A Study of Water Scarcity and Caste Discrimination in Panvel Subdistrict, Maharashtra
This paper extensively examines the marginalisation of the Katkari tribals of India, who are one of the most vulnerable indigenous communities in terms of accessing basic necessities such as water, livelihood, education and healthcare in the tribal areas of the Panvel subdistrict in the Raigad region of Maharashtra. In the historical context of India, the Katkari tribes are considered to be one of the most primitive communities, known for their lifestyle that is deeply rooted in living with nature and sustaining their tribal culture. However, in today’s digitalized world, the expansion of education, health, hygiene, awareness and rights has left them far behind mainstream society.
Adequate water availability remains a significant issue in most parts of India and many other countries around the globe. According to a report by the National Institution for Transforming India (NITI Aayog), in 2018, approximately 45% of India’s population, which accounts for 600 million people, face high to extreme water stress. The problem of water scarcity in this tribal region is more severe compared to other non-tribal villages of the same region.
The study is based on a six-month-long engaged fieldwork conducted among the Katkari tribes and nearby villages in the same area where direct observation and unstructured interview method was used for the study. The study questions the effectiveness of the local governance system, including Panchayat and the higher ranked Panchayat Samiti, regarding their efforts to address the long-standing water scarcity problem faced by the Katkari tribes. Moreover, the study raises concerns about the claims made by the tribal leaders during the election time, who have failed to address the problems faced by the community for several years.
Keywords: Marginalisation, Indigenous, Primitive, Digitalised
Context of the Area
The Panvel subdistrict is home to various tribal and non-tribal populations who have resided there for centuries. This study focuses on the small tribal hamlet of Lahu Chi Wadi, comprising 60 to 70 households of kaccha and pucca houses constructed with the help of government schemes. The community relies primarily on labour work in the neighbouring region or as agricultural labour for other Scheduled Tribe (ST) groups. During the rainy season, women work as vegetable vendors or agriculture workers.
The region’s primary water source is the Hetawana Dam, located in the Jita village, which provides water through the CIDCO tap water plant in the nearby area. In addition to the tap water, the tribe also depends on local water resources such as community wells, rivers, streams, and open ditches. While the water supply for the villagers in various tribal hamlets is sourced from the same location, a few hamlets have recently experienced severe water scarcity, particularly during the summer months. As a result, women in households are compelled fetch water from far-off places and community taps, apart from working in their homes and in others houses.
The Katkari tribe, is a part of the 10.42 crore Scheduled Tribes population in the country, recorded in the 2011 census (approximately 8.6% of the country’s population, India, 2017). It is one of the most primitive and vulnerable communities in India and the world. The Katkari tribal population in Maharashtra is around 235,022, primarily concentrated in the Raigad and Thane districts. Within the Panvel sub-district, the Karnala Group Gram Panchayat divides the tribe’s population into various parts near densely populated non-tribal villages. The tribal hamlets are often located at a higher elevation than the main villages. They are situated on the outskirts in remote areas where basic facilities such as proper water supply, pucca houses, schools, primary healthcare centres, and other essential services are inadequate. Although the primary water source for all the villages and tribal hamlets is the same, provided by the CIDCO tap water plant, the tribal wadi faces challenges due to the power hierarchy formed by non-tribals in the region. The situation becomes more severe in a few tribal hamlets during the summer, where people struggle to access water from distant sources. Research on the Katkari tribes by Bipasha Sinha in the Raigad district of Maharashtra claims that due to the unavailability of pure drinking water, the prevalence of diseases like diarrhoea, Malaria, Intestinal infection, malnutrition and Dysentry is more severe due to the usage of unclean water for household usage (Indian Journal of Educational Research INDIAN JOURNAL of EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH (PEER REVIEWED), 2017).
In addition to the constitutionally mandated opportunities, such as 7.5% reservation in recruitment, the Ministry of Tribal Affairs formulates various policies to improve the lives of tribal populations across the country. Numerous voluntary organisations are also work to make a difference in the lives of tribal populations through various projects. However, the living conditions of many tribal villages continue to be critical in terms of basic necessities.
Caste Historicity and the Plight of Katkari Tribes in India
Caste continues to be a severe issue in India, particularly in rural areas where discrimination is pervasive. In his writings and speeches, Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar has contended that the Hindu villages are the root of the Hindu social order which works there in full swing. According to Ambedkar, In the village, the experiences of village life were filled with exclusion, exploitation and untouchability for the Non-Hindus (Jodhka, 2002). The dominance of the Hindu communities that Babasaheb mentioned in their writings also exists in many parts of our country, where the Non-Hindus are oppressed in various forms. The Katkari tribes, due to their indigenous lifestyle and history, are easily subjected to daily discrimination by the so-called upper-caste or non-tribal communities. It is perpetrated not only by Non-Tribals but also by the tribals themselves. The Thakar Tribe and the Katkari tribes in the same region demonstrate another level of power hierarchy. The Thakar tribes are well-settled, owning sufficient land and wealth to maintain such a power hierarchy.
In contrast, the Katkari tribals must work for their livelihood in the Thakar and Non-Tribal communities. Caste discrimination against the Katkari tribals is practised by men and women from other communities.
The mainstream society perceives the tribes as worshipping nature, with their Gods/Goddesses being of that kind. However, in this region, things are different. In most tribal hamlets, temples exist, with recurrent gods such as Ram, Hanuman, and other Hindu gods worshipped. In some hamlets, Katkari tribes have converted to Christianity and embraced both cultures. Hindu festivals like Ram Navami, Navratri, and Ganesh Festivals are celebrated with immense interest by all Katkari and Thakar tribals. The religious diversification among the tribes may be attributed to various factors, such as the impact of dominant neighbouring communities, socioeconomic conditions, and the imitation quality of human beings.
During the study, it was found that some tribal hamlets’ elected tribal political representatives were impotent to intervene in such critical issues as water and other basic resources due to the power hierarchy created by non-tribal representatives in panchayats. This power hierarchy is also one of the cause of such critical problems. The local governing body should ensure justice for everyone.
Caste factors play a crucial role in Katkari tribes’ access to basic facilities, depriving them of their rights for ages. Moreover, many Katkari tribal populations have assumed that other communities are of a higher caste than them and have enough capital to dominate them in any field. It is disheartening to see such beliefs rising in the tribal region.
The Perpetual Cycle of Marginalization
The tribal populace has endured a gradual decrease in numbers throughout generations, striving to coexist in equilibrium with the natural world. From one vantage point, intellectuals within mainstream society say that the tribals live in harmony with nature, preserving the forest and its ecosystems. Disputes persist regarding whether the tribal population is content to remain in their present state or yearns to adopt a digitised, contemporary lifestyle. However, they fail to acknowledge the dire circumstances of several tribal hamlets lacking fundamental necessities, subsisting on meagre wages that do little to improve their standard of living and that of their future generations. The tribal populace within this region often suffers from illiteracy, resulting from multiple factors, including persistent poverty, the scarcity of essential services, malnutrition, alcoholism, and seasonal migration to other areas for labour. As such, the male head of the household earns the family’s living, whether via local labour work or by commuting to nearby cities, such as Panvel and Pen. Women in the family frequently sell forest produce during the rainy season or labour in non-tribal villages alongside the men. Entire families may migrate for an entire season, limiting their chances of obtaining an education.
In some cases, primary schools, such as the one in the tribal hamlet of Coral Wadi, have existed for several years. However, they have been forced to close due to low student attendance. In many tribal hamlets, primary schools do not exist, necessitating children to travel to nearby villages for education. Once tribal students reach high school, most drop out to work in neighbouring areas to support their families. The dropout rate among tribal students at this point is a staggering 31.9%, which varies across different grade levels during their education (Shrangi, 2022).
Given the urgent need for literacy, awareness among these people must include the type of knowledge required to assert their voices appropriately. Whenever they demand support or implementation of services from the local governance system, such as the Gram Panchayat, their requests are made informally, leading to a lack of attention to their grievances or delay in addressing them due to miscommunication by the holding authorities. The power holders in the area often suppress the voices of the people of Lahu Chi Wadi, who repeatedly demand solutions to the issue of water scarcity, benefiting themselves at the expense of the tribal community. Stereotypes among the people within the panchayat and ignorance of the tribal hamlets’ needs have persisted for years. Nonetheless, those tribal hamlets with some degree of literacy and awareness are experiencing relief regarding basic facilities. However, the villagers of Lahu Chi Wadi, who lack representation in political or social issues, are increasingly dissatisfied. The tribal community’s historicity and numerous obstacles make it rare for them to acquire the requisite knowledge to access justice and raise awareness of their voices, leaving future generations vulnerable to the same issues. Despite the government’s efforts to uplift the tribal populace through various policies and schemes and numerous NGO projects in this area, evaluating their efficacy remains challenging. The tribal community frequently receives fewer benefits than what is sanctioned. However, changes could occur if local individuals exhibit reasonable effort and willingness. Access to fundamental necessities such as water must be made available to all, as it is a fundamental right.
This article highlights a significant concern of the country, namely, the marginalised tribal population living in rural areas. The tribal population, a substantial proportion of the rural populace, struggles to access necessities such as water. In this regard, it is crucial to sensitise and transmit tribal culture from one generation to the next to avoid cultural deviation and the existence of their original history. Youth participation in political issues and the local governing body’s involvement can also help prevent injustice towards these communities. The implementation of policies and schemes should be preceded by need assessment research, periodic follow-up, and regular monitoring by the local governance system to ensure effective utilisation. With the active participation of the people, voluntary organisations can address the pressing issues these communities face. Collaborative efforts are necessary to break the vicious cycle of marginalisation and empower those who have encountered numerous life challenges.
In conclusion, the plight of the tribal population in rural areas must be addressed through collaborative efforts, Proper and quality education should be provided locally to avoid drop-outs. It should also include the involvement of youth, local governing bodies, and voluntary organisations. Proper implementation of policies and schemes, periodic follow-up, and regular monitoring are essential to uplift marginalised communities. The active participation of the people is crucial for effectively utilising resources. We can only break the vicious cycle of marginalisation and provide a better life for these communities through a concerted effort.
and, P. (2017). Poverty and Deprivation among the Katkari. Economic and Political Weekly, 52(13).https://www-epw-in.tiss.remotlog.com/journal/2017/13/commentary/poverty-and-deprivation-among-katkari.html
Indian Journal of Educational Research INDIAN JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH (PEER REVIEWED). (2017). https://www.kdce.org/images/facility/41609927116.pdf#page=65
Nikhil Kanakamedala. (2019, September 9). Who Are The Katkari? – India Fellow. India Fellow. https://indiafellow.org/blog/all-posts/who-are-the-katkari/#:~:text=Like%20most%20tribal%20communities%2C%20Katkaris,making%20them%20vulnerable%20and%20deprived
Vatsala Shrangi. (2022, December). Missed Opportunity: Almost 50% of Students in Tribal Areas Drop Out of School Before Completing Class 8. News18; News18. https://www.news18.com/news/education-career/missed-opportunity-almost-50-sstudents-in-tribal-areas-drop-out-of-school-before-completing-class-8-6511393.html
Anil Sardar is a student of Livelihood And Social Entrepreneurship at Tata Institute of Social Sciences. He is passionate about livelihood generation ideas for better lives. Also, he believes in Babasaheb Ambedkar’s thoughts on the upliftment of society, and is a perpetuate learner.