PUNE: “The Member of Parliament (MP) from our area has not showed up in our village ever since he got elected. Hardly anyone knows him. Our population does not know what is the importance of Lok Sabha election or the role of an MP,” said tribal activist Swapnil Dhande. He is from Rajuri village in the tribal belt of Ahmednagar district, where perennial water crisis is an issue. Another issue is the identity of Scheduled Tribes in the State being under attack.
While around 80 lakh tribals in the State are eligible to vote, activists feel awareness about elections has increased like never before. However, knowledge about leaders and political parties is limited to the young, educated section.
“For ages, water scarcity has been the major issue of tribals. Though majority of the dams lie in tribal areas, they are denied claim over water from these dams,” tribal activist Ravindra Talpe said.
Activist and resident of Rajewadi village in the tribal belt of Bhimashankar, Nilesh Sable said, “Tribals have always faced displacement and rehabilitation whenever a dam is built. Several villages near Bhimashankar faced a similar fate after construction of Dimbhe dam. Also, we have not received benefit of the dam water till date. The situation is worse for tribal villages on the upper side of the dams.”
When the State Government declared drought last year, many affected tribal belts were left out. After efforts by activists, some were added, however, many remain unrecognised.
AWARENESS - YES AND NO
“Young voters do think about water crisis while considering the candidates. But with illiteracy and ignorance in the community, many are not capable of that,” Dhande said.
For the Katkari community residing in Ragad Sugar Factory area of Bhor taluka, the elections do not matter much, as the leaders come and go, but their problems never end.
“Most of them are going to vote because they understand it is their right. But they vote for whoever asks for votes with false promises,” project coordinator Suraj Mohite, who is working in Bhor on behalf of NGO Idea Foundation said.
“Decisions and policies are imposed on tribals in the name of welfare, without considering their opinion. These policies have poor implementation,” tribal activist and Adivasi Ekta Parishad President Kailas Vasave said.
“Many tribals recently faced eviction notice from the Supreme Court over the claim on forest land. While Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA) was introduced to protect rights, lands and resources of tribes, it’s not being implemented. For any acquisition, eg for Bullet train in Palghar or for Samruddhi Mahamarga in Vidarbha, the administrators tried to snatch our lands under the Panchayat Act. For those displaced, rehabilitation is hardly sustainable,” Vasave added.
He is a native of Molgi village in Nandurbar district, which was among those affected by Sardar Sarovar Dam on River Narmada.
“Under the Swachh Bharat Mission, toilets were built in tribals areas, but the contractors appointed had political connections. Opinions of locals were not considered. With lack of water and accessibility, most of these toilets remain unused. Similarly, in the Ujjwala scheme for providing LPG connections, very few who are friends of the ruling party were benefited,” Vasave added.
Mohite laments that tribals do not know about any schemes. “Only 10 per cent of the schemes reach the tribals. They are ignorant or have no idea how to apply. There is a need for parties and organisations to change this situation,” he said.
“Most tribals do not have any hope from this government. Not that the earlier government did a better job, but we have no choice now. With increasing risk to our livelihood, a large number of youths under Adivasi Ekta Manch recently decided not to vote for the BJP,” Vasave stated.
IMPORTANT ISSUES FOR TRIBALS
- Villagers tend to dislike tribals due to their lifestyle, which leads to further alienation. The prejudices about tribals need to be addressed,” Mohite stated.
- “The number of Ashram Schools is dwindling. The government’s introduction of DBT (Direct Benefit Transfer) instead of the canteen at tribal hostels is hindering education,” Vasave stated.
- “The Dhangar community has demanded to be included in Scheduled Tribes. If this happens, tribals will face injustice. Already there are many cases where tribals do not get jobs, as those with bogus certificates are hogging them,” Vasave said.