Staying in a village immediately after joining PRADAN is a litmus test as well as an acclimatization drill for the newcomers. I was taken to a village called Chaapu, which was a pre-dominantly Gond Tribe Village, about 15 kilometers from Sironj. Not long ago, about 15 years ago, this village was totally encircled by a dense forest and people made it appoint to get back inside their homes by 4-5 o’clock every evening because Tiger roamed about in this area. But the main occupation of these landless tribal was wood cutting and they were allotted this land by the Nawab of Sironj to exploit the Khair (Acacia) trees of this area. Since they used to cut the khair trees, this community itself got a new name- ‘Khairua’. After years of reckless felling of trees, and diverting this land for the agricultural purposes, today the majestic forests exists only in the maps of the Forest department like so many other forest areas in Madhya Pradesh. Every morning the women from this village take head loads of the wood collected from the nearby scrubland and walk 15 kilometer to Sironj, where they fetch about Rs.30-40 for each head load that is sold as the fuel. They have this hand to mouth existence in which when a woman cannot go to the market for some reason, she has to look for food from her neighbours or the money lender.
Two Tribal SHGs
We reached the the Khairua hamlet at about 8 in the night and waited for the women to come. It took a long time till they all arrived, and this time I utilized for observing the landscape. We were in a hamlet that was on top of a hillock not very high, may be 15 meters from the fields below, on which there were a number of huts located. We sat in the verandah of one of the huts. Although it was mid April already and day time temperature was considerably high, it was very pleasant in the evening- the typical Malwa /Rajasthani climate. The women were talking to Sulakshana and asking questions to her in hushed voices, pointing me. I knew they were asking about me, and I was not surprised. The biggest surprise for these women was that PRADAN people were going unmarried even at the age of 24 that I was, because in their village, guys usually got married at a very young age, the latest being 18.
The Best Song in My Life
Kudos to the Spirit of the Khairua Women
Moharbai and Her Clan
Caste- Would not let go so easily
I left my home in 1997 just after the schooling for completing my graduation and Post Graduation and have been living in hotels and shared accommodation since then. The kind of camaraderie that we had in hostels negated any chances for having the caste based biases or pride in most of us. Therefore, caste was the last thing in my mind while enjoying my days in PRADAN. However, some villagers, particularly those of the so called higher strata would take me aside and ask me not to stay with Harijans lest I lose my dharma- which I out rightly rubbished, telling them that I am myself a harijan, which they would obviously not believe.
I am called back