Living World of the Adivasis of West Bengal — An Ethnographic Exploration
This report was published in February 2020 by Pratichi Institute, Kolkata in collaboration with the Asiatic Society, Kolkata. It sheds light on the lives and deprivations of members of Adivasi communities living in West Bengal. The report also offers solutions to curb such disenfranchisement.
The report notes that the Adivasis in West Bengal are not a homogeneous group and that there are inter-group diversities based on region, culture, customs, and living conditions. The report focuses on factors such as education, gender, livelihood choices, access to healthcare and social security programmes.
For this report, fieldwork was conducted in two stages: a pre-testing phase where research tools were applied in few select villages and a second phase based upon the results of the pre-testing phase. The final research tools were thus prepared. The entire process was held between March and June 2018. It covered ten districts and twenty tribal groups.This 290-page document is divided into seven chapters: Introduction (Chapter 1); The Demand for Education (Chapter 2); The Illness of the Health Delivery System (Chapter 3); Livelihood: Constrained Choices (Chapter 4), Social Security: Policy and Practice (Chapter 5); Gender Relations: Perceptions and Realities (Chapter 6), Lessons for Action (Chapter 7).
For the field work, the report surveyed 1,000 Adivasi households from ten districts. Half of the research team comprised members from Adivasi communities, who hailed from the districts chosen for data collection: Purulia, Bankura, Paschim Medinipur (undivided), Birbhum, Bardhaman (undivided), Hugli, North 24 Parganas, Malda, Darjeeling (undivided), and Jalpaiguri (undivided).
As per the report, the low educational levels among Adivasi children emerged from intergenerational poverty, discrimination in the classroom, identity-based bullying by peers and inadequate local infrastructure.
The enrolment levels among Adivasi children in schools and colleges declined with age. The report states that at the secondary and higher secondary levels, 30.4 per cent of potential students were not enrolled in schools. The report adds that as high as 71.1 percent of the potential undergraduate students were not receiving any institutional education. The report notes that a significant proportion of these students had dropped out of school at some point, due to factors such as caste-based assaults, distance from school, inability to bear educational expenses and obligations to get employed.
Between 1998-99 and 2015-16, the infant mortality rate among Adivasi children declined from 85.1 to 46.1 mortalities, showing noticeable improvement in healthcare. However, the infant mortality rate is relatively higher among Adivasis compared the overall levels in West Bengal, which stood at 28 mortalities per 1,000 live births in 2015-16.
The BMI of Adivasi women (aged 15-49 years) was significantly lower than that of the average population in both West Bengal and India. However, low BMI index (<18.5) levels among Adivasi women decreased from 64.2 per cent in 1998-1999 to 33.2 in 2015-16.
About 41 per cent of the Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs) who visited villages did not speak Adivasi languages, leading to an “ethno-linguistic difference” between the providers and recipients of healthcare, the report states.
Despite the implementation of the National Food Security Act, 2013, 67 per cent of the villages surveyed reported suffering from hunger. The report states that only 27 per cent of the households surveyed could afford to include pulses in their food daily.
Nearly 64.4 per cent of the households surveyed did not have an adequate drainage system. Absence of any drainage system in the household was highest among the Savars (97 per cent) and lowest among communities of North Bengal (13 per cent each for Lepcha, Tamang, Limbu, and Sherpa-Bhutia-Toto-Dukpa), the report states.
Two thirds of the Oraon working population in West Bengal were employed as plantation workers in tea gardens in the Dooars and Terai regions of Jalpaguri and Darjeeling district.
Landlessness is a crucial factor that affects the livelihood of Adivasi communities, the report states. The average ownership of land was 0.798 acres for Adivasi households. About 23 per cent of the households came were landless.
Focus and Factoids by Debadrita Saha.
Kumar Rana, Manabesh Sarkar, Subhra Das, Mukhlesur Rahaman Gain
Pratichi Institute, Kolkata and The Asiatic Society, Kolkata