This post of mine is put up here purely for academic purposes and for the sake of completeness, it is a break from my normal informal style and content, I shall get back to my old deviant ways after this post. Until then, here is a report of the place that I visited, and as expected, it is boring, sort of like a text book article, you can skip it if you like.
So I was in Dumka, there was a TV in the hotel! Excited, I watched TV till 4 am which I don't otherwise do, and slept a dreamless sleep.
Awoke the next day when they came to pick me up for my first field visit. We had the same Omni and the same freaking driver again.
what the hell !?
Luckily, the brightness of day presented a different 'driver' Per Se in the sense that he wasn't drunk, and he now knew which side was left and which was right.
And so it began, I in the front seat with about 4 giggling women in the back, yapping away to glory in their strange and exotic sounding Santhali language. The roads soon disintegrated from being barely pliable pot hole-fields to dust trails that just happened to be there. We finally reached the village where the local SHG (self help group) would invariably welcome us with a Santhali song and garlands made from locally available flowers. I visited 6 such villages, and I have a video of one such welcoming song, but my connection doesn't allow me to upload it.
I was not expecting such an elaborate reception and felt out of place when they tried to seek my blessings by touching my feet, I asked one of my translators to tell them not to do so. From an academic standpoint, this(touching of the feet) is mostly a Hindu form of seeking an elders blessings which is strange because the santhali people are predominantly Christian. I suspected that they might practise a form of Christianity that was hybridized with Hinduism, a fact confirmed by their many Hindu customs such as the fact that the women wear the bindi on their forehead and put vermilion on the partition of their hair, and the presence of the Tulsi plant(Sage) in a sacred pot in the center of their mud dwellings. The interior of their huts is shown below, note the floor; which is made by mixing mud and cow dung. Also, they all, and I mean ALL, paint their doors the same color of blue, I forgot to ask why.
The poverty is quite dire, I feel like a criminal for wasting money on cigarettes and other trivial, non-essential activities, and there is nothing I can say that will truly explain their situation to you, hence I rely on this snap to do it for me.
Santhali woman at her home, with her Produce.
But all was not bad, this was her backyard.
They live with nature
These people have such little exposure to the rest of the world that they have to be taught the merits of cooperation, team work and group activities. So basically we explain to them the benefits of forming Self Help Groups (SHGs) and then we teach them how to manage the groups. After they learn this, they are taught modern methods of Farming, Animal Husbandry, vermi composting, and they are also taught how to improve their own traditional handcrafts such as this traditional criss cross mat that they make:
After they are taught these basics, we teach them to read and write Hindi, so that they can sign their names instead of using their thumbprints as they did earlier. We then introduce the SHG to the local State Bank, which evaluates the SHG as a while and gives them a grading, they usually get the second grading which allows them a loan of upto RS.25000 or about $540. An advantage of this is that they have gotten over their dependence on local money lenders called Mahajans, who make the (Libor + X) interest, that some institutions charge, seem like a steal.
Also, there is a scheme called the National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme or NAREGA, which is a scheme developed by the government that utilizes locally available manpower to work in the labor intensive development projects such as the building of canals for irrigation, dams, lift irrigation schemes, roads, etc. they get paid Rs.86 per day of work or approximately $2. They need our assistance in getting the job cards that enable the bearer to work in NAREGA because being extremely poor, they are either overlooked or denied the card due to their inability to pay the bribe amount to the officials.
There are a lot of other areas such as; para-legal training, training on the working of the political system something Indians like myself will remember as the subject 'Civics' from high school, Self-confidence building measures, etc. which we coach them in.
In short, their lives are hard, and comparatively, I have it easy.
With all these interruptions in their lives and the hardship they face, they still seem to be content, I could feel and see carefree serenity in their behavior and the way they seemed to approach life. Here is a woman with her grandchild, maybe you can see what I mean.
Woman with grandchild
This my folks; is Rural India, in 2008.