The bandicoot tries to scoot, but Marre Ramudu’s perfectly-aimed shot at its head with a catapult leaves it writhing. The 10-year-old pins it to the ground, killing it with repeated blows. He throws it on a small fire kindled by little bits of wood in the space outside his home — a shed inhabited by his family and seven others. He roasts the bandicoot whole, as his little sister Gowreswari watches with a sparkle in her eyes. It’s noon; they’ll have at least one meal today.
The siblings relish the feast with their cousin in village Telaprolu Cheruvu Katta (village pond). They drink water here, wash their clothes, and defecate around the water body. The village is in Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh, about 30 km from Vijayawada city. “When luck smiles, we get to eat the meat of a cat, squirrel, or a monitor lizard,” he says looking at his sister, busy poking the tender meat with her nails.
The village is in Unguturu mandal of Vijayawada revenue division and is home to small settlements of the impoverished Yenadi community, a Scheduled Tribe, who are also called as Yanadi in Andhra Pradesh. They have the highest population among the 34 tribal groups in the State, and are scattered across mandals, with Nellore and Chittoor forming hubs.
The Yenadi dwellings have no drinking water connections and electricity supply. Some of the houses have waste from the road reaching up to their doorstep. The units are mostly four-by-five-foot shelters sufficient to seat not more than five members. The stench of garbage is everywhere.
Ramudu and Gowreswari are two of the seven children of an emaciated Katari Nagamani, sitting on the floor of her home that is an unused Panchayat structure, with her youngest, a two-year-old daughter seated on her lap. There are heaps of old clothes on the floor around her. There’s the stench of human overcrowding and the rain adds to the mustiness of the enclosed space.
The visible parts of Nagamani’s body bear scars of burns, cuts, and wounds, a testimony to the domestic violence she is subjected to by her husband, Paparao, who is addicted to alcohol. “He stopped going to work after his hands were injured in a road accident a few years ago. Now he sits idle the whole day, drinks liquor, and beats me and my children up for no valid reason,” says Nagamani showing marks of head injuries. She too is addicted to cheap liquor.
The families living in the single-room concrete shed of the local panchayat department, are children of Samrajyam, a matriarch. According to the villagers, she made this her home after she was expelled for ‘non-compliance of the rule book’ from the Yenadi Colony, about 2 km away, where about 100 families live.
Samrajyam squats on the sandy ground, with garbage strewn around. “Governments come and go, but our plight does not change. We continue to live like our ancestors,” she says bitterly. Her ancestors were hunter-gatherers in the forest, and as the barriers between the trees and concrete diminished, they began to take up menial jobs. Not much has changed since, only that a large number now work as rag-pickers.
No Aadhaar cards
A narrow dirt track leads to a cluster of 15 houses where Sanjeev lives, in the ST (Scheduled Tribe) colony, tucked away from Punadipadu village in Kankipadu mandal of Krishna district in Andhra Pradesh. The pathway turns into a slush pit in the rains. The houses are built on an uneven surface with small spaces enclosed on two sides by gunny sacks or old saris and covered on top by sack cloth, old sheets of plastics. The better off use a tarpaulin held up by wooden rods. “I want to go to school but my father says it is not possible because we do not have an Aadhaar card,” the boy says ruefully.
Among the 18 Yenadi families living in the colony, Kathi Guravaiah and his wife Chenchamma have managed to jostle their way to the local panchayati raj department where they work as sweepers, and hope to benefit from the government welfare schemes in housing, health and other sectors in future.
The couple’s sons Anjaneyulu, 21, and Lakshmaiah, 20, are school dropouts and they walk around with friends from the colony wielding catapults to kill birds or squirrels.
The rest of the colony is dependent on the garbage dump yard. Even before the break of the dawn, they are there rummaging around for plastic, tins, metal pieces, and other discarded material, to make anywhere from ₹200 to ₹300, by selling them to the local scrap dealer. Trapped in this cycle of poverty, the children start picking up trash from mounds of garbage early.
“Sometimes, when I am hungry I eat the leftover food in the garbage bins,” admits nine-year-old Bandi Sanjeev at the ST (Scheduled Tribe) colony. Dogs wander around on the same garbage pile, also looking for food.
Breaking the cycle
“Only education can change their lives and future,” says Jones Manikonda, a social worker, who has enrolled Yanadi children in evening tuition sessions. She runs Adarsh Education Centres in 60 places, including 13 in Vijayawada city and four in neighbouring Telangana, in collaboration with local NGOs. She also distributes used clothes and stationery to the children.
NGOs working to break the cycle of poverty among the tribe are undivided in their opinion that winning over the trust of the community is a challenge. “It took multiple visits and several awareness sessions to persuade the parents to enrol their children in the education centres,” says Manikonda.
At the Chenchu colony of Pottipadu village, Kesarapalli panchayat in Gannavaram mandal, Krishna district, Nallabuthala Jakri, from the Yanadi community, is excited about the two monitor lizards his father has trapped. “They were preying on small fish when my father caught them,” he exclaims pointing to the container with the reptiles with rough scales and patches on the body and a forked tongue similar to snakes.
Jakri goes to a government school with his cousin Asiyelu, who often gets beaten up by his alcoholic father for not going to work to earn money. “I tell my staff to develop a rapport with the parents first to be able to bond with the children who are in need of education and other facilities,” says Swarna Kodali, project manager of One Way Mission, an NGO working in Pottipadu since 2000.
The organisation runs two separate orphan homes for boys and girls and has established the Best High School, an English medium institution, that has children coming from Pottipadu, Telaprolu, Suravaram, Ponukumadu, Bandadagudem, and Atkuru villages. “Once the children get enrolled, we are ready to hand-hold them till the end of their higher education. The ones not interested in studies can be shifted to the vocational skills section,” she says.
Some of the children at Telaprolu settlement go begging in the surrounding areas. Kodali says the evening schools conducted by her staff, the awareness programmes and the distribution of groceries and clothes are aimed at preventing them from seeking alms. “Many of their parents are trapped in a vicious debt cycle after borrowing money from private lenders who often target women,” she says.
Owing to their nomadic lifestyle, the families migrate from one city to the other making it difficult for the governments to capture their data and reach out to them with help and support. Migration of children with their families leaves them out of the education system.
Navajeevan Bala Bhavan, a home for children in need of care and support, established in Vijayawada city in January, 1989, designed a special programme “Punaruthejam’ (Resurgence) and set up bridge schools and evening tuition centres to help Yenadi children join regular schools.
The government is trying to bring the community into the ‘beneficiaries’ fold. The ST Corporation collaborated with NGO Care to develop an app called Kabo Collect to prepare accurate data of the Yenadi population in the State and the exercise has been completed in 50 villages of NTR district.
“We visit Yenadi settlements for feedback on their status, their immediate needs and to explore how best we can approach the tribe,” says M. Rukmangadaiah, Executive Officer of ST Corporation and ST Welfare and Employment Officer for NTR district.
To date, 86 families from the community have been identified as beneficiaries of the State government’s housing scheme and they are allocated houses at Raja Rajeswaripet on Vijayawada’s suburbs. “Once the beneficiaries occupy these houses, we are hopeful that it will encourage others also to apply for welfare schemes designed for them,” says Rukmangadaiah, adding, “There are challenges, but the government is determined to put in place an effective mechanism to overcome shortcomings and end this perennial cycle of poverty.”
“Governments come and go, but our plight does not change. We continue to live like our ancestors”Samrajyam A Yenadi woman
“It took multiple visits and several awareness sessions to persuade the parents to enrol their children in the education centres”Jones Manikondasocial worker