One of the scheduled tribe has been named as `Sahariyas’ only because it was totally dependent upon forests for its very existence in terms of its society, family, livelihood and everything else.
The people of `Sahariyas’ tribe never bothered of their future, because they were confident that forests, which they respect and protect, would never leave them hungry.
However, the other groups of Society have exploited the forests to the tilt, for meeting their own self-interests. Consequently, the very source providing the food security to the families of `Sahariyas’ tribe has been irretrievably damaged.
Left with no alternative, the people of `Sahariyas’ tribe had to look out for labour work in the local stone mines to earn their livelihood.
Slowly and slowly, they are becoming a tool of exploitation in the wider perspective of our social system.
Their habitations are located outside the main villages. It is generally a cluster of houses. The housing reminds of prehistoric scenes. It is made of some stone boulders and roofing is also of stone slabs. In some villages mud structures are also constructed. Brick and concrete are very rare. Government has attempted at providing housing to them. But Sahariya prefers to live these stone huts- locally called as Patore.
Most of their livelihood resources are in the control of powerful people .e.g. land, water and forest produce. In most cases their land is bad and that too is usurped by others. High indebtedness, land alienation, abysmal literacy level, preponderance of tuberculosis and malaria, and lack of social security are some facets of their vulnerability.
Severe malnutrition among the children and starvation deaths has also been reported.
Shy and submissive by nature, they fall easy prey to the manipulation of corrupt people.
The services like health, education, electricity and nutrition care and social security exist mostly in profound sentiments of the policies; most Sahariyas have been denied access to them.
As the forest cover is disappearing, Sahariyas are forced to work as casual labor.
Government has been pushing scheme after scheme for their development, little benefit reaches to them.
At many places Sahariyas have been tortured to leave their native village by the mischievous people to take over their land. In such cases they have migrated to other places in search of security.
Land tenure and related conflicts have become a part of Sahariyas' very existence. They were never known to own land but had a major contribution in converting forestland for agriculture.
It is this land or the ambiguity of their ownership of it, which has been a constant source of conflict with their more powerful neighbors as well as with the Government.
There is a constant conflict between the Forest Department and the Revenue Department on the issue of the demarcation of land.
Exploitation - Khadaans(Stone Quarries), bonded labour, dacoities(robbers) and liquor have become synonymous with the lot of the Sahariyas.
The Sahariyas are encouraged by the mine or land owners to take petty loans which, more often then not; they are unable to pay.
Workers are charged for absenteeism and also at times chained up in the mine premises so that they are unable to run away and instead forced to work.
Liquor is another mode of well-planned exploitation. Liquor is often sold by the mine owners at the site of the mines and the payment deducted from the wages of the workers
What is needed
Administration to be accountable for quality education and health services. Any negligence should be strictly dealt and concerned persons to be penalized.
Social security and legal aid support for each family should be insured.
A comprehensive development plan to be developed considering specific needs and demands of the Sahariyas.
Declaring Sahariya Zone with special senior level committee to look into their day to day problems.
Present Food distribution system is not adequate to meet their needs. It should be totally overhauled. Mobile shops for grains and cooked food are put in place to ensure availability of food to every one.
It is taken for granted that all the Sahariyas can pay for medicine, food, electricity and education. The truth is that many do not even eat meals two times a day and go without food on some days.
Children are highly malnourished and suffer from skin and other infections. The ICDS program has to be held accountable along with ANM if cases of severe malnutrition are identified in the village.
Land disputes continue to harass the tribal everywhere. Special courts should be setup to hear these cases. Disputes between Forest and Revenue departments over land maps and ownership has caused insurmountable suffering to Sahariyas.