While the world is buzzing with a humanitarian crisis, I am such a romantic person who is trying to respond this pandemic from his ‘stillness’. I have always this question of why over the time Adivasi is not wealthy nor famous; neither skilled specialist – except their practices of shifting cultivation, hunting & gathering, ecological governance & sustainability.
As the tales I observed, Adivasi myths and worldview revolve around two lines – creation and their role in world. First says, may all the kingdom of world fall into pieces but one who created of earth shall never be forsaken. They will make their living from earth, dig roots & eat them. He will cut and carry woods on shoulder, she will pluck leaves and sell them. But, not tear the breast of mother earth with plough. Trees will be fell down only to burn to sow seed in the ashes. But, never become rich and if he does so then forsake the earth and there would be no one to guard the trees which keep together soil and earth.
This kind of mythical belief shaped many beliefs, attitude and practices. It defines other one, there role to the world – ‘Guardian of soil and jungle’. People enjoy forest produce and return of shifting cultivation. But never would rich. There is sense of inferiority towards community and tribes which practice settled agriculture, treated as ‘kisaan’ who use plough and tear breast of mother earth outside the wilds.But one need to acknowledge parallel realties as well. In past thirty years Bastar experienced multiplicity of changes. Though, views on the worth and values of these changes could exist in variation of enormity. The ancient habitation has been impinged by head of ‘underdevelopment’. Now, in pockets it is urbanized with modern indicators & symbol of progress & luxury.
Just few months back in my school visit, I found some unsettling irony. Traditionally, construction of house began with dedicating spaces to ancestors. But, now in subsequent intervention of housing schemes, first one has to make toilets for getting subsidy. The eternity of whole spiritual process inside the community, symbolize by this space is displaced by a toilet. And, as consequence the traditional designing and setting up of house get changed.
The case of covid19, looks me similar, it is going to make certain designed change in entire world. While, there is an awareness and reaction in mainstream, places like Sukma are still struggling to comprehend this particular kind of globalized issue. Announcement of national lock down locked us in our rooms. In purview of our limitations:
While at one hand ‘everything is fine’ due to lifestyle; Only wild dictates life to death of an Adivasi. Food, fruits, nourishing leaves & roots, honey, fish, birds, warmth of wood, canopies and other material to build huts, bathing in rivers & stream and of course wild games. Everything is from jungles. So, the special scarifies are for jungles; offerings for occasional felling down of young trees; ceremonies for hunting.But there is another aspect to it which shows despite sharing indivisibility with jungles, yet, there is no conviction of having jungle. Jungles are now Forests and ‘managed’ by the Forest Department and utilized by the corporate world and the local business community.
And, this change created entry point for certain external factor to locale. Like, weekly market, schooling, migration, health, armed conflict etc. These factors are in actual impact of lock down and more than life of individuals it is going to create impact on systems of businesses. Mostly, villagers locked down themselves and busy in normal routine like collecting forest produce, making & repairing their houses, any kind of movement is being avoided.
Weekly markets are closed as ‘transmission’ and ‘social distancing’ are two important terminologies in this pandemic. And, these markets weaved fundamental of indigenous economy, also, place of social intercourse and reflection of indigenous system. It is important to understand inter – linkages between mainstream market, and jungles. As, only here forest produce is being transacted for cash to collect few basic necessities of life, like spices, salt, soap, torch, battery, artificial jewellery, cosmetic & beauty products, clothes; also, cash is being collected for other needs like building house, fulfilling communitarian concepts like marriages. Like, every other thing these markets are also self – governed, operates around meticulous timing of sun, and function on traditional wisdom. The ‘entrance’ of market holds potential to forsake mainstream commodity market.
Visiting market is one of my favorite work, while at one side I feel the locale, then, other side I become nostalgic by remembering my school days. In annual school fate, we use to exchange our money with tokens and do a very wise and careful purchasing. Here, also it looks similar, villagers exchange their forest produce like Mahuaa, Imlee, Tendu Patta (leaves of Tendu trees, raw materials for tobacco products), Basta (shoots of bamboo), Boda and Tikur (roots of local plants) and other forest produce which varies from area to area; also, produce of cultivation like paddy, millets etc. with local traders for cash. There is an estimation of thousands of corers being contributed to commodity market by these small ‘bazars.’ One can see cut throat competition among traders for grabbing basket of forest produce from villagers. Also, ‘murga ladai’ is major attraction and reason in these markets, now it is also stopped. Betting in fights gave opportunity to make extra money. Current season is peak of collecting forest produce by both – villagers & traders. Though, villagers are doing it with certain precautionary measures but traders are locked. But how much could be collected as size of houses are very egalitarian, just one or two rooms and few common spaces like ‘baithka’ of mainstream villages; made of locally available woods, leaves etc. It accommodates only very basic stuff and human needs. So, probability of storing at house is also very less. It could be speculated as a severe impact on shrinking non – accumulative livelihood opportunities of tribal population. Although, ministry of tribal affairs wrote a letter to chief ministers of 15 states for procurement of minor forest produce (MFP) at Minimum support price (MSP).
There is permission of opening necessities between 0800hrs – 1200hrs, but that is strictly serving the population residing in district and block headquarter; not more than few thousands. Only district headquarter is a tiny town, otherwise three more junction of daily need shops Konta and Chhindgarh block headquarters and IDP Dornapal. Nearly 80% of population in district is at minimum distance of 5 – 6 hours from mentioned places. Although, hoarding, panic buying is almost in category of ‘negligence’; this is merit of living in jungle, rural areas.
Education lies in category of ‘least prioritize’ in any kind of challenging situation, and, Sukma is complex of challenges; vulnerable geo – politics, volatile armed conflict, suppressed socio – economy, marginalized culture, undignified individuals. So, how education will look like? Unimaginable………
And, now this inescapable lock down is making drastic shift in equity of learning opportunities and catalyzing educational disparities. Schools are closed by 15th March by order of DPI Chhattisgarh, and now, from 26th March with a national lock down India is desperately engaged in flattering the over whelming curve of corona virus. India is experiencing largest ‘national’ lockdown and witnessing dynamics of varied effect. Also, making instant and scattered effort to respond the crisis. In the similar arrangement, SCERT, Chhattisgarh issued a circular dated 30th March, 2020, for giving a digital response to this catastrophic humanitarian crisis. The focus is mainly on coordination between different department of school education and delivering educational services through virtual medium, digital technology. It includes changing Unicode of text books, online lesson plans, classroom, videos etc.
The present inevitable shift to digital spectrum, inequalities among children, learning gaps are bound to increase even further. This could be speculated as, in few month gaps between technology – haves & have nots, will be huge or even up to an extent of difficult to bridge. Places, like Sukma are already experiencing distress due to poor virtual infrastructure and nearly 65 – 70% geography of district is under category of physically highly inaccessible. Currently, even basic phone signals are interrupted at district headquarters, so, how to think about access to internet, digital devices. From last 10 days I am struggling for uploading simple pdf files in mails at district headquarters. We are unable to make any meeting on calls. Technology as an addition in schools has not much affect but now it is replacing schools.
And, we as an organization facing severe crisis as during this period only, we need to do our annual analysis, report making etc.; further planning relies on these reports. Also, we needed to do our annual, one – month residential teacher education workshops with Shikshadoot, but now it’s uncertain. Though, we are continuously working on research and development aspect while locked in our rooms.
The relevant question to ask from us is, how to get ready for making up this increasing gap? What should be doing right now? What action should be taken, once lock down is relaxed? What are our possible moves? The response is not going to be simple, as already this pandemic bought drawbacks and inequalities of reliance on modern technologies. There are needs to think radically differently, rather than running education in props and assumption about a whole class of children whose condition is hardly a factor of policy planning in such times.
Is it not the eroding of accountability, when collective suffering of humankind is not finding a place of serious consideration in educational discourse, especially when it is man – made and inflicting on the human and world…… are we not seeing obvious danger of naturalizing of sufferings and this avoidance of participating in social accountability is enough to corrode education form within….
Maybe it finds a mention in history but contemplation on this man – made misery as a universal phenomenon is avoided. And, need not to mention emancipatory moment occur after walking to other side of collective suffering, ultimate end of education……
Significant migration from Sukma is to Andhra Pradesh and Telangana; also, slow movement towards Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. As, district directly borders with Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Odisha and migrants of other districts like Dantewada, Bijapur, Bastar pass through Sukma; there are local business linkages with Odisha as well. This population is generally engaged in commercial agricultural works like spices, cotton, maize, etc. other segments are water bore machines, construction sites, garage and other shops. This combination is extremely critical in the sense of corona pandemic, high probability of transmission. And, in current season majority of migrants travel back to their native villages after months long gaps in other parts. Larger portion of work gets over and locally season of collecting minor forest produce. Administration and medical department are doing an intense exercise of mapping and testing migrants on border; shifting them to quarantine centers as per standard protocoled response guidelines.
People are coming back by walking on their feet, and innocently taking various routes from jungles. Various sources are claiming this also showcasing ‘awareness’, as people are not entering in villages and trying to inform health department.
And, what I am really trying to find is, in which situation these migrants moved from their work place? Do, they received their earnings or just run away in a messed situation? As, still they don’t care much about money. But this earning certainly creates difference and impact in living.
The previous experiences of villages with diseases like flu, cholera, Japanese encephalitis etc. is making them to block any external entry except some help like medical teams. It is very unfair to even think places like Sukma are equipped with required gears to respond such modern & elitist kind of diseases. But there is an appreciative effort by district administration. It also reflects strength of public system and still no one can chase in terms of ‘accessing services by majority’. Health department is doing an extensive observation with support of other departments.
As of now, Sukma district administration seized the state border and restricted any kind of movement up to essentials; equipping government hospital; designed temporary quarantine centers in residential schools; prepared special response task force with availability of testing kits; door to door survey by health department, in towns; health camps in villages; distribution of ration through PDS, as per guidelines of state government; public availability of mask & sanitizers.
As of now, not even a single case tested positive.
While Indian nation was getting serious to pandemic, then, at the same time Sukma which is already in humanitarian crisis witnessed biggest setback for security forces, on 21st March, loss of life to 17 troopers in jungle of Minpa area. After 24th April 2017, it was biggest loss; where 25 troopers were killed in an ambush near Burkapal area. Both of these places are in same geographical stretch. And, police claimed loss of 3 life in party of rebel activists.
After, this there are news in bits and pieces about cease fire from parties of conflict. While few days back a local online news portal publish news of consideration to ceasefire under the office of Inspector – General, Police, Bastar division; then, online portal of Hindustan Times published news about call of ceasefire by CPI(M) – MKBV division committee secretary. This division share geographical bordering with Sukma.
However, there is no such appeal form responsible division of Sukma, Dandakaranya division of Maoist or security establishment. Also, there is equal concern on the prevention of rebel activists; level of awareness and possibilities of following preventive protocols among rebel activist due to their living patterns and fear of transmissive interaction with villages.
Although, ground situation in Sukma is still, as local news portals are daily covering stories of confrontation & movement in conflict.
Conclusion & Reflection:
Calculating impact of corona on indigenous life of Sukma is a complex task. I think if one can calculate impact of pandemics on jungle then it would be easy to understand impact on humans in jungle. Specially, for a mind which is pre – occupied with modern index – indices and hyper standardized life of urban consumerism. So, far every pressing concern is around sustaining system of industrial consumerism, and the root of this pandemic is being nurtured with sophisticated bestiality of consumerism. While, reality is, there are regular challenges & problems in life, disaster & calamities in nature and society; but crisis of pandemic is complex questioning around our civilizational quest and cultural ethos.
Then how to understand and represent a worldview which has never seen itself disparate from the folk world view. How to measure impact on a life which owns no as such technology, not even a wheel which is considered as existential development in evolution of human civilization. No transport to save legs. The maximum need is of a plot for shifting cultivation and a smaller one for hut; deadwood to keep warm, repair hut; weave a mat to sleep, basket; a sieve to fish; a single bow & 4 – 5 arrows; and, a tiny tobacco pouch. How to understand a feeling where jungle is not an economic unit but a whole universe which cannot be claimed or used by anyone.
What is going to be impact of corona? simply, Hunger, poverty, malnutrition, illiteracy, unemployment, debt, bondage; struggle and demolition of centuries has already penetrated all these curses. And, existing armed conflict is shaping it in a visible bleeding wound.
And, if response is, yes, then there is no need to even think about it. Already, genocide, ethnocide and eco disaster is very apparent, underside of corrupt science and psychopathic technologies and new “secular” hierarchies which reduced a major civilization into a museum of rituals……
 This is far more complicated issue associated with modern apparatus of governance. I will address it with field evidences in upcoming blogs.
 Internally displaced people – Dornapal is one of the major IDP camp during Salwa Judum, also among one of the major concentrations of security establishment.
 In this calculation phenomenon of conflict is excluded. Otherwise ‘minimum’ could be more, as it includes various security processes like entry of identity in register, checking, providing details of travel etc. and, maximum could be any number of hours.
 Directorate of Public Instruction.
 State Council of Educational Research and Training, Chhattisgarh.
 The local youths working in role of community teachers in reopened schools of Konta block.
 Public Distribution system
 Communist Party of India (Maoist) – Malkangiri – Koraput – Vishakaha border division.
 Link to news portal: https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/maoists-in-andhra-call-for-ceasefire-amid-covid-19-outbreak/story-yydNAqZCtNLdf6F2DYp4gM.html