Early mornings lead to surprising productivity.We were on the road by 6:30 am and visited three settlements - Ekangudam, Kamlapuram, and Singhasamudram. The majority of the day was spent on the motorbike, which allowed me to appreciate the environment much more so than from the car. Many a time, I closed my eyes and held my face up to the sky. Living in rainy, gray Bombay for the past few months, I had forgotten what this warmth felt like. The cool wind and summery heat felt comforting as I basked in sunshine.
In Kamlapuram, Naveen followed the same strategy for rapport building he had followed in practically every settlement. He found a curious kid, and started speaking with the child. If the child knew how to read and write, he sent the kid to each house in the village to write down the names of all the family members by household. In this way, we were able to get a more accurate count of the population and the number of families. Otherwise, Naveen would follow his Plan B - pick up a random baby and start playing with him/her while the mother looked on in wonder/anger/amusement. And of course, Plan C - clicking anyone and everyone's photograph - attracted considerable attention as well. This is how he drew people in and began speaking with them. Once again, my contribution was minimal, restricted to a greeting in the tribal tongue of Koya: Saya Mindera. The men and women were largely unemployed, and sat in their homes until someone came to get them for work. Nowadays, they had no work. Lack of stable income was a significant handicap. We have grown used to hunger. This statement meant nothing to me, because I couldn't even begin to imagine what that would feel like.
Unemployed Youth (Photo Credit: Naveen Ramisetti)
In Ekangudam, the situation was relatively better. The villagers had ration cards and NREGS cards. There was a government hospital nearby and the government had constructed four borewells. However, when we looked at the number of days their passbooks claimed they worked and the number of days they got paid for, there was a discrepancy. There were also a few children who had been sent to the Nutritional Rehabilitation Centre (NRC) in Bhadrachalam. The NRC provided emergency nutrition to children with Grade 4 malnutrition, but my concern was not in their admittance to the NRC. The concern lay in the post-NRC dietary patterns, which were the same as those prior to NRC admission. How was malnutrition going to be tackled if the families were still eating calorie-intensive, minimally nutritive food?
In Singasamudram, a similar story came out - loss of livelihoods, loss of lives, and lots of forest cut. Nearly 4000 acres of forest have been cut in this area. This is problematic, because the settlement lies in a Reserve Forest. The IDPs practice shifting cultivation, since that is the only way they know of earning a living. The land they are cutting is illegal and in such large areas, damaging to the environment. Here arises the dilemma- are the tribals entitled to such large areas of land, particularly in a Reserve Forest? Are the Forest Officials entitled to arrest them? Apparently, some tribals prefer that their names be listed in forest-cutting cases, because that would give them a chance at owning a patta for the land. This patta is a much-coveted luxury, as it would ensure permanent settlement on that piece of land. This permanence seems to be the key to survival.
Cutting Forest In Search of Permanence (Photo Credit: Naveen Ramisetti)