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Tag: Mokhada

Barbarity behind a “marriage”

Marriage is said to be one of the happiest moments in a person’s life. Some call it a sacred bond. But this true story of a marriage is shocking showing the blackening of humanity. It mirrors the perverse mentality of exploiting and oppressing girls and women (especially tribals) in society by taking advantage of their poverty and helplessness.

This is the story of a 17-year-old minor girl from Katkari Wadi of Mokhada, a tribal-dominated taluka of Palghar district. 5 to 6 Kms from the Taluka location lies a village called Poshera. To the east of this village is Katkari Wadi with a population of around 600-700. It was reported that a minor girl named Abla (the name is changed) was being forced to marry in exchange for money and the girl was being pressured for it. A social worker from AROEHAN came to know about the situation. Realizing the seriousness of the incident, the activists of the organisation reached the village immediately. They met with the minor and her family. The reality of the situation was shocking.

AROEHAN ACTIVISTS INQUIRE THE SITUATION IN KATKARI WADI

It was reported that an unknown person from Chalisgaon-Nagar Deola in Jalgaon district has a connection with a middleman in the tribal community to take the advantage of the poverty and helplessness of tribes. The minor’s aunt revealed that the suspect gave the father Rs. 15,000 in exchange for marrying the girl to him and would give Rs. 50,000 more after the marriage. The father signed the affidavit for it. (This affidavit is available but we do not have a copy with us). The minor’s mother passed when she was young and was looked after by her aunt. The father’s financial condition is poor and is an alcoholic. He does not pay attention to the girl and agreed with the marriage proposal in exchange for money. None of the rites of pre-wedding took place, the girl did not even see the person once. To impress the daughter and the father, the person used to send photos of expensive clothes and sarees and pressured her to get married to him as soon as possible. The girl talked with the boy a couple of times on the phone. As the situation looked suspicious, the relatives told the mediator to make proper arrangements to see the boy. The broker instead told the father to go to the boy’s house and do the “Kumkum ceremony”. The father said they cannot have a such ceremony without the daughter. Upon insistence, both father and girl went to boy’s house but there were no people responsible for the ceremony present. The aunt became suspicious about the situation and asked the girl’s father to take a hard look at the situation. He thought about it and decided not to marry the girl.

After the rejection, the broker pressured the family to return the Rs. 15,000. The father and the daughter were shocked. They could not return the money as it was already spent. They reached out to AROEHAN and we gave them support. We asked them not to give him any money. The broker came to the village and AROEHAN’s activists had a conversation with him. The broker was warned not to pester the family anymore or there will be legal action against him. He publicly agreed to not ask for money again. Though the issue was resolved it brought attention to a bigger issue here. There’s a suspicion there is criminal activity possibly backed by a gang or individual to sell/traffick tribal girls in the name of marriage going on. Because we came to know from many people about the occurrence of such incidents in the area. 

According to them, every year in Jawhar and Mokhada many tribal girls go missing. A muffled discussion could be heard about it now and then. These incidents do not come forward due to the dire economic condition of the tribes, lack of awareness among people, and also issues like alcoholism play a role in it. It is said that parents of girls fall prey to the lure of a small amount of money and engage their daughters. Even if there is any sort of opposition, the parents sometimes take the culprit’s side as they have taken the money. They also get afraid of the brokers and the other party thinking they might harm the family or even murder them, and they don’t come forward with the issue. What’s more numbing is that the brokers who arrange such marriages to take advantage of poor people and minor girls are often from their own community and locality. Due to sheer unawareness and fragile conditions, sometimes parents don’t even realise their daughters are been taken advantage of and there is no question of anyone complaining. This terrible reality is not publicly read or recorded anywhere. Even after 75 years of independence tribals are making such bargains for their daughters and their wings are cut before they even get a chance to fly. What kind of freedom do we live in? It’s high time we look at such situations carefully and act now.

-Pradeep Khairkar
AROEHAN

                                                                                                                

एका लग्नामागचे क्रौर्य …  !

खरं तर लग्न हा मनुष्याच्या  आयुष्यातील एक आनंददायी ठेवा म्हटला जातो. काही जण त्याला पवित्र बंधन असेही म्हणतात. पण मी आज ज्या लग्नाची सत्यकथा  सांगणार आहे ती संवेदनशील माणसाची मती गुंग करणारी  आहे, माणुसकीला काळिमा फासणारी आहे. आणि समाजातील मुली-महिलांच्या (विशेषत: आदिवासी) गरिबी व असाहाय्यतेचा फायदा घेऊन त्यांचे  शोषण आणि दमन करण्याच्या विकृत मानसिकतेचा आरसा दाखवणारी आहे.

ही गोष्ट आहे पालघर जिल्ह्यातील मोखाडा या आदिवासीबहुल तालुक्याच्या कातकरी वाडीतील एका १७ वर्षीय अल्पवयीन मुलीची. तालुक्याच्या ठिकाणापासून ५ ते ६ कि.मी. अंतरावर पोशेरा हे गाव वसलेले आहे. या गावाच्या पूर्वेला साधारण ६००-७०० लोकसंख्या असणारी कातकरी वाडी आहे. या ठिकाणी  अबला नावाच्या (नाव काल्पनिक आहे) एका अल्पवयीन मुलीचे पैशाच्या मोबदल्यात जबरदस्तीने लग्न लावण्याचा घाट घातला असून त्यासाठी मुलीवर दबाव टाकला जात असल्याची  माहिती ‘आरोहन’ या सामाजिक संस्थेच्या कार्यकर्तीला मिळाली. तिने संस्थेच्या वरिष्ठांना येऊन ही माहिती सांगितली. घटनेचे गांभीर्य ओळखून  संस्थेच्या कार्यकर्त्यांनी ताबडतोब  ते गाव गाठले. आणि पीडित मुलीच्या वडिलांची, काकीची व मुलीची भेट घेऊन सत्य परिस्थिती जाणून घेण्याचा प्रयत्न केला. माहिती घेत असताना जे वास्तव समोर आले ते अंगावर काटा आणणारे होते.

कातकरी येथील परिस्थितीची तपासणी करताना आरोहण

जळगाव जिल्ह्यातील चाळीसगाव-नगर देवळा येथील एका अनोळखी व्यक्तीने आदिवासी समाजातीलच एका मध्यस्थ दलालाला  हाताशी धरून मुलीच्या व तिच्या वडिलांच्या गरिबीचा, अज्ञानाचा व असाहाय्यतेचा फायदा घेऊन मुलीस १५ हजार रुपये  देऊन व वडिलांस ५० हजार रुपये देण्याचे आमिष दाखवून तिच्याबरोबर जबरदस्तीने लग्न करण्याबाबत प्रतिज्ञापत्र लिहून घेतले असल्याची माहिती मुलीच्या  काकीने दिली. (हे प्रतिज्ञापत्र उपलब्ध होऊ शकले नाही, त्याची प्रत मुलीच्या नातेवाईकांकडे देण्यात आली नाही.) मुलीच्या आईचे  मुलगी लहान असतानाच निधन झाले असल्याने लहानपणापासून काकीनेच तिचा सांभाळ केला. वडिलांची आर्थिक परिस्थिती अतिशय हलाखीची असल्याने व व्यसन असल्याने मुलीकडे त्याचे लक्ष नव्हते. ५० हजाराच्या आमिषाने सुरुवातीला त्यानेही या लग्नास संमती दिली होती.  परंतु लग्नासाठी आवश्यक असणारे कोणतेही रीतीरिवाज पाळले गेले नव्हते. मुलीला पाहण्याचा कार्यक्रम झाला नव्हता. मुलीला व वडिलांना प्रभावित करण्यासाठी, नवरा मुलगा या मुलीच्या फोनवर बस्ता बांधल्याचे फोटो (भारी कपडे व साड्या, इ.) पाठवून लवकरात लवकर लग्न करण्याबाबत दबाव वाढवत होता. एक दोन वेळा मुलाशी फोनवरून संभाषणही करण्यात आले. हे प्रकरण संशयास्पद वाटल्याने  मुलीच्या पाहण्याचा रीतसर कार्यक्रम करावा असे नातेवाईकांनी मध्यस्थाला सांगितले. परंतु  मध्यस्थाने फक्त वडिलांना ‘मुलाच्या घरी जाऊन कुंकू लावण्याचा कार्यक्रम करू’ असे सांगितले. वडिलांनी मुलीशिवाय असा कार्यक्रम कसा करता येईल? असा प्रश्न उपस्थित केला. अखेर वडिलांच्या आग्रहाखातर, हो -ना करत मुलगी व वडील मुलाच्या घरी कुंकू लावण्याच्या कार्यक्रमासाठी गेले. तेथेही कार्यक्रमासाठी  कोणी जबाबदार माणसे नव्हती. या सगळ्या गडबडीमुळे मुलीच्या काकीला संशय आला. तिने तिच्या वडिलांच्याही निदर्शनास ही बाब आणून दिली. अखेर विचारांती त्यांनी हे लग्न करण्यास नकार दिला.  

 हा नकार मिळाल्यानंतर मध्यस्थ दलालाने मुलीकडे १५ हजार रुपये परत करण्याचा तगादा लावला. तिच्यावर दबाव टाकू लागला. त्यामुळे मुलगी, तिचे वडील व काकी हवालदिल झाले होते. कारण पैसे तर खर्च झाले होते. आता पैसे आणायचे कुठून? या विवंचनेत ते पडले होते. अशा परिस्थितीत अडकलेल्या या कुटुंबाला ‘आरोहन’ने मानसिक धीर दिला. पैसे परत करण्याची काही गरज नाही असे सांगून ‘आरोहन’ तुमच्या पाठीशी असल्याचा विश्वास दिला. दरम्यानच्या काळात तो मध्यस्थही तेथे आला. त्याच्यावर आरोहनच्या कार्यकर्त्यांनी प्रश्नांची सरबती करून तो करीत असलेले काम किती समाजविघातक व बेकायदेशीर आहे, याची कडक समज दिली व यापुढे मुलीकडे किंवा तिच्या नातेवाईकांकडे परत पैशांची मागणी केल्यास कायदेशीर कारवाई करण्याचा इशारा दिला. मध्यस्थाने पुन्हा पैसे मागणार नसल्याचे सर्वांसमोर मान्य केले. येथे एका अल्पवयीन मुलीचे जबरदस्तीने लग्न लावून देण्याचा कट उधळला गेला. तात्पुरता हा प्रश्न मिटल्याचे समाधान वाटले. परंतु वरवर दिसणारी लग्नाची ही घटना फक्त लाग्नापुरती मर्यादित नसून यामागे लग्नाच्या नावाखाली आदिवासी मुलींची विक्री / तस्करी करणारी टोळी किंवा व्यक्ती कार्यरत असावी असा संशय येण्यास पुरेसा वाव असल्याचे लक्षात आले. कारण अशाप्रकारच्या अनेक घटना या भागात घडल्या असल्याचे विविध लोकांकडून कळले.   

अधिक माहिती घेतली असता दरवर्षी जव्हार-मोखाडा या भागातील अनेक आदिवासी मुली बेपत्ता  झाल्याची दबक्या आवाजातील चर्चा ऐकावयास मिळाली. या घटना पुढे येत नाहीत कारण या भागातील आदिवासींची अतिशय दारुण आर्थिक परिस्थिती, अज्ञान व व्यसनाधीनता असल्याने मुलींचे पालक थोड्या पैशाच्या अमिषाला  बळी पडून अशा प्रकारचे व्यवहार करीत असल्याचे बोलले जाते. प्रकरण उघडकीस आले किंवा कोणी विरोध केला तर पालक  संबंधित गुन्हेगाराच्या बाजूने उभे राहतात. याहूनही सुन्न करणारी  बाब म्हणजे, अशाप्रकारच्या असाहाय्य व गरीब मुलींना शोधून त्यांच्या लग्नाचे सौदे करणारे मध्यस्थ दलाल हे इथल्याच समाजातील व परिसरातील आहेत. अर्थात त्यांचीही गरिबीची परिस्थिती असल्याने त्यांचाही अशा कामासाठी वापर करून घेतला जातो हे त्यांच्याही लक्षात येत नाही. त्यामुळे कोणी तक्रार करण्याचा प्रश्न उद्भवत नाही. परिणामी या भयाण वास्तवाची जाहीर वाच्यता किंवा नोंद कुठेही होत नाही. स्वातंत्र्याच्या ७५ वर्षानंतरही आदिवासींना केवळ आर्थिक परिस्थितीमुळे आपल्या मुलींचे असे सौदे करावे लागत असतील आणि उमलण्याआधीच अशा कळ्या कुस्करल्या जात असतील तर आपण कोणत्या स्वातंत्र्यात राहतो ? याचा अंतर्मुख होवून विचार करण्याची व  शीघ्र कृती करण्याची वेळ आली आहे असे प्रकर्षाने वाटते.    

-प्रदीप खैरकर
आरोहन

Free Health Check Up and Treatment

AROEHAN organised a free health check-up and treatment camp on the eve of Dussehra at Pachghar village in Mokhada. The theme of the camp was ‘Health is Wealth’. AROEHAN’s activist Pradeep Khairkar explained the importance of health to people as the programme commenced. He urged all to take advantage of the medical examination and the treatment. The camp was facilitated by Dr. Ajinkya Dhangar and Dr. Keken from Sahyog Hospital, Virar. They diligently examined participants and the patients were provided with the necessary medications. Children, elderly, women, men, people of all age groups were part of this camp. Over 125 people were treated from the  Pachgar village area.

WATCH: AROEHAN empowers villages to formulate GPDP

Local NGO AROEHAN empowers communities to formulate Gram Panchayat Development Plan in rural villages.

Women’s Day celebration with Tribal Women in Dholara

saEvery year on 8th March, the world celebrates International Women’s Day to honour the women in their lives. We at AROEHAN, also love to take the opportunity to celebrate it with the people we care about i.e. our community in different hamlets in rural Palghar. The board members of AROEHAN felicitated the resilient women of Dholara. Some of them included mothers, homemakers, teachers, and deputy sarpanch.

The village’s children lined up a slew of performances for the locals and AROEHAN activists present. Some of the girls were dolled up in the Maharashtrian traditional wear Navari Sari to perform a folk dance. The school-going children put up a puppet show to explain the importance of cleanliness in society. Most of the performances carried a social message as well as a bulk of entertainment. The young girls performed a sketch performance to explain the importance of Bachat Gat with a punch of humour that left the audience in splits. One of the performances also called out the patriarchy and outdated custom of marrying off girls right after she comes out of school which is still practiced largely in rural India.

AROEHAN’s CEO, Mr. Amit Narkar delivered a moving speech about women being such an integral part of society and yet they are put on a pedestal. While the women in villages carry the backbone of the country i.e. agriculture, men prefer going off to the city while the women solely take care of the farming and family. He also pointed out that even though the panel sitting in front of them has more men than women, one day there will be an equal ratio. He elaborated on the history of Women’s Day and how it made its way around the world. He also told the villagers that women don’t want to be worshiped as goddesses or be higher than men, all they ask for is to be treated equally and that is why a day like women’s day is important.

The deputy sarpanch called out the basic injustices women face on daily basis. In her speech, she did not hold back and called out women keeping themselves after their families and that is not okay. She explained to them that the key to a happy household is a happy and healthy wife and they must acknowledge their worth first only then people around will do so. The way women are raised, they don’t realize how much patriarchy is internalized within them and they don’t learn to question otherwise. It’s a day like International Women’s Day and a celebration like this that helps us to pave the way to generate awareness, to make them feel special as they are, to value them, and hope they would value themselves and as would people around them. As Swami Vivekanand once said “A nation cannot thrive without women. A bird cannot fly with one wing.” And he was right, thusly so.

दुर्गम शेतकऱ्यांसाठी जलकुंडे ठरली वरदान

ठाणे जिल्ह्यातील मोखाडा तालुक्यातील दुर्गम भागातील शेतकऱ्यांसाठी जलकुंडांची निर्मिती वरदान ठरली आहे.

 या भागात कार्यरत आरोहण स्वयंसेवी संस्थेने ‘फळझाड वाडी तेथे जलकुंड’ ही संकल्पना येथे राबवली. कोसबाड कृषी विज्ञान केंद्राचे तांत्रिक मार्गदर्शन घेतले. ऑक्टोबरनंतर पाण्याचा शाश्‍वत स्रोत तयार होऊन शेतकऱ्यांसाठी बारमाही शेती करणे शक्य झाले आहे. रोजगारासाठीचे स्थलांतरही थांबले आहे. ठाणे जिल्ह्यातील मोखाडा, जव्हार या भागात पावसाळ्यात भरपूर पाऊस पडतो. परंतु जमिनीला असलेला तीव्र उतार, डोंगर-दऱ्या आणि खडकांमुळे पाणी साठवण न होता पाणी वाहून जाते. पावसाळ्याच्या चार महिन्यांनंतरची तीव्र पाणीटंचाई, त्यामुळे होणारी हंगामी शेती, रोजगार उपलब्ध नसणे यामुळे बरीच कुटुंबे ऑक्टोबरनंतर रोजगारासाठी स्थलांतर होतात. पाण्याचे स्रोत उपलब्ध असले तरी शेतापासून जास्त दूर आहेत. पाणी आणणे खर्चिकही आहे. परिणामी वर्षानुवर्षे काही जमिनी पडीकच राहिलेल्या दिसून येतात. फळबाग लागवडीला चालना आदिवासी बहुल भागातील बहुतांश कुटुंबे अल्पभूधारक आहेत. शेतीत नवे तंत्रज्ञान अवलंबण्याची त्यांची क्षमताही कमी आहे. मोखाडा तालुका आर्थिक गरिबी व कुपोषणाच्या अडचणींनी ग्रासला आहे. या सर्व बाबी लक्षात घेता आदिवासींच्या मदतीला आरोहण संस्था धावली. सन २००६ पासून जव्हार, मोखाडा, डहाणू, पालघर आदी भागांत संस्था शेती, जलसंधारण व पाणी व्यवस्थापन, आरोग्य, शिक्षण, आदी विषयात कार्य करते आहे. सन २०११ मध्ये संस्थेने बारमाही पाणीसाठा असलेल्या शेतकऱ्यांचे गट तयार केले. फळबाग, भाजीपाला, फूलशेती लागवडीला चालना दिली. त्यातून शेती हा बारमाही उपजीविकेचा शाश्वत स्रोत होऊ शकतो हे शेतकऱ्यांच्या लक्षात येऊ लागले. प्रयोगशील शेतकऱ्यांकडे अभ्यास सहलींचे आयोजन करण्यात आले. जलसंधारणावर भर मोखाडा दुर्गम तालुका असल्याने शेतमाल १०० किलोमीटरपेक्षा जास्त अंतरावरील बाजारपेठेत विक्रीस नेण्यात अनेक अडचणी होत्या. या समस्येवर उपाय शोधण्यासाठी गटशेतीचा आधार घेण्यात आला. अर्थात पाणी ही मुख्य समस्या होतीच. बऱ्याच गावांमध्ये वर्षातील अर्धा काळ पिण्यासाठी टॅंकरद्वारे पाणी पुरवठा होतो. अशा परिस्थितीत दुबार शेती करणे आव्हानाचे होते. यासाठी अभ्यास करून काही गावांमध्ये छोटे बंधारे बांधण्यात आले. बारमाही नद्या किंवा तलाव असलेल्या ठिकाणी सौरपंपाच्या माध्यमातून पाणी आणण्यात आले. जलकुंडांची निर्मिती अजूनही डोंगर-टेकडीवर जमीन असलेले मोठ्या संख्येने आदिवासी शेतकरी बाकी होते. त्याचबरोबर ओसाड-पडीक जमीन लागवडीखाली आणण्यासाठी संस्थेने वाडी लागवड कार्यक्रमात वर्षभर पुरेल इतका पाणीसाठा तयार करण्याकडे लक्ष दिले. कोकणातील जांभ्या जमिनीत निचऱ्याचे प्रमाण जास्त असते. त्यामुळे फळझाडांचे पाणी व्यवस्थापन करणे अवघड जाते. कोरडवाहू फळझाडांना सुरुवातीच्या तीन वर्षांत सिंचनाची गरज असते. यासाठी ‘फळझाड वाडी तेथे जलकुंड’ ही भूमिका संस्थेने घेतली.

पाण्याचा ताळेबंद

  • सुमारे अर्धा एकर क्षेत्रावर ७० पर्यंत झाडांच्या लागवडीचे नियोजन करून त्या क्षेत्रात सहा बाय पाच बाय एक मीटर आकाराचे जलकुंड बनवले.
  • पावसाळ्यानंतर पुढील आठ महिने त्यातून पाणी पुरवठा होईल असा विचार करून आकारमान निश्‍चित
  • पावसाळ्यानंतर प्रति रोपासाठी आठवड्याला १० लिटर या प्रमाणात ७० रोपांना आठ महिन्यांसाठी एकूण २५ हजार लिटर एवढ्या पाणीसाठ्याची आवश्यकता होती.
  • बाष्पीभवनाचा विचार करता साधारणतः ३० हजार लिटर साठवण होईल असाही विचार केला.
  • मोकाट जनावरांपासून भविष्यात रोपांचे संरक्षण व्हावे यासाठी लागवड क्षेत्राला चारही बाजूने सागरगोटा या काटेरी वनस्पतीची लागवड
  • सुमारे २५० शेतकऱ्यांकडे अशा पद्धतीने लागवडीचे नियोजन
  • लागवडीचे ५ बाय ५ मीटर अंतर निश्‍चित. आंबा १०, काजू १५, लिंबू ५, जांभूळ ५, पेरू ५, आवळा ५, साग ५, पपई ५, शेवगा ५, बांबू १० असे नियोजन.

जलकुंडाचे फायदे

  • ऑक्टोबरनंतर जवळपास पाणीस्रोत उपलब्ध नसल्याने दरवर्षी मार्चअखेर ५० टक्क्यांपर्यंत होणारी रोपांची मरतुक यंदा मात्र २५ टक्क्यांपर्यंतच जाणवली. त्यातही बरीचशी मरतुक अतिपावसामुळे झाली होती.
  • पूर्वी शेतकरी दूर अंतरावरून पाणी वाहून आणायचे. त्यावेळी आठवड्याला जास्तीत जास्त पाच लिटर प्रति रोपाप्रमाणे पाणी दिले जायचे. नोव्हेंबरपर्यंत शेतीकामे पूर्ण झाल्यानंतर पाणी देण्यास डिसेंबरनंतर सुरुवात होत असे. या ताणामुळे रोपांची वाढ योग्य होत नसे. मागील वर्षी जलकुडांमुळे पाऊस उघडल्यानंतर ऑक्टोबरपासून आठवड्यातून दोनवेळा पाणी देणे शक्य झाले. त्यामुळे रोपांची वाढ चांगली झाली.

केव्हीकेचे मार्गदर्शन शेतकऱ्यांना कृषी विज्ञान केंद्र, कोसबाड येथील तज्ज्ञांकडून वेळोवेळी प्रशिक्षण. यात रोपांना आधार देणे, कीड-रोग, खते, पाणी व्यवस्थापन आदींचा समावेश. झालेले सर्वेक्षण

जलकुंड साठवण क्षमताफेब्रु-मार्चमधील साठा लिटरमध्येजलकुंड संख्या
३० हजार लिटर१०, ००० च्या आत३५
१०,००० ते १४,०००६५
१५,००० ते २०,०००६०
२०,००० ते २५,०००९०
  • मार्च ते मे या तीन महिन्यात रोपे जगवण्यासाठी १० हजार लिटर पाण्याची आवश्यकता
  • अनेक शेतकऱ्यांकडे योग्य नियोजनामुळे चांगला पाणीसाठा उपलब्ध झाला.
  • जलकुंडाच्या माध्यमातून शाश्वत पाणी स्रोत मिळाल्याने शेतकरी फळबागांसोबत मोगरा, भाजीपाला पिके घेऊ लागले.
  • आदिवासींचे शहराकडे होणारे स्थलांतर कमी झाले.

संपर्क- उत्तम सहाणे-७०२८९००२८९ (लेखक कृषी विज्ञान केंद्र, कोसबाड येथे विषय विशेषज्ज्ञ आहेत.)

 

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