NEW DELHI: Lakhan Sabar is uncertain how he would repay the loans he took a few months back. Hailing from Boro village in West Bengal’s Purulia district, Lakhan is finding it difficult to sell off his agricultural produce since the country went into lockdown.
“There are no vehicles on the road… I managed to sell off products before the lockdown. Now, I am facing challenges in selling my produces,” said Lakhan who belongs to the Sabar denotified tribe.
According to the Renke Commission report submitted in 2008, 89 percent of the denotified communities reported that they were landless. At least 23 percent of the denotified communities surveyed had reported their families were in debt and 23 percent denotified tribes reported availability of BPL cards, according to the report. It had also reiterated that denotified tribes constitute the most socially and economically backward sections of the population.
With the lockdown amid the COVID-19 outbreak, the denotified communities are staring into uncertainty over their livelihood opportunities.
“The government needs to pay special attention to the denotified tribes who are already at the fringes of society. If the government does not focus on reaching out to the communities during the lockdown, they will be marginalized further,” said B Renke who headed the National Renke Commission which submitted its report in 2008.
According to a report submitted by the Idate Commission, the population of denotified, semi-nomadic and nomadic communities would be around 15 crores and that being impoverished, they were unaware of their rights and entitlements.
In a rapid assessment survey of 33 villagers belonging to Sabar tribe from 30 villages in Purulia, the findings showed nine people had taken a loan during the lockdown period. The primary reason for the loans was to access food, according to the survey conducted by the National Alliance Group for denotified and nomadic tribes.
The survey showed most of the Sabar families were daily wage earners, and they had not received any wages for the lockdown period. The survey was conducted between April 4 - April 6 telephonically 27 men and six women.
“My mother works as a domestic help… she also makes brooms at home. Since the lockdown, her income has dried up,” said Ratnabali Sabar, 26, who is studying in a college.
Phulmoni, who works as a daily wage laborer in Bardhaman district in West Bengal, said she had not received any wages to sustain herself through the lockdown period. “How will I go to work with no public transport? I used to earn Rs 220 as my daily wage… but now all of it has stopped,” she said.
“With denotified communities being engaged in the informal economy, the lockdown has hit them severely. The Renke Commission report had pointed out a majority of them did not have ration cards which means they would not be able to access the government’s relief packages. The government needs to be on its toes to reach out to the marginalized communities who are already facing challenges in accessing food,” said Mayank Sinha, convener, National Alliance Group for denotified and nomadic tribes.
With denotified communities often resettled in other states, they often do have local ration cards and are not eligible for public distribution system (PDS), pointed out Yogendra Ghorpade, project field coordinator at Towards Advocacy Networking and Development Action, Tata Institute of Social Sciences.
“We are probably heading towards food riots if their food needs are not fulfilled on an immediate basis,” he said.
“Malnutrition and anaemia are highly prevalent among these communities. During lockdown, if the communities lack access to nutrition, the incidence of malnutrition among children under six years and anaemia among adolescent girls, pregnant women and lactating mother will go up,” Ghorpade added.
Researchers have also pointed out the lack of enumeration for the community is one of the primary challenges in mainstreaming their rights.