Akhil Bharatiya Samaj Sewa Sansthan

9. Vulnerable Groups, Social Exclusion and the Need For Assertive Role of Dalits and Women

This area has several vulnerable groups such as kol tribals, Sahariya tribals, Kabutras, Bansors, Bedni and Saperas. A special effort needs to be made to strengthen their rights and improve their socio-economic position. A glaring anomaly is that Kols are recognised as scheduled tribes in neighbouring states like Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh but not in Uttar Pradesh. Due to this reason many benefits and protections could not be extended to them. In Mahoba district (Jaitpur) even innocent Kabutra people were frequently implicated in fake criminal cases due to the stigma of crime unfairly attached to them. This is now changing to some extent but much remains to be done.

Recently a welcome step was taken to recognise the Sahariyas (concentrated in Lalitpur district) as well as other communities like Gonds and Panika as scheduled tribes, but this decision has been implemented so far in such a distorted way that these communities are not able to get their newly-recognised rights as STs while at the same time their old benefits as SCs are being denied to them. During the last panchayat elections, the Sahariyas could not get the benefit of reservations either as SCs or STs.

These vulnerable group include some of the poorest families of this region and special emphasis to protect their rights and interests is needed to prevent their further marginalisation.

It is certainly not enough to give these vulnerable groups a few doles from time to time. Their long-term, sustainable livelihood protection should be based on a just and equitable share in natural resources. Ancestors of some of these groups owned adequate land to meet their food security needs but these were snatched from them. Now this injustice should be reversed and their livelihood should have a firm base in a just share of natural resources. They should get farmland, rights for secure livelihoods based on minor produce and being the weakest section, they should get priority in getting mining leases as well.

In addition special skills associated with these groups (such as bamboo work in the case of bansors, folk-arts in the case of bednis and snakes in the case of saperas and jogis) should be kept in mind while preparing plans for these groups.

In the case of such communities, traditional livelihood can be improved by providing new opportunities and avenues for old skills and by upgradation of skills. For example, Bansors who mainly made brooms and sieves and other items of daily household for local use should certainly continue to make there but to this can they add other, more attractive bamboo products which can fetch a better price in the urban market. Saperas can be linked to snake parks or other such initiatives where various species of snakes can be protected and in addition snake venom can be obtained (without killing snakes) for various medicinal uses. In the case of Bedinis the song-dance and acrobatics can be linked to tourism circuits in addition to the traditional fairs.

Nomadic groups need a special sympathetic attitude to understand their real needs and act accordingly. This is equally true of groups or tribes to which the stigma of criminal has been attached in a highly unjust way. Child workers need timely help and proper rehabilitation.

As these groups are spread over neighbouring states like Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, there can be co-operation with these states in preparing plans for these groups.

At a broader level, it may be argued that the potential for just and participative development initiatives in this region is greatly hindered by the presence of feudal power-structures in many areas. At one end, we've dominant households who have had one or more villages in their stranglehold, perhaps for several generations. At the other end are dalits and other marginalised groups who, despite many recent signs of assertiveness, are still unable to stand up to the might of the powerful elites supported all too often by criminals and corrupt officials (police and others). In many areas the most powerful persons in the villages (who may or may not be the traditional elites but strive to have a feudal type stranglehold in village) are helped by their links with criminals and dacoit gangs. Many of these criminals and dacoits function so openly that their link with powerful patrons within the establishment cannot be denied. In fact a leading dacoit gang went so far as to invite applications from local youths to join the gang! Many instances of senior leaders attending wedding parties or other functions hosted by dacoit leaders have been reported.

In this power structure it is difficult for dalits and other weakest sections to protect their land and livelihood rights as well as their dignity. So despite the difficulties and hazards of migration there is a growing tendency to migrate to cities for long periods, particularly in drought-years. A recent report as a part of the pulse-polio campaign in Banda district reported that thousands of houses had been found locked. In addition there are households from where only one or two members (mainly males) have migrated.

This means that an increasing number of poor are not just able to stay long enough in the village to improve their prospects of sustainable livelihoods within the village. The recently introduced rural employment guarantee scheme provides good opportunities for soil and water conservation work as well as land-improvement and bunding on the fields of poor peasants. But when these families are not in the village at all, their prospects of benefiting from such schemes are minimal.

Women in poor as well as well-to-do families suffer from discrimination and hidden domestic violence. Child marriages and purdah system still persist while dowry system is actually worsening, (while at the same time there is a tendency to misuse some of the provisions of anti-dowry laws). With the overall rise in crime, women in any case feel less secure then before. Despite the existence of new opportunities for a wider social role of women (for instance as a result of the 33% reservation for seats for women in panchayat raj institutions), women are nevertheless denied opportunities to have their priorities included in development planning and overall to play an adequate role in new development initiatives. This denial of opportunities to women and to weaker sections is a serious obstacle that hinders social change and development initiatives based on justice and equality. Thus empowering women, dalits and various vulnerable groups should be seen as an essential part of any new development initiatives.

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