Akhil Bharatiya Samaj Sewa Sansthan

The Agony of Patha

Social organisations are bringing about a radical change in the most exploited region of Patha, says Bharat Dogra

Patha region spreading over Mau and Manikpur blocks of Chitrakoot district and Shankargarh block of Allahabad district, and in a small part of Madhya Pradesh, has been synonymous with the twin menace of extreme exploitation of weaker sections and terror of dacoits. However, with the intervention of voluntary organisations, one can feel the winds of change.

The worst sufferers of this highly deprived region have been the bonded labourers and particularly the Kol tribals. Apart from numerous massacres that have taken place here periodically, this is the region, where in the forest of Shankargarh, the brother of former Prime Minister Vishwanath Pratap Singh was killed by dacoits.

But the dacoits are not the only terror in Patha. Tales of extreme exploitation of weaker sections and bonded labour also abound, often leading to suicide by these unfortunate people. For example, in Helagaon village, the 'master' of two bonded labourers Sataiyam and Panda Kol took a loan in their names. Though he used the money, the recovery notice came in the names Sataiyam and Panda Kol. They were locked up and subjected to a lot of ill-treatment. Their harassment ultimately led them to commit suicide. Another bonded labour, Buchaiya was also driven to suicide as he couldn't pay back the loan.

Unfortunate people like Manbharan, a Harijan youth of Ooncha Dih village and a personal acquaintance, have been bonded labour for generations. And even when due to the help of some social organisations, they got back their land and freedom, they were still not allowed to cultivate the land and physically threatened. Buchaiya often told me that he would desert the village and he actually deserted it one day without having any trace of his wherebeing.

When I visited Patha in October 1999, I had met Mataiya Kol of Markandi Purva village. He also like his forefathers, was born on slavery. However, with a local voluntary organisation, Akhil Bharatiya Samaj Se va Sansthan (ABSSS), he got back his land. Still, the joy proved to be short lived as he discovered that his "master" has taken a load in his name by giving their land as security. ABSSS helped them save their land, but not everybody is as fortunate as him.

The stories of the repression of women are even worse. Shakuntla was forced by a policeman to live as his mistress. She had to undergo three abortions. When she refused the fourth time, she was pushed out by the policeman.

Suakali of Sarhat first experienced distress when she was raped, when later she reported it, she had to face even more distress at the hand of some person. The police took her from one place to another for tests without caring for her. The culprit got her husband Ram Pratap arrested after implicating him in false legal cases and destroyed the standing crop in their field.

Despite adverse conditions, growing number of Kol youths are coming forward to challenge the oppressive system, and change their life of exploitation and repression. The struggles for forests, land and water are moving ahead. The results can be seen in the improved living conditions of hundreds of families.

Many other stories of extreme distress are buried in the villages and hills of Patha, but this entire distress is the result of man- made factors. Nature has provided resources to Patha to feed all the villagers living here and meets the basic needs. But when few people, out of greed, grab the natural resources of the village, using it only for their profit and deprive others of access to the same resources, then this become the real factor landing to large scale poverty and hunger.

As Gopal Bhai, director of ABSSS says: "The most important question is how the resources base of farmland, forest and water is being used." According to him, Patha having plenty of forest resources like amla, honey, mahuwa, chiraunji, gum and tendu leaves which can provide employment to people here, the contractor system has led to the exploitation of tribals for several years.

"There is also no shortage of farmland, but land that should rightly belong to the poor tribal and Harijan families has been grabbed by a few rich and powerful feudals," he rues.

The pastures are plentiful and even provide fodder for cattles of other places, but lack of opportunities to weaker sections and lack of veterinary care has kept away the local/small peasants from realising the potential of animal husbandry." he says.

Patha has been generally considered a water scarce area, but Rajabua another social activists says, "the water scarcity is the result of failure to use the available resources properly. First the potential of tanks, check dams, and other small scale efforts were ignored and later, when this work was started, a lot of money was wasted by corrupt contractors."

The root cause of poverty in Patha lies in inequalities, corruption and the misuse of resources. Vasudeva, who edits a small news bulletin from this area says: "A-grade silica and other mirror minerals available here can provide reasonably well paid employment to a large number of workers, but the present patterns of their working is to exploit workers including child workers ruthlessly while destroying the environment at the same time."

This exploitative system has become more complex and cruel due to the activities of several dacoit gangs. The smuggling in forest produces is become easier because of presence of dacoits. If landlords cannot unleash repression directly on social activist Struggling for rights of the wreaked sections, then the dacoits are called to terrify them, Thus the feudal exploiter and the dacoits compliment each other.

But this does not mean that their is no ray of hope in this darkness of oppression and terror. Even in these extremely difficult conditions same voluntary organisations have kept alive the voice of hope.

Rajan Kol of Patha Adhikar Munch (Forum for the Rights of Kol Tribals of Patha) says, "despite very adverse conditions a growing number of Kol youths are coming forward to challenge this oppressive system, and change their life of exploitation and repression. The struggles for forests land and water are moving ahead. The results can be seen in the improved living conditions of hundreds of families. Jamunihi village of Tikariya Panchayat is a clear example of these changing conditions.

Due to increased social awareness and works of voluntary organisations things are indeed changing dramatically as Daddy Mavaiya says, "most families have now got farming plots with adequate irrigation facilities. Work is also going on soil conservation. Where there was barren land, now you can see green fields of paddy."

Sitaram Mavaiya adds proudly, "we have managed to stop the consumption of liquor and gambling in this village. This has been possible only due to our Panchayat which decided about this social reform. Most people agree voluntarily but a few had to be prevailed upon with more difficulty. Almost all children are going to primary school where they are taught properly. The teacher makes a lot of effort."

For this dramatic changes, people thank voluntary groups like ABSSS. Kallu Prasad says that most of this success is the result of the efforts of the ABSSS. This voluntary organisation has worked steadily on several fronts in this village (as well as several neighbouring villages) in the area of identification and distribution of land improving the terms of collection of minor forest produce, primary education and women's self help groups.

This message of change against heavy odds in very difficult conditions is emanating from not just Jumunibai but from several other village and hamlets of Patha as well. The terror at several levels has not ended yet but there has been enough signs of hope for the long oppressed people to weave dreams of a new life free from oppression.

Bharat Dogra, The Weekend Observer

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