The Sahariya tribal community of Shahbad region in Baran district, which recorded 47 starvation deaths during the 2001 drought, waits for concerted welfare measures that could take them out of poverty, unemployment and malnutrition. Though politicians have made a promise against starvation, the tribe’s economic condition is yet to reach a reasonable level.
Though the 70,000-strong community has been classified as a particularly vulnerable tribal group because of its low development indices, the benefits of additional days of work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and the supply of essential items under the Antyodaya Yojana are not fully available to them.
Lakhan Sahariya, a tribal activist from Unee village in Shahbad tehsil, says daily wage labour and agriculture are the main sources of livelihood in the region, but the payments under the MGNREGS are not made on time, while wheat and ghee are supplied on festive occasions. “The Sahariyas have benefited from special reservation made for them, but a lot more still needs to be done,” he said.
Mr. Sahariya, 33, who earlier worked with the Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti, says several youth from the community have obtained government jobs following special efforts, but “concerted measures” are required for the welfare of the landless tribal people in the remote villages. In July 2012, 135 Sahariya families reclaimed land from the landlords with government help and started growing crops.
The Congress candidate from Baran-Atru, Panachand Meghwal, told The Hindu during his election campaign in the city’s Cherighat locality that the Special Reservation Bill for Sahariyas, implemented by the Ashok Gehlot government in 1999, had immensely benefited the tribal people and opened new opportunities for them.
Though Sahariyas have been traditionally voting for the Congress, the reserved seat of Kishanganj was won by the BJP in 2013. BJP MLA Lalit Meena is pitted against Nirmala Sahariya of the Congress from Kishanganj this time. The three other seats in the district — Baran-Atru, Anta and Chhabra — are also occupied by the BJP.
Mr. Meghwal said the BJP regime had distorted the Congress government’s scheme for supply of 25 kg of wheat in the region on each ration card by restricting the supply on the basis of number of members in a household. “As a result, the deserving families are not getting the benefit. This is one of the several instances of the BJP’s anti-poor approach. They remember Ram temple during elections instead of working for the betterment of the poor.”
The Baran chapter of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) has taken up the task of preserving the tribal art of mandana , which is drawn on floor and walls as a mark of celebration and to protect home and hearth. INTACH district convenor Jitendra Sharma said each mandana painting was accompanied by a different song, which had been catalogued and recorded.
Artist Kaushalya Devi recently drew mandanas at the Mini-Secretariat here on behalf of INTACH during a heritage week. Mr. Sharma said the preservation of tribal art would help protect Sahariyas’ identity.