How does the economy of the forest dwellers function? The forest dwellers have been give name-tribe. It is not easy to have common understanding about the word. Who is a tribe? Is it a similar to the caste system of India? Different tribal groups are at different mental and social level. Tribes of Mizoram, Manipur and Shillong have adopted western language and life style. They are educated and probably move with the global trends. It also includes political and economic awareness. On the other end of the spectrum, there are tribal communities like Sahariyas, Baigas and others. They are even today living in the world of olden days. Completely oblivious of our modern ways, they still follow much the same traditional way of life. Their happiness lies in forest, rivers and mountains. The urban and modern make them weak and lost. They lack the language required to communicate with non tribals. Some changes have taken place; these are limited to a very small percentage. Though our forest resources have depleted beyond repair, they continue to depend on it for most of requirement of survival. It includes herbs, wild fruits and tubers. Firewood, fodder and small animals like rabbit, snakes and birds are big support for their economy. From the river or ponds, they get fish, crabs and other edible aquatic life. It is not hard to realize how nature nurtures their life. The air plays music. Closeness to forest brings humility and sense of reverence for the Creator. The population in focus now is the Sahariyas of Gwalior and neighboring places in MP in India. Within about three hundred kilometer from Gwalior, they are living as scattered habitations. These are called Saharna. On out skirt of the main village, their settlements are located. Main village means that other communities like Dalits, OBC and General caste, populate it. After India received independence from the British, these places became target of government and public in General. Government because they were in process of reorganizing the welfare is Administration. Public in general because they saw abundance of resources to get hold of. They knew that Sahariyas have nothing to do with the Government and its laws. These make them helpless and nervous. Everything was beyond their understanding. It was complete surrender of all sorts. It made it easier for the people from rich and powerful to take over all the sources of livelihood and also control all other affairs of wellbeing.
It is very easy to understand from the Western movies on how outsiders took complete control over resources of Native American, African and Australian. Their forest and quality land was taken over by other with the manipulation of state officials and procedures. With money, liquor and force it became the trend to enslave them forever. The process is going on without any change even today. Now the state and Corporate are major up rooter of these people for projects and commercial expansion.
Let’s try to understand the essential components of Sahariya economy-
· Forest based economy- This region has poor forest cover due to rocky and thin soil cover. Majority of trees belong to bush and short height group similar to arid and dry areas. Forest provides fire wood, housing material, medicinal herbs, grazing grass for goats. Wild vegetable like tubers, green and leafy vegetables form essential ingredient of the family. Small forest animals like rabbit, boar, and birds provide non-vegetarian diet to them. Most stock of forest produce is dwindling fast. Sahariya’s source of nutrition and some earning is highly threatened. Some grasses are used to kill the appetite to face food shortage. Women grind dry tubers on stone and mix it in the water for children to drink. In some villages, the make baskets for carrying soil from a weed. It is purchased by Forest department and local shop owners. In the marketing deals Sahariyas are always cheated. Fire wood is for family use and for selling to nearby food shops and highway truck drivers. It is illegal to sell the forest wood. They can only take head load for cooking purpose. Sahariyas continue selling the wood especially in villages located on Highways. Leaf of Chola tree is used for making disposal food serving dish and cup. Most of these products do not require any special skill. This has retained primitive elements of economy. Collect and gather and sell. No efforts have been successful to either to upgrade or mechanize some production. Sahariya are happy working with hands. In several situations simple barter system works. By giving baskets or wood and herbs to local traders and take kitchen items like wheat, sugar and oil. Local medical healers also take forest produce as their consultation and medicine cost. The difference between market cost and payment made to Sahariyas is always much lower. It happens in all transactions be it honey, herbs and baskets.
· Agriculture- Sahariya is not very skilled in agriculture. Increasingly, they are improving their agriculture practices. To begin with, most Sahariya have small piece of land and not suitable for good agriculture work. It is full of small stone pieces and uneven. The soil cover is very thin. It has no irrigation. Hence rain is the only hope. Because of lack money to buy good quality seed and ploughing of the field, it remains only subsistence and primitive. Large number of families does not even possess control over land. It is encroached, taken forcibly or mortgage to others. Large number of dispute and conflict related with land. In government records, most Sahariya are given land by the State. But in reality, the land is in the control of grabbers. It’s very hopeless situation. Off late some campaigns are organized by activists to restore their control over land. It is taking national priority for many groups and the tribal. The modern chemical agriculture has succeeded in reaching among them. Government supported marketing of chemical fertilizers and insecticide. Their non judicious use has further made the agriculture beyond reach of the poverty stricken Sahariya. Traditional seeds are lost. Mono crop of wheat and soybean has eliminated the seeds, which were the result of millions of the years of natural selection. Some of the old crops, which have disappeared, are Kudos, Ragi, Kathia Wheat, Maize, and Jawar. Many sell their produce in the informal market at much lower price. It is not possible for them to carry their product to the organized grain and vegetable market. Usually it is in small quantity and they can afford the transportation. They always receive unfair deal with the market brokers. At present main food, crops are maize, jawar, mustard, masoor, wheat and soybean.
· Stone quarry and Crushers-In Ghatigaon Stone quarries used to be major source of employment. On small scale. It still engages many families. It is highly exploitative and hazardous physical work. Already suffering from effects of alcohols, smoke and lack of food, body is further debilitated. Earnings would vary from 200 to 400 per day. Simply collection and breaking of boulders will fetch Rs 200 per day; a skilled stonecutter may get 400 Rs per days. It appears fine to many people. Reality is different. Nobody can work for a long time since the fatigue takes over. Almost all earnings are adjusted to the loans taken for food, liquor, marriage and disease treatment. Part of it will also go towards paying off other debts taken from neighbors and moneylenders. Overall, nothing is left in the name of earning. Simply work as long as your body permits, drink and suffer from Tuberculosis, malaria and lifelong indebtedness and die. Ministry of Forest and environment has withdrawn permission of mining at many places to protect the natural wealth. As it is case with most Government policies, no body obeys it. Hence, officially, the permission may be for much smaller area but mining is done on much larger area. I n several instances, no permission is taken. The business goes on as usual, thanks the nexus between Government and tractors. It is even worse for Sahariyas labor. Forest department conducts raids (mainly to create panic and collection of bribe from contractors) to check illegal mining. The actual owner is not there. However, the hapless Sahariyas labor is caught and booked under Criminal charges for violation. Their implements and cycles will be seized. Police and court proceeding will follow. However, sufferer is only Sahariyas men, women and Children. Gwalior and Shivpuri have a significant number of tribal families working as labor. Government formulated a scheme of formation of the Cooperative of the Sahariyas to provide employment. Almost all the cooperatives formed are in the hands of muscle men and contractors. The members are working as labor in their own organization but all controls are elsewhere.
· Wage earnings under Government infrastructure construction and Employment Generation schemes- Physical labor is their main stay. Local contractors hire them for Government works like road construction, earthen work for water harvesting, school building and development of land. Employment Generation programs are designed to provide labor within village or nearby to all the people who can do physical labor. Massive amount of government funds are allocated for such schemes. Forging of signatures and false document and pilferage of money are common complaints here also. Agriculture and forest labor are also major source of work. For brief periods, they migrate to work on the fields of rich farmers. It is seasonal but engages almost 90% of the working force including men, women and children. After the introduction of the mechanized agriculture, these chances of livelihood are also going from their hands. The District magistrate decides wage rates. Currently is about Rs 135 or so .Interesting fact remains. Sahariyas are not driven of Industrial revolution. After working few days, they stay home and spend time in singing, drinking or sleeping. As long there is food at home, they do not see necessity of working. Sahariyas are called as lazy people. Primitive culture explains this. Accumulation and hoarding was not part of their culture. Forest was meeting all their essential necessities food, meat, water and shelter. Needs were and even today are very minimal. They cannot see any justification of over exploitation and accumulation. Even if they wanted, they have no place to keep anything safe in their rudimentary houses. Then Gurjer and other are standing ready to pounce on the prey when they have any money or grain.
The Government has classified Sahariyas as one of the Primitive Tribe. Loosely it means they continue to be in pre literate and pre agriculture state, dependence on forest for living. Modern laws and systems are beyond their comprehension. They are not aware of or have no interest in knowing. Use of computer, literary Hindi and English and continued adherence to the British Laws created in 1860 after the great Indian Mutiny. Some peripheral changes are introduced but the spirit of the governance is still haunted and possessed by British Systems meant for the Invader.