Forming an important part of its identity, India remains home to a large number of aboriginals. Untouched by the modern lifestyle of the city these people continue to live in the remotest of locations with dense forests, raging rivers and varied wildlife. Living so close to nature, these people are filled with love, compassion and warmth.
Stating this, I get reminded of my close encounter with one such tribes of India. A year back in time, sometime in August, I was a part of a Community Outreach Project headed by Maitri, a Pune- based Non-Government Organization. Under its programme named Dhadak Mohim, Maitri along with a group of voluntary participants every year undertakes the task of fighting persistent problems of acute malnutrition and other related diseases in Melghat.
Placed in the suburbs of Maharashtra amidst the Satpura valley, Melghat is region that covers a number of villages that are geographically hard to access and are predominantly occupied by the korku tribes. Initially believed to be hunting gathering forest dwellers of the Satpura ranges, these people came into the limelight only as recently as in 1992. Marginalized form mainstream developmental processes these people still struggle for their basic needs and requirements.
Covered with large expanse of forests Melghat, located in the Vidharba region of Maharashtra is also a Tiger reserve valley recognized by the government of India. With majestic mountain ranges bestrewed with rivers and water streams, the valley speaks for its own beauty. Escaping into the nature, far from the hullabaloo of city life Melghat came to me as an opportunity of relief. Locked in this abode for ten days, I lived with the tribal of the village. But, the beauty of the place does not complement the living conditions of these people. These people face problems of poor administration, unhygienic lifestyle and ill-health. In the middle of the Ghats surrounded by dense deciduous forests on one side and meandering river on the other there were uneven landmasses over which their houses are built. Made up of mud, grass and wood, their houses were mostly built in rows facing each other. With no proper sanitation system people mostly go in open to attend nature’s call. We also lived in one of these houses rented to us by a villager. With two rooms, a kitchen and a small veranda in front of the house, it seemed like a little nest where nine of us had to stay. What added to the memory of this short stay was the scenic art that we got to admire right behind our house. Our eyes opened to large farm with a river flowing along its plain touching the feet of the mountains that stood right behind. With the length of our sight all we could see is greenery that pleased our eyes. There was a small shed in the backyard for women to take bath and a small toilet for the volunteers. There were hand pump installed both in the backyard and in the veranda to serve our water needs. The first day of the stay seemed more like a vacation where all of us were away from our city life having a nice recreational time. But this was not what we were here for. Our visit to the place had a larger purpose to it.
Our days began with waking up to the melody of birds chirping. There was no sun seen for hours together because of continuous rains that poured with a rhythm on the ground making the trees and entire nature dancing to their tune. It made the weather pleasantly cold. After having a bath with temperate ground water from hand pump, our mornings were followed by prayers and nice hot breakfast with a cup of tea made and served by a tribal girl, hired to help us. Later we were briefed by our mentor, a medical trainee about the tasks and activities to be conducted during the day. With an aim of covering about five villages at a distance of four to eight kms, all of us were divided into groups of two and were allotted a village. Our activities mainly included monitoring the health of children and pregnant ladies. The unhygienic environment that these people live in is conducive of many infections. With arrival of monsoons the situation worsens breeding diseases such as scabies, pneumonia, acute diarrhoea, cold and other related problems. Our prime responsibility was thus, to take care of children and women suffering from these problems. We gave them daily home visits and basic treatment under specific medical instructions. We also recorded the height and weight of the children of the village to keep a check on the status of malnutrition in the village. While we continued to offer them our services, our aim was not to make them dependent on us but to make them self-dependent. We made an attempt to make them aware of their rights and duties, at the same time trying to bridge the gap between them and government offices and officials of the area. With a hope to discern their problems we often got involved in discussions with the locals. While some times these discussions helped us know their grievances, sometimes they gave us ideas for plausible solutions. Following children to school from their prayers to their mid-day meals exposed us to the younger generation of the population. Having a nice time with them chatting and listening to their dreams filled us with joy assuring us that they aspire towards a better future filled with success and prosperity.
Accepting all the harsh realities of their life, these people continue to live in high spirits enjoying every moment of their life. Houses decorated with beautiful patterns made of chalk and clay throws light on idea of art and aesthetics of the tribe. Central to their culture are festivals of Shivaratri and Nagapanchmi. During Diwali nights women of the tribe beautify the walls of their houses by painting special designs similar to rangolis. Extremely fond of tattooing women of the tribe have different structures and dots tattooed on their forehead, hands and chin often resembling to a tree or English alphabets m and n. Inscribing tattoos on the body is like ornamentation of the body along with some metal accessories. These tattoos also meant ensuring overflowing granaries in the house.
Influenced by Hindu culture and tradition korkus believe in worshiping nature and their dead. Symbolising idol worship, they have small stones installed at various parts in village. Like every other community in India, marriage is one of an important ceremony to the tribe. Performed with all religious rites marriage is viewed as a social contract that binds two people and their families. Women of the family stay involved in household chores, farm and agricultural activities, while men of the family go to forests for collecting firewood or search for jobs in the cities. In hope of a bright tomorrow, many households have sent their kids to Amravati to pursue their education. However the tribe is affected by ills of alcoholism and other forms of intoxication like smoking pot and consuming tobacco. Obtained from a plant called mahua, these people make alcohol for daily consumption after their evening meals. Since there is no power supply in the village their day ends with dawn in the sky. The night sky is then lit up with millions of twinkling stars that you want to pluck extending your hands in the sky. This was visible only on a night with sky cleared of clouds. Leading a life of contention and self-satisfaction, korkus have marched a long journey since the time of their existence.
Amazed with their courage and resilience to live happy with all hardships in life we all departed back to our lives full of noises and cries of the city. With feeling of living a contentious life that we learnt from these people we resumed back to our daily routines. Monday blues with tiring days seemed less troubling now. With beautiful reminiscences of a rich culture that I shared with the people of Melghat and my fellow volunteers, I have now moved on in life with a dream of making my life worthy of bringing change in someone’s life if not everyone’s.