The tribes of India, who are considered to be the progenies of primitive inhabitants, constitute a huge section of the total population of the country. As per the 1991 census, the tribal population was 67.76 million, which was not less than the total population of the United Kingdom. With this huge record, India stands at the second position only next to Africa when it comes to tribal population. As per the Constitution of India, they are called Scheduled Tribes (STs), who are spread over across the country. However, their strength varies from a few hundred to lakhs in different states of India.
Munda Tribe women of West Bengal
In West Bengal, the tribes comprise more than 5% of the total population of the state. There are total 38 notified STs in the state, many of whom have been pushed into the periphery in the course of history. Thus, most of them stay isolated from the mainstream society and culture. From 1991 to 2001, West Bengal has registered 15.7 per cent decadal growth of ST population. Among the total tribal population of West Bengal, the primitive Munda tribe constitutes 7.8% of the total population. Originally, this tribal community people were wandering huntsman and collectors. In recent times, few of them have taken up the profession of shifting cultivation following the path of most other tribes of Indian subcontinent.
A good number of the Munda tribes can be found in a small mouza named Kumar Pukuria, located in Sonarpur block of South 24 Parganas district of West Bengal. Located at a distance of 25 km from the district head quarter, it has the scenario of a remotest and backward village suffering from the need of basic amenities of life. There are three villages in this mouza – Jhinukpara, Kumarpukuria and Nimtala.
As per census 2001, about 91.4% of the population of Kumarpukuria village belongs to the Scheduled Tribe community and 8.6% is belonging to the Schedule Caste community. Maximum people are either marginal farmers or landless agricultural labour without having any employment in most of the days. It is a poor and one of the most backward class dominating villages of the district. There is no school in this village and the nearest Primary Health Centre is located at a distance of approximately 10 km.
According to 2011 census, the population of Kumarpukuria is 3,121 with 1,592 males and 1,529 females and there are 739 households. There are 2,530 literates of which males are 1,372 and Females are 1,158 whereas 591 are illiterates. In this mouza, the children below 6 years of age are 285 of which 138 are males and 147 are females. But, most of the adults are agricultural labours which is seasonal in nature. Due to poverty, they are forced to employ their children as daily wage earner. The children are also getting victimized due to the existing situation wasting their valuable youth time required for mental growth through education and play. There is hardly any alternate source of income for the poor tribal villagers. They have no “Bastu” land (land for homestead) of their own. They are living on the vested land for more than 50 years, but till date no official right in the form of patta was awarded to them and thus without any social status.
As per the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-3) of India, about 60% of tribal children under five years are underweight and 59% are stunted and 21% children are wasted. The scenario is not different in case of the children of the Munda tribe of Kumarpukuria who also suffer from malnutrition and anemia in different age groups. The level of underweight ((low weight-for-age), stunting (low height-for-age) and wasting (low weight-for-height) is high among the age group from 0 to 5 years. This adds to the increased rate of morbidity as well as mortality of the tribal children.
Children of Munda tribe in Sonarpur Block
How could we support?
Education is the key to literacy and the basis of progress for all individuals. It unlocks the potential of children and allows them to maximise their capabilities. But in Kumarpukuria, the poverty-stricken tribal parents cannot afford to send their children to schools for higher education. They are not enough educated themselves to understand the importance of education. For them, the basic livelihood is more important than educating the children. So, it is important to secure their livelihood first to improve their overall situation.
Hence, we started with this motto of betterment of their socio-economic situation by improving their income generation resources. Initially, we formed JLGs (Joint Liability Groups) among the Munda community with individuals who are interested to get engaged in similar type of economic activity. In this way, the members can support each other to carry out occupational and social activities. The locality is rich in water bodies like sewage fed canals and ponds. So, we planned to utilize these water bodies to create livelihood option for them. We taught them the technique of indigenous fish cultivation through ‘induced breeding’ and bamboo PEN culture. The sewage fed canals are rich in nutrients, so the fishes could grow fast naturally. The ‘desi magur’, scientifically known as Clarias batrachus, has a great demand in the Bengal market. So, it is commercially viable to cultivate this species. So it was decided to adopt this technique for several JLGs so that they could earn a better livelihood by fish cultivation. We provided capacity building trainings to train them properly in this technique. At present, they are doing it on their own.
Women of Munda Community are being trained by fishery experts
Apart from this, we provided capacity building trainings on ‘Animal husbandry’ and distributed ducks, goats, sheep and pigs to the agricultural labours of Kumarpukuria. They were trained how to prepare proper shelter, food and how to take protection against diseases to the animals along with systematic disposal of animal wastes to maintain healthy environment. In addition to monetary benefits, the animal husbandry can also provide various nutritious food products like eggs, milk and meat.
Fishery experts offering hand hold training of induced breeding
As we have mentioned earlier, many of the Munda tribal children are suffering from nutritional stress leading to increased morbidity and mortality rate. Here, lack of education of mothers play a considerable damaging role. The overall health status of a population depends a lot on the nutritional inputs of a child during the growing period. Stunting in these tribal children is mostly due to maternal under nutrition during pregnancy. An integrated approach was required to address these issues which included health, nutrition, family planning, care for women during and before pregnancy, proper sanitation etc. Hence, we started with educating mothers about the importance of taking care of themselves. We encouraged them for kitchen gardening. The tribal women were informed about the benefits of growing fresh and clean vegetables which would add nutritional value to their daily diet. We tried to make them understand how kitchen gardening would contribute to their food security and they can grow it even in old utensils, empty tins and clay flower pots. The whole family could contribute to this environment friendly practice.
Kitchen Garden by the Munda women
Following this, we continued home counseling visits to motivate them in sending their children to schools, provide them regular nutritious foods through kitchen gardening and taught mothers to cook healthy recipes. We encouraged the Munda tribe women to go for regular health check-ups prior to and after conception and take proper care of their nutritional habits. The tribal communities have mostly relied on traditional remedies and healers even in life threatening health conditions. Our aim was to make them realize that all health conditions cannot be treated traditionally and so they should go to doctors in such situations.
Tribal beliefs and customs are very rigid and it is not easy to bring them out of their traditional beliefs. So, while trying to influence their behaviors, we took help of folk-based mediums which are more acceptable to them than the usual communicative dialogues. It is a small step towards the upliftment of a tribal community in a Bengal’s small mouza, which we plan to take ahead to other tribal areas of the state too.