Friday, March 15, 2013


There were four of us on two motorcyles. We drove over rocky dirt paths and shallow streams, passing bullock carts and bicycles until we reached the village of Sapkata. It used to be a relief camp for Adivasis, but had since been shut down as an official camp. What remained was a community of Santhal and Oraon tribals who had lost everything decades ago. In 1996 and then again in 1998 they had been in the midst of a Bodo-Adivasi conflict. This was as close to a home they would ever get.

I sat with a group of eight women, two of whom spoke Hindi quite well and acted as translators for the other six, Originally, the women had lived in villages such as Kashiavadi and Grampur. When the Bodos came in 1996, they had to leave their homes, livestock, poultry, land, almost anything that held value. During their travels, many individuals suffered from malaria as well as general afflictions such as swelling. Others suffered from paralysis. The following are accounts of some of the women who chose to share their experiences:

- When I came here during the second conflict in 1998 I had no clothes other than the ones I was wearing. I had started menstruating about a year ago, and when we were running away I did not take anything with me. Some shopkeeper had thrown away the newspaper he used to wrap fruits and vegetables with. I picked up this crumpled paper and used it to hold the bleeding.

- Many women died during childbirth when coming to the camps. We used to ask the Muslims for jute sacks on which we could lie down at night. Some women left their children on the way, while others were stabbed when the child was still in the womb.

- My mother had gone to wash clothes at a nearby river and I was at school, 2 km from home, when the killing started happening near my home. My mother took my 3 year old daughter with her and fled. We ran through the forest. There was nothing to eat for two whole days after which we were able to procure rice and make khichdi. The khichdi lasted for about a week. I was very sick at that time. 
The Bodos were telling everyone to return to their homes so that peace talks could be held. However, the 3 people that went back were promptly butchered and killed.

- In 1998 when some of us were fleeing our villages, three women were raped by Bodo men. The women were found dead in a ditch with their breasts cut off. The accused was taken to the police station, but nothing happened.

- In 1999 there were three months when there  were no rations or relief being given. I went to the SDO to ask for rice, but non was given. At that time, we would get Rs 10/day for working in the fields of Muslims. The men would ask the women to come to the fields and then rape them. Two women and one young girl were raped in this manner. When I came back in the evening, they told me what had happened. The men in the relief camp held a meeting and declared that the women should not venture out alone. A meeting was also held with the Muslim community.
Currently, there were no government services provided to the Adviasis. While the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) had existed two years ago, it was now absent in Sapkata. As a result, small children did not get immunizations, nutritional supplements, or education in this community. In order to earn a living, the women sometimes worked in the fields or in the homes of Muslims, for which they would be paid a daily wage of Rs. 80. In comparison, the men were paid Rs 100 for a day of work. Some of the men went to Tamil Nadu or Bangalore to work and sent their salaries home. Since shuttnig down the relief camp, the government provided a compensation of Rs 9,000 to some and Rs 50,000 to others. The criteria for this differentiation was unknown to the women. The government had also promised them materials for the construction of their homes, but that had also not been provided.

A government hospital existed in Gossaigaon, but the health officials charged for regular activities such as blood tests, checkups, medicines, etc. One of the women's sons had TB and most of her earnings went towards his treatment. During the official existence of the Sapkata relief camp 1097 families resided here in extremely crowded conditions. Now, 82 families lived on this side of the river and 70 homes were on the other side.

Even now there is no peace. When we cultivate rice, the Bodos send their cows to grace on our fields. Whether or not a Bodoland gets created, they will chase away the Adivasis. They still threaten us, but do not act on it. They do not want us here.

Before I left Sapkata one of the women introduced me to a young teenage girl. The girl had been sent to Nagaland in 1996 when she had been quite young; now, she had come back to her people, but she was a stranger amongst them. The 14 year old did not even speak the language.

Our next stop was Jhawarbhil, an area on the other side of the river. It comprised of tribals who used to live in Sapkata, but had since moved to this forest area, created a clearing, and constructed simple homes with thatched roofs and bamboo walls. Here, I sat with seven women, but the translator was a young man named Palton. He had kind eyes and an infectious smile. Since he was male, I did not bring up sensitive issues such as sexual violence, menstruation, and childbirth. Many families had come here after the 1998 conflict. Even now, no government facilities were available here; it could not be considered a village if it was located on forest land, you see. There was a makeshift school with some 300 children. The "school" essentially was a long roof of straw. No walls, no floor, no windows, just a roof supported by bamboo rods. The government provided some books and the Mid Day Meal Scheme was operational.

In 2004, forest officials had come by and burned the tribals' homes. Moreover, they took the families' rice, goats, etc. The families then returned to this area and rebuilt their homes. We have no choice to go anywhere, because we do not had land. The forest was their only hope of securing some income for themselves by growing produce.

1 comment:

  1. And yet again the pain seeps thru your writings. Proud of you and your compassion.Love.