From bonded labour to farmers waiting for ownership rights The struggle continues for this Warli tribal family

22, Dec 2020 | Mamta Pared

This report is part of CJP’s Grassroots Fellowship Program, and has been written by Mamta Pared who hails from the Warli tribe and lives with her family in Nimbavali village in Palghar district. The daughter of brick kiln workers, Mamta wants to be a journalist, and is working on earning a master’s degree in journalism and mass communication from Abasaheb Garware College in Pune. Here she shares the story of her own family.

“What would you have done without this land? This land is a big support. You can’t afford to buy everything. Do you kids know anything? Will you ever learn to work in the field?” Growing up, my parents always had these remarks ready to fire back at me, especially when I asked for things.

But at the same time, I remember the story my grandfather would tell me, of his own father, my great grandfather. I recall my grandfather telling me that he used to see his father look frustrated all the time. Those days the so-called ‘upper castes’ would dominate over tribals like us. My poor great grandfather was uneducated, and soon enough the moneylender took advantage of that, cheated my great grandfather and usurped their land.

CJP’s Grassroots Fellowship Program aims at empowering young men and women, from the communities we work closely with, including migrant workers, Dalits, Adivasis, forest workers among other disadvantaged people, to report on issues closest to their hearts and home. Please Donate Now to empower our grassroots fellows.

My great grandfather had to leave the village where he had grown up, and take his young children along. He was not even sure how to take care of his family, where will they live, what they will eat? Then a landowner gave them shelter, and my great grandfather started working there as a labourer. He soon became a sort of bonded labourer for the landlord, and had to do whatever the boss ordered.

Mamta Pared Mother
Pramila Pared, mother of Mamta Pared

Work began in the morning and continued till late night. He had to do work like cleaning up the cow dung, taking cattle to graze, plough the fields, he had so much work that sometimes he had to sleep the night in the barn. He never had a holiday. Even if he fell ill, he had to work, because the landlord would force him to. According to the landlord, work should not stop no matter what crisis fell on to the ‘servant or his family’. In return for all that work, my great grandfather would get two pairs of dhotis and vests, and 30kg rice per year.

As the years rolled by, his children, that is my grandfather and his siblings had to do the same work. Years later, people started agitating against the concept of forced or bonded labour and the practice was abolished. However, the lives of the erstwhile bonded labourers have not improved even a generation later. My father was forced to drop out of school, he just managed to study till class 4. He later married my mother, who was also uneducated, so they were both forced to start working at brick kilns, to earn money and take care of my siblings and me.

Mamta Pared Uncle
Ramchandra Pared, uncle of Mamta Pared

In 1987, our family started farming in the neighbouring forest. My younger uncle and my parents started cultivating rice, and even grow vegetables and oilseeds. The produce is sold in nearby cities. I stay with my parents, three brothers and two sisters. My elder brother works in a godown, while the second brother is a construction worker. My younger brother is in class 12, and I am studying for my postgraduate degree. Ours is the first generation of the family to be educated. However, our troubles are not over. Our plot of land is on a hillside, and we often face the wrath of nature. We have to construct small dam-like structures so that soil and water are not washed away. Rice cultivation needs more water, and it is also difficult to plough the land. All the rice fields are scattered on the hillside, and we plough using bullocks only, because tractors are not affordable and anyway such a machine cannot navigate the hilly areas well. We once had our own bulls but they died, and now we have to hire bullocks for farming. We pay with 180kg of rice in return. The entire family has to do farming because hiring labourers is not possible for us.

There is a small water body by the farm, and we grow some vegetables there and sell them in the neighbouring towns. Even though that doesn’t fetch much money it is the only option we have. The older people in the family cannot go out to work on daily wages at their age. And because the availability of water is the major issue, not everyone can grow enough grain and vegetables to sustain themselves. In an effort to fix the water scarcity, my uncle had sought permission from the forest department to build a well in the area last year. However, he was denied permission. He has not given up and is making efforts to get a well dug using the government scheme. It was not easy to obtain this forest land but my father was actively involved in the struggle by the tribals in this area towards that goal.

Mamta Pared Farm
This is the patch of land where the family still farms

My father relives his memories of walking in the agitation for the right to forest land, but says the full forest rights have not been secured yet. We have around 1.45 acres forest belt in the name of my grandfather and my uncle has a forest land of one acre. Our two families work on it. Even though the forest has been granted to us, the land ownership documents (locally referred to as 7/12 or Saat-Baarah) are still in the name of the forest department.

Meanwhile we have to deal with the damage to our crops caused by untimely rains. This year, the amount of rice produced was paltry when compared to the hard work done by the family. So, the young people of our family had to go to the city and work as laborers because inflation continues to rise along with our needs of living in a changing world. We siblings are experiencing it now.

Meet Mamta Pared:

Mamta Pared CJP Fellow
CJP Fellow, Mamta Pared

She hails from the Warli tribe and lives with her family in Nimbavali village in Palghar district. Her mother is unlettered and her father has studied up to the fourth standard. Mamta’s parents started working together at a brick kiln soon after they got married. Every year the family used to migrate for employment and stayed at brick kilns six out of twelve months, year after year. Mamta has four siblings, the last one was born when she was five years old. As the eldest daughter in the family, Mamta was responsible for caring for her youngest brother. When she should have been playing Mamta started helping her parents with household chores. It was as if she had lost her childhood.

Mamta enrolled in school when she was six years old but had to skip frequently and stay home to take care of her brother. On the days she could attend, Mamta had to walk long distances to get to school and started to lose weight. She suffered from skin infections because she bathed in dirty water, and played in the mud. Teachers and students avoided Mamta, and she was made to sit in a corner. Such an atmosphere almost killed her enthusiasm for learning, yet Mamta persisted and did not leave school. Adversity fuelled Mamta’s resolution, she knew that education was the only way out for her.

Mamta studied hard and passed the scholarship exam in class eight, this became a big financial support. After class 10th Mamta stayed in a government hostel. She had to beg and borrow money to pay the college fees and meet other expenses. The financial strain was so severe that Mamta’s family asked her to stop studying after class 12. However, Mamta persisted, as she knew that giving up on education was not an option.

Fortunately, Mamta’s struggle came to the notice of Vivek Pandit, Founder of Shramajeevi Sanghatana and recipient of an International Anti-Slavery Award. He has been helping her in her educational pursuit since then. The first year she studied in the College at Tehsil (Block) in Marathi, then decided to get transferred and completed the next two years in English medium from Ramniranjan Jhunjhunwala college in Mumbai.

Mamta graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Mass Media and worked as an intern at the People’s Archive of Rural India (PARI) last year. She worked with the resources’ team and also reported multiple stories on the lives and struggles of the Warli and Katakari community, a particularly vulnerable tribal group, in the Palghar and Thane region. It has taken great courage for Mamta to leave her tiny village and come to Mumbai to study journalism.

Since childhood Mamta had been connected with a social organisation called Shramjeevi Sanghatana which works for ensuring people’s fundamental rights. She is a youth organiser there, and puts together leadership and personality-development programmes for young people. She’s working to secure the education of tribal students.

Mamta’s childhood dream was to become a doctor. However, now she wants to be a journalist, and maybe later become a professor in college. She is working on earning a master’s degree in journalism and mass communication from Abasaheb Garware College in Pune.

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