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Malnutrition, Migration and Mokhada

Getting familiar with their projects became essential as I was invited to join Aroehan as a trustee. Aroehan works in the Jawhar – Mokhada area of Dist Palghar (in Maharashtra). Take Ahmedabad Highway, travel up to Manor and then turn right to take a road leading to Vikramgad. The road has more potholes than the lunar craters. Perhaps it is a warning sign; the traveller must get ready to receive more severe shocks; I am referring to the living conditions in villages and of villagers.

We finished our work at the Jawhar Office and started for ‘Dharecha Pada’. Pada means a hamlet. A few Padas or hamlets dispersed over a large area makes a village in these scarcely populated hilly terrains of Mokhada. I guessed the population of Dharecha Pada may be less than a thousand. Dr Shuba, Madhuri and I reached Dharecha pada.

“I think she is already inside, I see her two-wheeler” Madhuri said, “A Mata-Baithak is organised here.” ‘Mata Baithak’ is a meeting of women. We alighted from our car in front of a small building. It was a small room, about 18’x18’in size, and it was obvious that the room was made for meetings. Mata Baithak was in progress. About twenty or twenty-five women made the audience, some carried children in their arms. Dr Shuba, Aroehan’s Chief Operating Officer, Madhuri, who supervises a few projects and I joined the meeting. Somebody hurriedly put three chairs for us. Reshma who works with Aroehan, was conducting the meeting.

In Mokhada 169 infants died due to malnutrition in 2006. Anjali Kanitkar and Dr Helen Joseph, moved quickly to establish Aroehan. ‘Aroehan’ is actually an acronym of ‘Action Related to Organisation of Education, Health and Nutrition’ and it is registered as NGO. The initial focus was on malnutrition eradication or health. However, they realised that the multiplicity and inter-contentedness of various factors that contribute to high malnutrition deaths required an integrated approach to the problem resolution.

“This is Mata-Baal Suraksha Card (Health Card of Mother and Child). This is an ‘encyclopaedia’ of pregnancy.” Smile on everybody’s face! Reshma was explaining to the Adivasi (Tribal) women. “It contains all information about a pregnant woman’s registration, delivery and inoculation of the infant.”

Reshma holds Mata-Baithak

“Look at these three colours or three zones.” Reshma was held open the Health Card, and pointed to a diagram. “Three zones – Green, Yellow and Red. Ideally, in which zone your child should be?”

“Green”, a woman replied.

“Good. What needs to be done to make sure that the child is in green zone?” She introduced healthy diet. She was explaining how they should provide ‘Tiranga’ or tri-coloured diet. Tiranga is easily understood because that’s what the national flag is called; it has three colours saffron, white and green. Saffron colour included tomatoes, carrots, white included milk, eggs and rice and green included leafy vegetables. “You don’t have to travel outside your village, all the ingredients of tri-colour diet are available here.”

Note: I was later informed that following is the correct information:
“The food tricolour depicts the following food groups:
Saffron: Body building foods which include all the pulses(dals), meat, eggs and milk – protein sources.
White: Energy giving foods which include all the grains, roots and tubers, oilseeds, ghee, milk products, sugar – carbohydrates and fat sources
Green: Protective foods which include all the leafy vegetables, fruits and fruit vegetables, jaggery, iodised salt, spices – vitamin and mineral sources.
The Ashok Chakra depicts water.”

Dr Shuba turned to me. “Several infants are born as under-weight babies in this Mokhada area. Wrong diet is a problem, but the wrong beliefs and practices about a pregnant woman’s diet is a greater problem. Many tribal women survive only on ‘pej.’ Pej is the water in which rice is boiled. Their diet becomes woefully inadequate. How can the pregnant woman remain healthy and will it not affect the development of the baby? Most of the pregnant women become anaemic, their haemoglobin drops to abysmally low levels.”

Mata Baithak in progress

Internet throws up a study of two researchers from Tata Institute of Social Sciences on malnutrition in Mokhada. ‘In 2005, child malnutrition claimed as many as 718 lives in one single district namely Palghar. Even after a decade of double-digit economic growth, in 2016, more than 600 children died due to under-nutrition in the same district.’ ….. ‘Our study level estimates suggest that 59% of children were stunted.’

“Education of girls usually stops at 7th Class. A 15 or 16-year-old girl is often married in tribal villages. This is quite common. Then she gets pregnant at an age she should not. These are big problems to overcome.”

“I read recently that a fourteen-year-old girl got pregnant in an ‘Ashram School.’

A story in ‘Firstpost’ mentions, ‘In November last year, (2016) the whole state of Maharashtra woke up to a horror — a tribal school in Buldhana was derecognised after reports emerged that girl students are being sexually assaulted there. The incidence only came to light after a girl, who was visiting her parents, complained of stomach-ache and was later found to be pregnant. As the episode unfolded, several other girls came forward complaining of sexual harassment, and at least three of them were pregnant. Eleven people were arrested, including school trustees, the headmaster and a few teachers.

“Ashram Schools provide hostels facility, boys and girls stay there. So, it is not a surprise that a young girl got pregnant. Such cases are not infrequent. They get them married – there is hardly any ceremony – sometimes she moves to the boy’s home, that’s it. Poverty! In a rare case there is a problem if the boy disowns her.”

“Take a look at some women in this meeting (Mata-Baithak). The one with a child in her arms looks under-age. She may be just about sixteen.”

“The are also under-nourished. If you ask them, girls will tell you that they are eighteen years old, but I feel that may not be correct age. There are many bad consequences of an under-age mother – not only at physical but also social level.”

Young Mothers At the Mata-Baithak

Reshma was now discussing the problems faced by women in the pada or hamlet. She spoke about ‘Gram-Sabha’ (Villagers’ Body). ‘People use the forum of the Gram Sabha to discuss local governance and development, and make need-based plans for the village. The Panchayat implements development programs under the overarching mandate, supervision and monitoring of the Gram Sabha. All decisions of the Panchayat are taken through the Gram Sabha and no decision is official and valid without the consent of the Gram Sabha.’

Reshma was persuading all women to organise a Mahila (Women’s) Gram Sabha. The women spoke about the problem of drinking water. Incidentally Mokhada region has a very high rainfall, but the villagers face scarcity of drinking water from march to July.

“You must organise Mahila Gram Sabha to voice your problems. Those will then be raised before Gram Panchayat effectively.” Although Reshma’s words made some impact, the real problem was that tribal women would not speak up in a large gathering. And that was, and remains, a big hurdle to cross.

Reshma turned to the issue of migration of villagers. For the tribal villages this is a huge problem. They can’t survive only on one-crop-agriculture, so they move to cities or towns in search of jobs.

“Migration eats into your life in many ways. Migrating men and women leave behind their aged parents who are left to fend for themselves. Children leave their school. They stay under harsh conditions during the migration period, affecting their health adversely. The entire economy of the village suffers.”

“We have helped farmers produce second crop. Several farmers have been harvesting second crop.”

“Aroehan has decided to take immediate measures to reduce migration of people by 50% in certain area. And that target appears to be almost unsurmountable – you can imagine the magnitude of this problem of migration.”

I was leading my Rotary Club’s project to build two check dams near Bhiwandi. I went to inspect the work when I noticed that a few families of labourers had set up a shade – well, you can’t call it home or even dwelling place – by erecting three feet high sticks and placing a torn saree over it. They were staying under it!

“They come down (climbing down the hills) here in search of a job, and return to their villages for the Holi Festival” the construction supervisor who had engaged those migratory labourers informed me. I was shocked. On my way I noticed a family camping under a tree; once you think of migration, you start spotting those who have migrated.

Migrating tribal families live under horrible conditions

I clicked this photograph. If you wish to grasp the humongous scale of migration, you should travel in Mokhada area. Statistics can provide you information, but sensitization to a problem is the result of seeing migration; statistics fails to sensitise us.

This is a very complex situation. It is multi-dimensional. Any amount of work and support will fall short of eradicating, transforming the situation; that’s my initial assessment. We require long term solutions and some immediate short-term measures, and, of course, a group of committed persons.

There should be no doubt that the Government is the most ineffective organisation, be it of any party. There are many programs and measures which are designed to ameliorate the conditions, but no benefit reaches the people who should be the real beneficiaries. It is heartening that NGOs like Aroehan are seized of the problem.

This horrible situation of poverty, malnutrition, migration, unhealthy practices and low literacy level has undoubtedly resulted from short-sightedness of leaders as well as their preoccupation with their own welfare. Can this be disputed?

Vivek S Patwardhan

खैरमाळचा कायापालट

“गाडी थांबवा” माधुरीने शरदला म्हणजे ड्रायव्हरला फर्मावले. माधुरी, प्रतिभा आणि मी आरोहनच्या जव्हार कार्यालयातून खैरमाळला जायला निघालो होतो. शरदने गाडी शंभर-दोनशे फूटही चालवली नसेल तेव्हां माधुरीचा प्रश्न आला. “सर, तुम्ही टोपी आणली आहे ना?” “नाही, काही तशी जरूर नाही.” “ऊन फार कडक आहे, टोपी घेतलीच पाहिजे. गाडी थांबवा.” गाडी हमरस्त्यावरच्या एका जनरल स्टोअर समोर उभी राहिली. मी टोपी विकत घेतली. पुन्हा गाडीत बसलो, आणि खैरमाळला निघालो. माधुरी आणि प्रतिभा ‘आरोहन’ एनजीओमध्ये काम करतात. आरोहन हा शब्द म्हणजे इंग्रजी नावाचं संक्षिप्त स्वरूप आहे, म्हणून ते आरोहण नव्हे तर आरोहन. मला नुकतंच आरोहनने त्यांच्या विश्वस्त पदावर नेमलं आहे, त्यामुळे त्यांच्या कामाची ओळख करून घेणं ओघानेच आलं. मी सर्वप्रथम खैरमाळचा प्रकल्प बघावा असे ठरलं. शरदने गाडी हमरस्त्यावरून डावीकडे वळवली. “खैरमाळ उंच डोंगरावर वसलंय. फक्त दहा घरांचं गाव आहे.” प्रतिभा म्हणाली. “किती दूर आहे?” “पंधरा किलोमीटरच आहे जव्हारपासून. पण रस्ता डोंगरातून जातो, आणि रस्ता बनवण्याचं काम चालू आहे. त्यामुळे वेळ लागतो.” थोड्याच वेळात आम्ही “काम चालू – रस्ता बंद” च्या जागी पोचलो. रस्त्याच्या एका भागाचं डांबरीकरण चालू होतं. त्यांच्या सुपरवायझरने गाडी थांबवली. “तुला आता सोडतो, पण परतताना दुसऱ्या वाटेने जा” म्हणाला. गाडी घाट उतरत होती. ऊन रणरणते होते. गुरंदेखिल झाडाखाली सावलीला उभी होती.   वळणावळणाच्या रस्त्याने आम्ही एक दोन पाडे मागे टाकत गेलो. नदीवर एक पूल लागला. “हा पूल नुकताच बांधलाय. पावसाळ्यात ही नदी भरून वाहत असे तेव्हां खैरमाळचा जगाशी संपर्क तुटत असे.” माधुरी म्हणाली. “पूल बांधल्यामुळे मोठ्ठीच सोय झालीय.” आमची गाडी गीटीपाडा गांवात आली. विटांची घरं, प्लास्टर न केलेली, दुतर्फा होती. गाडीतून उतरलो व चालू लागलो. एक छोटी तीन फुटी भिंत दिसली, त्यावर तीन नळ होते. “हे आरोहननेच बांधले. बंधाऱ्यामुळे ह्या गांवापर्यंत नळ आणता आले.”   चार तरुण मुले जवळच होती. ती उठून उभी राहिली. मी नीट निरखून बघितलं. त्यांनी पिवळे हायलाईटकरून क्रिकेटरसारखे स्टाईलने कापले होते. अनेक आदिवासी घरांवर डिश आंटेना उभ्या होत्या. माधुरी आणि प्रतिभा झपझप चालू लागल्या. मी त्यांच्या मागे. माझ्या लक्षात आले की आम्ही एका टेकडीवर होतो, आणि आता दरीत उतरायचे होते. प्रतिभा पुढे गेली. वहिवाटीचा रस्ता सोडून पायवाटेने खाली गेली. माधुरी माझ्यापुढे पण माझ्यावर सतत लक्ष ठेवत, कधी उतारावर मला हात देत नीट पुढे नेत होती. ऊन खरंच भाजून काढत होतं, त्या दोघींनी डोक्यावरून पदर आणि ओढणी घेतली होती. त्यांनी मला टोपी का घ्यायला लावली ते समजलं. “आम्ही इथे बंधारा बांधलाय. खूप अडचणी आल्या, वेळ लागला, पण आम्ही काम पुरं केलं. वनखात्याच्या लोकांनीही आरोहनचं काम वाखाणलं.” प्रतिभा म्हणाली. मी सांभाळूनच टेकडी उतरत होतो. जसे खाली आलो तसा दूरवर बंधारा दिसू लागला. नदीच्या पात्रात मोठ्ठे दगड होते. त्यातून वाट काढत पुढे बंधाऱ्याकडे निघालो.   बंधारा आठ फूट उंच आहे आणि पाणी जायला व्हेंट आहे. बंधाऱ्याच्या खालच्या बाजूस गोल झाकणे दिसत होती. तीच व्हेंट. “पावसाळ्यात खूप पाणी येत. व्हेंट उघडली की बंधाऱ्यातला गाळ-कचरा बाहेर जातो. सप्टेंबरला व्हेंट बंद करतो, मग पाणी इथेच, बंधाऱ्यामागे, तलावासारखं थांबतं.” नदी ओलांडून आम्ही बंधाऱ्याच्या डाव्या बाजूला गेलो. एक सुंदर डोह तयार झाला होता. बरंच खोल असावं. “पाणी फुटभर देखिल कमी झालं नाहीये.” माधुरी आनंदाने ओरडलीच. “एप्रिलचा महिना आहे. जूनपर्यंत पाणी टिकेल वाटतंय.” “हा बंधारा नव्हता तेव्हा खैरमाळच्या लोकांना पाणी आणायला दोन तीन किलोमीटर चालावं लागत होतं. तुम्ही नदीवरच पूल बघितला ना? तिथपर्यंत दोन घडे घेऊन बायका पाण्याला जात होत्या.” “सर, खैरमाळ ह्या डोंगरावर आहे.” प्रतिभाने मागच्या उंच टेकडीकडे बोट दाखवलं. म्हणजे आम्ही एक टेकडी उतरलो, नदीचं कोरडं पात्र पार केलं, आणि आता नदीच्या दुसऱ्याबाजूला असलेल्या उंच टेकडीवर खैरमाळला जायचं होतं. खैरमाळच्या बायका दोन घडे घेऊन खैरमाळची उंच टेकडी उतरून, मग दुसरी चढून पलीकडच्या नदीपर्यंत पाण्यासाठी जात असत, आणि परतत. हंड्यातलं किती पाणी सांडलं असेल आणि डोळ्यातलं किती सांडलं त्याची कल्पनाच केलेली बरी. आम्ही तिथेच बंधाऱ्यावर उभे राहिलो. तलावातल्या वनस्पतीकडे माझे लक्ष गेले. हिरवळीचे चेंडू एकत्र करावेत तशी दिसत होती. “त्या वनस्पतीला ‘गोंडूळ’ म्हणतात. त्याने पाणी गार राहातं.” माधुरीने माहिती पुरवली. मला वाटतं की गोन्ड्यासारखी वाढ दिसते म्हणून गोंडूळ नांव पडलं असेल. आम्ही खैरमाळची टेकडी चढायला लागलो. माधुरी आणि प्रतिभाने कमीत कमी त्रासाची वाट कोणती ते नक्की केलं. टेकडी उंच तर आहेच, पण रुळलेल्या पायवाटा दिसत नव्हत्या. “आम्ही प्रकल्पाच्या कामासाठी इथे अनेकदा आलो. इथे पावसाळ्यात खूप साप निघतात. फार भीती वाटायची. एक हातात काठी घेऊन पुढे आणि आम्ही सगळे तिच्या मागे रांगेने अशी वरात निघायची.” प्रतिभा म्हणाली. “आपण जाताना सोलार पॅनेल बघूया. आम्हीच बसवलेत ते. सोलारवर चालणारा पंप आम्ही बसवलाय. गावात पाच हजार लिटरची टाकी उंचावर उभारली आहे. पम्पामुळे खैरमाळला पाणी मिळते. आणि गीटीपाड्यालाही.” “नळाने पाणी आलं तेव्हां खैरमाळमधल्या मुलांना फारच आप्रूप वाटलं. त्यांनी नळातून पाणी येताना कधी बघितलंच नव्हतं. ती सारखी नळावर जात, नळ उघडून बघत.” माधुरी सांगू लागली. “पाणी नव्हतं म्हणून मुलांना आंघोळही कधीमधीच. मग आरोग्याचे प्रश्न उभे! इथे मुलांच्यात खरुज असण्याचे प्रमाण खूपच होतं. आता दररोज आंघोळ करतात. आम्ही खरुजेवर लावायला औषधे आणली. खरुज गेली सगळ्यांची. अर्धी-पाऊण टेकडी चढून गेलो होतो. आरोहनची सोलार पॅनेल दिसत होती. पंतप्रधान मोदींनी सर्व खेड्यांना वीज देण्याची घोषणा केली होती. खैरमाळ हे एक वीज [आणि इतर अनेक] सुविधा नसलेलं वंचित खेडं होतं. वीज तिथे महिन्या दोन महिन्यापूर्वीच आली. पण महाराष्ट्रात अनेक खेड्यांना चोवीस तास वीज मिळत नाही. इथे ‘कनेक्टीव्हीटी’चा कायमचा अभाव. इथे अजूनही मोबाईल नेटवर्क नाही. पावसाळ्यात खैरमाळशी संबंध असा तुटत असे की जसं हे खेडं भारतात नाहीये. सोलार पॅनेलपासून गावापर्यंत चढ असला तरी वाट बरी आहे. आम्ही पुढे गेलो. “ती वीटभट्टी बघा.” प्रतिभाने दूरवरची भट्टी दाखवली. “इथल्या लोकांना विटा आणण्यापेक्षा इथेच बनवणं सोयीचं वाटतं.” विटा व्यवस्थित रचल्या होत्या, बाजूलाच लाकडं गोळा करून ठेवली होती. भट्टी लावायची तयारी झाली होती. “इथले गांवकरी एकच पीक घेत होते. नाचणी किंवा वरीचं. आता पाणी मिळतंय बंधाऱ्याचं. ते दोन तीन पिकं घेतात.” माधुरी सांगत होती. “पूर्वी पावसाळ्यानंतर, म्हणजे पीक तयार झाल्यावर, दसऱ्याच्या सुमारास इथले शेतकरी कामाच्या शोधात इतर जागी जात. स्थलांतरित कामगार! पडेल ती कामं शहरात वा इतर ठिकाणी करायचे. आता स्थलांतर बंद! पाण्याच्या उपलब्धतेने किती चमत्कार घडवलाय. तीन पिकं घेणारे शहरात काम शोधायला कशाला जातील?” आम्ही खैरमाळमध्ये दाखल झालो. पहिल्या घरापाशी मुले खेळत होती. फोटो काढतो म्हणालो तर त्यांची आई हसून काही बोलली. त्यांची वारली भाषा. मला काहीच कळलं नाही, माधुरीने खुलासा केला. ‘मुलं तयार होऊन, चांगले कपडे घालून येतील.’ खैरमाळमध्ये दहा-आकारच घरं असली तरी ती मोठी आहेत. एका घराजवळ आरोहनने पाण्याची टाकी बांधली आहे. खालीच तीन नळ बसवून मोरी केली आहे. दोन मुलं हात-पाय धूत होती. “ती बघा फोटोसाठी तयार होत आहेत.” माधुरी म्हणाली.   एका घरासमोर मोठं आंगण होतं, तिथे आम्ही जमलो. घराच्या तुळईवर ‘ग्रामसभा-खैरमाळ’ अशी पाटी होती. आरोहनने शासनाची आंगणवाडी योजना इथे आणली. ‘अमृताहार’ ग्रामस्थ स्त्रियांना मिळवून दिला. बाई गरोदर असली तर तिला तिसऱ्या महिन्यापासून अमृताहार देण्यात येतो. कुपोषणाची समस्या त्यामुळे दूर होते. गांवातली बायका-मुलं आमच्या अवतीभवती गोळा झाली. मी त्यांना बंधाऱ्यामुळे काय फायदे झाले ते विचारले. त्या सगळ्याजणी भरभरून बोलल्या, काबाडकष्टाचे जीवन मागे पडले होतं. मी ते व्हिडीओवर टिपलं.


माझं लक्ष घराच्या प्रवेशद्वाराकडे गेलं. व्हरांड्यासारख्या जागेत चक्क इंग्रजी तक्ते होते. “इथला एक मुलगा डीएड झालाय. तोच शिकवतो.” प्रतिभा म्हणाली. आत्ता कुठे वीज आलीय, पाणी मिळालंय, बायकांना दोन-चार किलोमीटर पाण्याचे हंडे घेऊन टेकडी चढाउतरायला लागत नाहीये, आंगणवाडी आली, गावात सुईण पोहोचू शकते, अमृताहार मिळतोय, कुपोषणाकडे ग्रामसभा लक्ष देतेय, आयुष्यात सुविधा आणि व्यवस्थितपणा आलाय. हे सर्व व्हायला स्वातंत्र्यानंतर सत्तराहून अधिक वर्षे लागली. त्याबद्दल सरकारी यंत्रणेला दोष द्यायचा, त्यांच्यावर ठपका ठेवायचा, की आरोहनसारख्या एन्जिओकडे आशेने बघायचं? तुम्हीच ठरवा.

विवेक पटवर्धन

Aroehan’s Relief Work during the CoViD -19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken the world by storm but has at least helped the countries and states to revisit their health systems and health care delivery.

The 21-day lockdown which has been extended till the 31st of August recently, announced by the Prime Minister on the 23rd of March had multiple effects on the community at large. It .has affected the most vulnerable of the tribal group – the Katkaris, some widows who are staying alone in far to reach hamlets and the seasonal migrants and their families from other blocks and districts in the State. The worst hit, of course, are the migrants and small scale industrial labour who leave their home town and enter other cities/villages in search of menial jobs. As the companies and brick kilns were shut down and their owners stranded in the cities, the migrant population had been left in the lurch with nowhere to go, no money and lack of basic necessities like food and water.

AROEHAN as a team has always strived to help the most vulnerable tribals in the various blocks of its implementation. The team was able to identify many such individuals and families in the villages and hamlets of Palghar and Mokhada Block in Palghar district through reliable sources and we decided to help them with dry ration and hygiene essentials.

There had also been requests for hygiene/ protective consumables (mask, sanitizer, gloves) from the PHCs as well as the front-line workers of Palghar, Jawhar and Mokhada block.

Summary of the relief work undertaken:

We could provide dry ration kits and hygiene essentials to 3042 migrant BPL families in Palghar, Dahanu and Mokhada blocks of Palghar district with the funds received from various individual donors as well as Corporate.

We have also been able to provide surgical masks and hygiene kits to health personnel, ASHA workers, Anganwadi workers and police administration in Jawhar and Mokhada blocks with support from our corporate donors. They were provided with 3552 bottles of hand sanitisers, 3520 cloth masks, 3200 surgical masks and 4850 pairs of hand gloves. 22 Pulse Oximeters have been provided to the Medical Officers and ASHAs at Mokhada and Palghar resp.

Each family was given a ration kit consisting of the following items:
• 5 kg of Rice
• 2 kg of Dal
• 1 litre oil
• ½ kg spices and salt
• ½ kg sugar and tea
• Soap bars

The Sarpanch and the local volunteers along with some villagers helped identify the settlements of the migrant families. The dry ration was picked up from the grocery stores who were permitted to remain open for supplies at the Taluka place.

A tempo was hired for transport and our staff also used their own vehicles to transport the goods to the respective villages.

All the precautionary methods like hygiene, social distancing were maintained and a list of beneficiaries made for our records.

A considerable population is still left out in small pockets in various hamlets in and around Palghar, Mokhada and Dahanu block. We are still carrying out the good work of providing dry ration in these areas. Along with this messages on hygiene, hand wash, social distancing and respiratory etiquette are also conveyed by our field workers to the group.

The Furthest Distance To Travel For Helping Adivasis

Moving from a commercial organisation (where I worked for thirty-seven years) to an NGO is like getting down from a car and go for a trekking.

 You see the road, the trees and even the people start looking different to you. Because you look at people and surrounding with new eyes, as they say. Each visit to Mokhada brings this message to me.

“Leave your car at the hotel. Let us travel together in this Ertiga,” Dr Shubalakshmi, COO of Aroehan said. Sedans are the not the best vehicles for driving to villages in Mokhada. I hopped in, so did Aroehan’s project managers. It was a long serpentine road up and down the hills after we exited the highway.

Women assembled for meeting
Women assembled for meeting

We reached a hamlet. A group of Adivasi women were assembled by Meenakshi and Sarita to meet us. A smaller group of men also joined them. Sulabha, my wife, Dr Shuba (during the travel from Jawhar to Mokhada I had become familiar enough to address her as Shuba) and I sat down with them.

“I am Rajendra Shankar Palve,” a young man moved forward and introduced himself. He picked up a file and scanned through the papers to pick up one to show me, but I stopped him.

Rajendra Palve
Rajendra Palve

“Wait, I said. I am going to record your video. Is that okay?” I took out my selfie stick, placed my mobile on it, fixed a collar mike and hooked it to his collar. My addressing him in Marathi must have made him more comfortable, I guessed.

“Not a problem” he replied as he gave a broad smile, adjusting the collar mike. He was excited to face the camera. “I am a member of the pada (hamlet) samiti.” He picked up his papers from the file. “Let me tell you the projects pada samiti has followed up with Government Offices.” He explained various issues, beginning with the ‘Bus problem’. State Transport buses had started plying to their pada, but heavy rains washed out the road during the last monsoon. There was no place where the bus could turn around, so the service was stopped. It was yet to be resumed although he had represented the problem before the State Transport authorities.

Rajendra also spoke of the PHC (Primary Health care Centre) which was sanctioned in 1994 but is yet to be established.

“What happens in the monsoon when you can’t cross the Pinjal river and your village is cut off from Pethecha pada?”

“Do you see that hill behind you? We have to climb up the hill and reach a village called ‘Kevnale.’ We then negotiate charges for a vehicle to take the patient to the PHC. All this takes about four hours. Sometimes the sick person dies on the way.”

That left me speechless. I was left to imagine the hardship of Adivasi villagers in this hamlet.

Our discussion then shifted to the Electricity supply. The Electricity poles had fallen or bent. That resulted in intermittent electricity supply. One woman said that a person had died, I guess he was electrocuted as a result of the unrepaired electric poles. Apparently the MSEB officials responded to Rajendra and his pada samiti’s appeal and it was repaired.

Governance is a difficult area to work on. Aroehan has obviously made an impact. The essence of governance is that the villagers must decide on the issues confronting them, and solve their problems.

Seeta (in blue saree) speaks about impact of Aroehan's work. Sarita to her right
Seeta (in blue saree) speaks about impact of Aroehan’s work. Sarita to her right

“Seeta wants to speak” Sarita from Aroehan’s project team said. Seeta in a light blue saree stood out in the group of village women. “She was illiterate but has learnt to sign, she takes initiative to find solutions to the problems. She is the treasurer of the pada samiti. Talk about women’s issues,” Sarita said. Seeta cringed. She drew courage and explained how pregnant women now go for scan, ensure inoculation, thanks to Aroehan. Seeta was happy that she was playing a role in alleviating the problems of her hamlet. She was so excited, she invited Aroehan team for a cup of tea at her home!

Paper Plates Making Machine
Paper Plates Making Machine

This is the ground reality in the twenty-first century! This was a different world, I thought. Seeta, Sarita and Meenakshi showed us a machine for making paper plates. And a grinding machine which can give them rice flour and masalas. They demonstrated their operation to me. These could be some sources of additional income, they said.

Grinding Machine
Grinding Machine

I was uncomfortable. Much more was needed to be done to provide better living conditions, education and the list would be long. The problem was huge, almost insurmountable. But somehow it had to be confronted with determination and skill.

“Malnutrition deaths, low literacy rate and education levels, water scarcity, migration of tribal to the city in search of jobs are all interconnected problems,” Anjali once told me, “You can’t work on only one problem, a comprehensive, integrated approach to development is required. And we have to put more money in the hands of the villagers to address the poverty and related issues. That’s the most effective approach. And it’s not easy.”

As I got in the Ertiga again, the words of my friend came haunting me: “Educated and the well-to-do people from cities have only ‘anthropological interest’ in the tribal community.” People have visited these villages clad in jeans, and a T-Shirt, carrying cameras. They have listened to their plight, visited their villages, photographed them all to quench their curiosity, but the involvement for active contribution was never forthcoming.

Lisa Ray tells a story in her autobiography. A stranger spoke to her, he told his heart-rending life story. He thanked her for listening to him and said his gift to her would only be a riddle. ‘What’s the furthest a human can travel?’ His answer was, ‘from here’, as he drew a line from his temples to his heart, ‘to here.’

I hope I can travel it. I am going to.

Vivek S Patwardhan

Aroehan Helps Migrant Workers

The announcement of PM Modi on March 24 created unprecedented problems for migrant workers. Many of them started walking to reach their home town, in some cases a few hundred kilometres away. They went without food and water.

Aroehan’s Project staff realised that they had to track down such workers and provide help. They found out migrant workers working on brick kilns were stranded at certain villages in Palghar. The Project staff sent an SOS.

“We have identified migrants on Brick kiln in Palghar Block who are in need of basic things in this lockdown villages: Dhuktan – Katkaripada, Diwekarpada and Ranoli (90), Sakhre (38), Haloli-Padospada (18). We must provide them with Grocery and other basic items.” Providing food and other essentials meant substantial cost, a quick estimate informed us that it will cost a little more than Rs. One Lakh for this group.

Dr Shubalakshmi, COO of Aroehan sought help. Aroehan had not planned for this eventuality. But the situation was such that it was not possible to ignore. How can any NGO worth its salt turn Nelson’s eye when a group of people are in a helpless situation?

An appeal was made through a post on Facebook. And also mails were sent to well-wishers requesting donations. The response was much more than what we wished for. In about fifteen hours we collected a little less than Rs. Two Lakhs!

The project team moved with speed. They immediately met 19 families (say about 70+ persons) at Dhuktan and provided each family with a package containing Rice 5 Kg, Tea 500 gm, Sugar 1 Kg, Tur Dal 500 gm, Masala + Turmeric, Edible Oil 1 Litre, Toothpaste and a Soap.

Immediate Help Was Possible Because of Instant Response of Donors

This is the story of Aroehan’s help reaching within 24 hours of identifying the problem. And of responsible citizens who have contributed immediately. Aroehan’s project team will cover the rest of the needy workers tomorrow.

Kudos to the donors who responded within 15 hours. They made money available to Aroehan. Kudos to the Aroehan Team which has shown exceptional speed of response to help the needy.

The story will repeat and continue tomorrow. And our belief in the people’s willingness to support the vulnerable section of society is strengthened.

Vivek S Patwardhan

Aroehan Educates On Prenatal Care

पाAROEHAN works in Jawhar-Mokhada area, focusing on among other things, on health. In that prenatal care is a major focus due to high incidence of malnourished children. A tribal woman explains how it has made a huge difference.

आरोहनतर्फे आदिवासी समाजात जागतिक महिला दिन साजरा

आदिवासी समूह मुळातच कमी बोलणारा पण आताच्या सतत स्वतःला सिद्ध करावं लागण्याच्या काळात आयुष्य समानतापूर्वक, आदरयुक्त हवे असेल तर तुम्हांला बोलावेच लागेल तरच विविध प्रकारचे नेतृत्व करण्याची संधी मिळेल नाहीतर सतत विविध प्रकारच्या हिंसाचाराला, अन्यायाला सामोरे जावे लागेल असा सूर जागतिक महिला दिन साजरा करण्यासाठी ‘आरोहन’ने आयोजित केलेल्या सहा महिला आणि युवा सोबतच्या मेळाव्यात निघाला.


आरोहन ही नोंदणीकृत सामाजिक संस्था गेली १३ वर्षे पालघर मधील मोखाडा, जव्हार, डहाणू आणि पालघर या तालुक्यांमध्ये ‘कुपोषण समूळ नष्ट व्हावे’ यासाठी आरोग्य, शिक्षण, रोजगार, शेती, पाणी आणि सुप्रशासन हे विषय मध्यवर्ती ठेवून काम करीत आहे. मोखाड्या तालुक्यातील सुर्यमाल- केवनाळे, कुर्लोद, पाथर्डी- बोटोशी, आणि आसे ग्राम पंचायत तर जव्हार मधील कडाची मेट गांव आणि आयटीआय जव्हार या ठिकाणी विशेष लक्ष देवून सध्या महिला, मुल आणि युवा वर्गा बरोबर काम सुरु आहे.

‘बॅलन्स फॉर बेटर अर्थात – समानता असणारा, आनंदी समाज निर्माण होण्यासाठी जात,धर्म,लिंग इ. सर्व प्रकारचे संतुलन आवश्यक आहे’ ह्या संकल्पनेवर आधारित यावर्षीचा ‘जागतिक महिला दिन’ सहा ठिकाणी साजरा करण्यात आला. बोटोशी येथील भोसपाडा, आसे येथील ब्राह्मण गांव, कुर्लोद, सूर्यमाळ, कडाची मेट आणि आयटीआय जव्हार येथे मोठ्या जल्लोषात महिला दिन साजरा करण्यात आलेल्या ह्या मेळाव्यात जव्हार आगारच्या व्यवस्थापिका सरिता बागल, माधुरी मुकणे, सरिता चौधरी, प्रतिभा भोये, अॅड कल्याणी मुकणे, मीनाक्षी खिरारी आणि लीला दळवी यांनी आजची स्त्रियांची सामाजिक-आर्थिक आणि राजकीय स्थिती मांडली आणि आपापल्या क्षेत्रात आदरपूर्वक स्वतःचे स्थान मिळवण्यासाठी प्रत्यक्ष त्या स्त्रीच्या तसेच समाजातील इतर घटकांच्याही मानसिकतेत बदल व्हायला हवा, हे बदल कसे घडवावेत हे दाखवण्यासाठी स्वतःच्या अनुभवांची मांडणी ह्या मेळाव्यातून करण्यात्त आली. सूर्यमाळ येथे ग्राम पंचायत आणि डॉन बॉस्को संस्थेबरोबर तर ब्राम्हण गांव येथे ‘साथी’ संस्थेबरोबर या मेळाव्यांचे आयोजन करण्यात आले होते.

यासर्व मेळाव्यामध्ये त्या त्या गावातील स्त्रिया, युवती, युवा मोठ्या प्रमाणात सहभागी झाले होते. कडाची मेट येथील मेळाव्यात गावातील स्त्रियांनी रान भाज्यांपासून विविध प्रदार्थ बनवून प्रदर्शन केले. मासिक पाळी आणि त्यासंदर्भात असलेले गैरसमज समजावून घेण्यासाठी ‘पॅड मॅन’ सिनेमा एकत्रित बघितला. महिला दिन हा सर्वांच्या आनंदाचा दिवस असायला हवा आणि महिला सक्षमीकरणावर फक्त भाष्य न करता आपल्या कृतीत तो विचार उतरला पाहिजे अशी भूमिका सर्व वक्त्यांनी मांडली आणि शेवटी सर्व आदिवासी महिलांनी आणि युवानी आपला पारंपारिक ‘तारपा नृत्य’ सदर केले.

Collective Farming

Bhaskar Bhau Somamalik does not migrate any more to Mumbai in search of work. In one rabi season, he earns about Rs 50,000. (Photo by Nidhi Jamwal)

Not long ago, Diwali, the festival of lights, used to bring gloom to the family of Bhaskar Bhau Somamalik, a farmer from Khoch village in Mokhada taluka (administrative block) of Palghar. “Every year, post Diwali, I used to migrate along with my wife and two small children to Nashik or Mumbai to work as a daily wager,” Somamalik reminisced the hard times faced by his family.

Monthly rental for one small room in city slum was Rs 2,000, along with an upfront deposit of Rs 10,000. Since he had no money, Somamalik’s family would squat on the footpath, next to mosquito-infested waste heaps and often fall sick. “By the time we returned to our village for Holi (in March), I would have already spent all my earnings on doctor fees and medication. Migration was our only means of survival,” he said.

That was some six years ago when Somamalik and his fellow farmers from Khoch, mostly belonging to the Thakar scheduled tribe, were facing abject poverty. During the kharif (monsoon) season, they practiced subsistence farming of paddy and finger millet (ragi, locally known as nachani) for self-consumption. In the rabi (winter crop) season, they were forced to migrate to cities for lack of irrigation facilities in their village.

Collective farming

In 2010, Aroehan, a Mokhada-based NGO, approached the tribal farmers of Khoch to train them in growing seasonal vegetables in the rabi season. Since the farmers were extremely poor and owned very little or no land, collective farming was adopted.

To begin with, a group of 10 farmers from Khoch was trained in vegetable farming. Thirty-five year-old Somamalik was one of them. In the rabi season of that year, he sowed okra on 1.5 acre land and earned Rs 50,000; his life’s first ever earning from the rabi crop.

There has been no looking back since then. Somamalik has stopped migrating to cities to clean the gutters, or work as a construction labourer. He spends both the kharif and rabi seasons in Khoch itself. However, his produce gets sold in the international market. “I now grow vegetables such as French beans, okra and chilli. Last year, I exported okra to the Europe,” says a proud Somamalik, who is illiterate but has enrolled both his children at the local school.

Farmers benefited

Several other farmers of Mokhada have benefitted from collective farming. “There are over 650 vegetable farmers, 1,000 horticulture farmers and 200 floriculture farmers involved in collective farming,” informs Rahul Tiwrekar, lawyer and consultant with Aroehan. According to him, collective farming has increased the annual average turnover of subsistence farmers from Rs 5,000 per farmer to over Rs 85,000 a farmer.

Collective farming, locally known as gath kheti, is a type of agricultural production in which a group of farmers owning contiguous land engage jointly in farming activities and sell their produce as a joint enterprise in the market.

Since 2010, Aroehan is organising farmers to train them in collective farming. A group of 10 farmers pool their lands to begin group farming. In case a villager does not own land, a fellow farmer owning four to five acres lends a small portion to the landless villager against a nominal rent. For instance, Somamalik has taken 1.5 acres on rent from a fellow farmer, Vadu Sakru Bhau. “From my produce, I share 20 per cent with Vadu Sakru Bhau,” informs Somamalik.

Farmers of Khoch village in Palghar practicing collective farming standing in a field of chilli rabi crop. (Photo by Nidhi Jamwal)

Water for irrigation

Apart from land, availability of water for irrigation is an important factor for collective farming. Mokhada has negligible irrigation facilities because of which there is high migration in the rabi season.

“Khoch has a minor irrigation scheme lying defunct for many years. We spent over Rs 1,000 to fix a part of the broken underground irrigation pipeline so that some land can be brought under irrigation for collective farming,” informs Tiwrekar. Villages that lack irrigation facilities set up water harvesting structures or solar water lifting systems to grow the rabi crop.

The decision of crops under collective farming depends on factors such as local terrain, climatic conditions and the market demand. So far, Khoch farmers have cultivated okra, chilli, French beans, tomatoes, onion, ridge gourd, eggplant, etc.

Calculating costs

Initially, only half an acre land per farmer is brought under collective farming. Members of Aroehan, along with the farmers, calculate input cost per season in terms of seeds, manure and fertiliser, etc. “Roughly, half an acre land needs Rs 2,000-3,000 input materials. Aroehan provides this money as seed amount. It also links the farmers to the neighbouring APMC (Agriculture Produce Market Committee) markets in Vashi and Nashik,” says Tiwrekar.

Grazing cattle can destroy vegetable crops; hence crop guarding is crucial. “Collective farming helps as we guard our fields on shift basis. We also work at each other’s fields, thereby reducing the need to hire extra labour,” informs Vadu Sakru Bhau.

Once the crop is ready, all the farmers of the group hire one pickup truck to transport their produce to the APMC market, which saves money, says Madhukar Bhau, a farmer from Khoch. Interestingly, the farmers of Khoch recently bought a pickup truck from their group savings of the last few years.

On an average, an acre of land leads to an earning of Rs 40,000-50,000 per season. Thus, farmers growing two crops in a year get an annual average turnover of Rs 85,000 per farmer, informs Tiwrekar. According to him, some farmers in Mokhada have already received GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) Certification and are exporting their produce to the European markets.

Linking farmers to banks

As part of collective farming, Aroehan helps the farmers’ group open a joint bank account in which each member deposits a fixed amount on regular intervals. Khoch farmers, for instance, deposit Rs 100 per month per farmer. In times of need, they borrow money from the joint account and repay it after the sale of their produce. “We no longer borrow money from the local money-lender who used to charge us 50 per cent interest rate,” says Madhukar Bhau.

Over 300 farmers of Mokhada have also received the Kisan Credit Card (initial limit of Rs 95,000 per annum) from the IDBI Bank. They use this card to buy input materials for agriculture purposes.

Health benefits

Apart from the direct benefits of collective farming, there are several indirect benefits as well. For instance, farmers have built pucca houses and their children are regularly attending anganwadi and school. Palghar is infamous for malnutrition deaths. “The reason for high malnutrition in Palghar is lack of livelihood, which forces villagers to migrate. Collective farming can help address this problem,” says Abhijeet Bangar, collector of Palghar.

Somamalik agrees. “Our children are not malnourished because they regularly eat vegetables,” he says.

However, freak weather events are a matter of concern. Last year, Somamalik lost 1.5 acre of chilli crop due to untimely rains. This May, Vadu Sakru Bhau’s one-acre banana plantation was flattened by freak rainfall and high wind speeds. “I was expecting Rs 1.5 lakhs from the banana plantation, but barely earned Rs 10,000,” he laments.

But, had it not been for the collective farming, we, too, would have committed suicide like several other farmers of Maharashtra, he adds.

Nidhi Jamwal is a journalist based in Mumbai. She tweets @JamwalNidhi.

Solar Lights Distribution Aine (Jawhar)

Aine is one of the remotest village in Jawhar Block. The plight of people to access water & electricity is unmatched. The Government Ashram School of Aine faces more challenging situation as they do not have premises of their own. Total strength of this residential school is 200 students out of which 50 girls stay in this school.

Current issues with the Ashram School

1)Two permanent staff and remaining on contract basis for 200 students
2)No classroom or premises for the school:- they have rented 8 houses from villagers to run the classes
3)Availability & Access to water is major challenge
4)No classroom has electricity connection

On this background Aroehan has distributed few solar light systems with the help of Biker Group from Mumbai.

Donation Required:

We also proposed to provide water lifting solution and rain water harvesting structure for school and Aine village.

Replenishment of Solar Water for Students

Ashram Schools in tribal area are one of the important institutions to depart education with residential facilities. However due to lack of infrastructure students face difficulties.

Aroehan observed that in many such schools Solar Water heaters are installed but not in operation for long time. It affects students for their regular cleanliness and hygiene.

On this background Avesta and Aroehan decided to repair and reinstall the solar water heater system in Ashram School at Chas Gram Panchayat. And we are glad that this system is repaired and now in use for the students in this ashram shala.

We are thankful to Avesta for donating solar panels and also help us in reinstalling them.