When Katkaris migrate in search of work, their problems follow One of the oldest Adivasi communities, they are victims of institutional apathy
16, Aug 2021 | Mamta Pared
Migration from one place to another has gone on for as long as history can record. It was according to the change of season, that both humans and animals migrated from one place to another, seeking food, and shelter for survival… and survive they did. However, in modern times one of the factors that fuels migration is the quest for employment and education, anything that can help someone live a comfortable life. That is for those who have options as it were. For many in the country, migration is not an option. They have to migrate to flee starvation and natural disasters.
The Katkari community, that I have been studying, tells me that they now migrate wherever they can find employment. All the Katkari Wadis that I visited had members who had migrated. A case in point was the Katkari Wadi named Chikhlyachee Maan in Murbad taluka. Out of the 22 families, 16 had shifted out. I met 27-year-old Renuka Lahu Hilim who came here as a bride 10 years ago. She cannot read or write but wants to educate her 6-year-old daughter. Renuka says this is an uphill task as the family migrates regularly from one place to another just to make ends meet. The story is repeated house after house.
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Why do they have to migrate now?
The Katkari community once depended on the forest for their livelihood, extracting catechu (kath) from Acacia tree locally called khaira, selling the leaves of Palas, Neem, Bell trees, extracting the resin and selling it. But over the last few decades of large-scale deforestation, very little forest is left. The Katkaris, are a landless community and can only even farm on small plots they lease, they are now finding it difficult to survive without the forest cover that once took care of their needs. Hence, they have no choice but to migrate. Which in turn has an adverse impact on their children’s education.
Even those who rent plots of farmland from other communities are bound by ‘contract’ to give almost half of the crop produced to the land owner. The Katkaris have to borrow money to buy seeds as well as fertilizers required for farming. Then the money lender often appoints himself as the middleman who will take the farm produce to the market. He buys vegetables at a lower price from the Karkari farmers and sells them at the market at a higher price. The farmer has no choice as the moneylender is the one in a position of power here.
I met Bhagwan Shivaji Jadhav (35) who lives in Dhasai and has studied agriculture. But he does not have his own agricultural land. So, he also farms like the rest of the community. However, I realised that it is due to farming, that the migration rate here is low.
Employment is essential
At the Katkari settlement at Mhase Wadi in the same taluka, the situation is completely reversed. People don’t have the option of farming here. They have to struggle for their survival, and even labour jobs are scarce near home because all building construction work is in the cities. Katkari Wadis are far away from the city, and for those willing to work as labourers, the daily commute is unaffordable. Therefore, the Katkaris migrate towards cities to seek work at brick kilns, stone mines, and sugarcane processing sites.
Katkari families who live in Jawahar, Mokhada and Vikramgarh talukas of Palghar district often migrate to work as labourers in Vasai, Bhiwandi, Panvel. They work at brick kilns, and stone mines. Those who migrate to Nashik, Sangli and Kolhapur areas work as sugarcane harvesters.
Impact of migration on family life
Entire families migrate, together, and children are pulled out of schools. Many find themselves trapped as bonded labour, called ‘vethbigari’, which is no less than slavery. Even though the government abolished the bonded labour system in 1976, the practice has not yet been completely stopped. Katkari families are an example of this.
I studied 22 Katkari ‘bonded labour’ families in Thane-Palghar-Nashik district. One of the families was that of Pintu Govind Ran (28) who is a resident of Igatpuri taluka of Nashik district.
When his one and a halh-year-old son had to be admitted to hospital due to pneumonia, Pintu had to borrow Rs. 2,000 from a money lender. He borrowed under the ‘Bayana’ system, which meant he would have to work as a part of paying the loan back.
While giving the amount the money lender made Pintu ‘promise’ that he will work at a brick kiln. Pintu’s uncle who had introduced the two, was also made to pledge his own house as a “security deposit”. The money lender warned Pintu that if he refused work his uncle would be harassed. Unfortunately for Pintu his son fell ill again, and he was forced to take another loan of Rs 20,000 from the same money lender. Pintu was given Rs. 18,000.
Pintu, now enslaved under the Bayana system, migrated with his family after Diwali to work on a brick kiln. The family made 1,200 bricks per day but would still be abused by the owner who demanded that they make 2,000 bricks per day. They would be forced to work even when unwell, and would be taunted by the owner. One day an unwell Pintu requested his relatives for help. He was asked to get in touch with Vivek Pandit, the founder of the Shramjeevi Sangathan. Only after the organisation intervened and lodged a police complaint was Pintu Ran heard.
Health, education and migration
The Katkari community is lagging behind in both health and education. Large families are forced to live together in one house due to scarcity of space. Many men and women are addicted to tobacco and alcohol. The addicts neglect their home, and their own health, often skipping even the meagre meals they have at home. Many don’t live past 50 years of age. Those who work on brick kilns, stone quarries and for sugarcane fields are not allowed insufficient sleep. It affects their health and many suffer from painful ailments.
Worst impact on women
Katkari women work through their pregnancy, and barely get enough rest or sufficient food. Over time many become anaemic because of malnutrition. They also suffer from lung ailments as they work in the polluted brick kilns.
I recall meeting Sapna Wagh in April 2020 when she was six months pregnant and worked with her husband on a brick kiln. They lived in Biloshi village in Wada Taluka, and as there was no transport facility when the Covid lockdown was imposed she was forced to walk all the way towards home with her family. Even at the brick kilns, she and the other women have to walk up and down many steps carrying loads of bricks. Even pregnant women lift heavy loads. Sapna’s explanation for such neglect in a delicate state, haunts me even now. She had said, “How can we earn our daily bread if we rest at home?”
Children inherit a health burden
Katkari community’s children are malnourished on a large scale. As a remedy to this, the government implemented various schemes but now every Katkari family could benefit from the schemes due to migration. The children can only play in mud near the brick kilns where their parents work. As a result, many suffer from skin diseases and infections. Education is just a distant dream for many children of the Katkari community. I visited Ghodmal in Wada Taluka where 64 families lived in 47 houses. Half of them migrate every year. In a population of 295 only 160 people have had some kind of education, the others have dropped out from schools. I met 9-year-old Anita Dive, in Botyachi Wadi of Mokhada Taluka, Palghar District, she dropped out of school after class one, because her family migrated to work on a brick kiln. She didn’t go back to school even when they returned after a few months. This situation is common here.
Chikhalyachee Man is a Katkari wadi in the village Chikhale in Murbad. The Wadi is surrounded by a river and there is no bridge on the river. When the river gets flooded in monsoon, not a single child can go to school till the end of season. No one here has studied beyond class 7.
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. Here she showcases how life-long poverty and deprivation affect people’s approach to life and livelihood.
Meet Mamta Pared
Mamta Pared is a young Adivasi woman hailing from the Warli community. She lives with her family in Nimbavali village in Palghar district. Her mother is unlettered, while her father was educated up to the fourth standard. After they got married, her parents started working together at a brick kiln. Every year, their family used to migrate for employment and live near brick kilns, six out of twelve months. There are five siblings, the youngest was born when Mamta was five years old. As the eldest daughter in the family, she was responsible for caring for her siblings, and also helped with household chores. She had to skip school frequently and stay home to take care of her brothers. But she studied hard, passed scholarship exams, stayed in a government hostel, even borrowed money to pay college fees. Mamta eventually earned a Bachelor’s degree in Mass Media. She wants to be a journalist, and later become a professor in a 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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