proverbial 'barrel of a gun'. Instead of protecting the victims, the police are often on the side of the wrong-doers who are mainly feudal lords. They do not hesitate to lock up the victims and beat them mercilessly inside the lock-ups. There have been many instances of fake encounters. The image of the police is one of violator of human rights rather than a protector.

Lack of Education and General Awareness

Though government primary schools are available in almost all the villages, the Bundelkhand area suffers from one of the lowest literacy rates in the country. The reasons are many. There is an acute shortage of teachers, which is worse in schools located in remote areas. Most of the schools are single teacher schools and have no proper building. Even where there are teachers and a school building, the teachers are irregular in attending to their primary work of teaching. As a result, children enrolled in the schools are just indulging in pranks.

Apart from this, even if a person is literate, it cannot be said that he or she is educated, for being educated means that the person should be ready to take the challenges of life head on. There is also lack of general awareness among the people. And this situation is being exploited by the feudal lords to the hilt.

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Bundelkhand Info

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