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Dnyaneshwar Bandgar, a social worker: field experience with katkari tribe


Dnyaneshwar in Field

Dnyaneshwar Bandgar

Social worker, TISS, Mumbai

About Nav Chetna Field Action Project:

This is the story of 2009 when I (author) was working with Nav Chetna field action project as senior social worker. Nav Chetna is field action project of Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Deonar, Mumbai. The faculty of the School of Social Work, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai undertake a number of field action projects (FAPs) to benefit marginalized sections, and at the same time provide field training opportunities for social work students. FAPs also give an opportunity for faculty to give feed back to the government about gaps in implementing policies and ways to improve programmes based on evidence generated by field action research.

Vision of the Nav Chetna FAP is to work for the rights of institutionalized children. Since 2005, Nav Chetna has been engaged in two residential schools in Pen taluk, Raigad District, Maharashtra to ensure that tribal children have access to holistic school education to develop their personality and give them self-confidence to secure livelihood opportunities. Nav Chetna’s mission is to work with the government in implementing the commitment to right to education by imparting holistic education to tribal children residing in two government hostels (ashram shalas) in Pen tribal project area.

Nav Chetna was supported by two corporate houses in the first five years and has been working with children, the school system, the government authorities, the parents, people residing in 75 villages from where the children come, activists, the community based organizations, NGOs, civic clubs and other community resources. Specifically, the endeavor has been to retain children in school by making learning joyful and reduce drop out levels; bring back drop outs and regularize them. Nav Chetna has also organized vocational training programmes for youth who have not completed school education to acquire marketable skills to avail economic opportunities thrown up by the development taking place in the district.

nav chetna

Katkari Tribes:

Katkari tribes of Raigad district are one of the 75 tribes who are Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PVTG) in India. Katkari are backward on number six in India and on number three in Maharashtra Puri C (2009). Name of nation development government and non-government sector are acquired the land forcefully from the katkari community. katkari who’s name indicates their occupation, today are getting marginalized. They are not even able to cultivate Dalhi plots peacefully. Their traditional occupation is completely forgotten and they are considered as most backward tribes in India. They are getting alienated from forest due to various policies of the government and also getting alienated from sources of livelihood.

Childrens are from katkari community who are going to government school drop-out rate is very high because of their social, economic status. Majority of the Katkaris in Raigad district today have to migrate from village to another village, other block, other district of Maharashtra for eight to nine months for their survival as the local jobs are not available. Their dependence on these job providers results in high exploitation at the hand of moneylenders and landlords which results in loss of lives for many times. They either work on charcoal making, brick kilns or as sugar cane cutters.

Life is pathetic for these gypsy laborers. The situation of women is worse as they are prone to sexual harassment. The reason of negligible literacy among the katkari is due to their migration and non-availability of schools in the migrant areas. Majority of Katkari childrens are child laborers. Katkaries are facing systemic social exclusion (Puri C 2009) in Raigad district. Identities as created, maintained and changed as a self-conscious process of a group and its members, but often identities may also be forced and imposed as a result of wider inequalities of power as it the way the label of tribes has become attached to the katkari tribes. In Raigad district Identity of katkari tribe shifted from forest dwelling food gatherers to unorganized construction labor.

Katkaries are excluded from mainstream of economic development as well as social and geographically most of katkari hamlets are located out of village they are not a part of village but their hamlet known with village name their hamlet don’t have separate name. Most of the katkari people are not getting health facility because of their social status katkari are bottom of social strata in Raigad district. Katkari people are migrating eight to nine months from their village so private and government sector are denial their rights on natural resources.

Among the katkari tribal children who goes to government schools the dropout rate is very high because of various reasons related to their social, economic conditions. They are discriminated against in the school in the name of their tribes in a constant atmosphere to dominance of so called mainstream culture.

A Case study of Ram:

Ram (name changed) is a 19 year old Katkari boy lives Doshi village (name changed), Taluk Pen, District Raigad from Maharashtra. Doshi is a tribal village which is inhabited mainly by Thakars, a Scheduled Tribe. In fact Ram’s family is the only Katkari family in the village. As per Maharashtra state government, Katkaris are a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PVTG). They never reside in one place for long and migrate wherever they find work as a result they have remained extremely backward.

Ram was pushed out of school from 7th standard because of frequent absenteeism due to his parents’ migration. In addition he is hard of hearing. His face looks strange and ugly as he neither has ear flaps nor ear holes. He tries to cover his disability by covering the area of his ears with his hair style. His peers and children tease him and make him feel like a laughing stock of the village. He has no friends. Parents leave him behind and go in search of work every day. He used to wonder aimlessly in the jungle. At times when the children and youth from the village played Kabaddi, Kho-Kho, volleyball, cricket and other traditional games he would just sit in the door-way of his hut and watch them silently.

Nav Chetna FAP spotted Ram during the annual survey of children dropped out of school. During 2009, Navchetna student social workers specializing in Disability Studies and Action (DSA) started establishing rapport with him and his family with a view to help him access elementary education but that time the Ram was 19 years old and he was not able to take education because of his not interesting after five years of drop out from the school and school teacher, principle was not taking care of this type of drop out students. There was need to take immediate follow up from school administration. Slowly SSW got to know that Ramdas could climb trees without difficulty, could skillfully collect honey from honeycomb, was a good swimmer and could catch fish. He was a good runner and climbed mountains with ease.

After the student social workers (SSW) term came to an end, they handover the Ram case to Nav Chetna social worker. Navchetna social worker started to take a follow up with Ram case and started regularly spending time in Doshi village to keep in touch with the village youth. Once when the boys were playing Kabaddi the social worker casually asked if he (social worker) could join them. The youth welcomed the social worker with enthusiasm. The social worker played Kabaddi and then football also with the youth group every day. Ramdas would sit in his doorway and watch as usual. This went on for over a week. One evening the social worker pretended that he had injured his hand and requested the group to replace him with Ramdas. They unanimously said, “No, no! He is BAHIRA (deaf in Marathi) and he doesn’t even know the game. Don’t worry we will manage somehow.” The social worker said, “See, with an injured hand if I could play till now, then why can’t he play? Let’s give him a chance to try. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t.” The group needed a player anyway and agreed to try him out. At this point, they forgot all about his caste.

Social worker went to Ram and asked him, “They (village youth) are calling you to play with them. Would like to join them?” There was no response. With a sad expression he looked at the social worker and then towards the group. He had told the social worker “I had earlier expressed my wish to play with them but they had refused to take me. I am not sure if this was another way to humiliate me”. The social worker called out his younger sister Kamli (name changed) who was in the house and asked her to get his shirt. She got his shirt and shyly handed it over to the social worker. With a subtle smile she looked expectantly at Ram’s face. Loudly the social worker said, “Wear the shirt”. There was no response again. He looked at the shirt and then at the social worker wonder in if the social worker was also trying to humiliate him. Social worker knew that Ram had heard him or at least understood what Social Worker was saying. He took the shirt from the Social worker and wore it. Social Worker took him to the youth group and that day for the first time he played Kabaddi with all of them. Social Worker went and sat where Ramdas used to sit, in his door-way. Social Worker was happy watching him to play.

Nav Chetna

Though Ram was playing for the first time, he was playing quite well. He is well built and strong though he cannot hear. His eyes focused on the lips of the opponent and understood what the other boy was saying. He was intelligent no doubt. That day his team won and Ram contribution for the victory was obvious. Without realizing the boys started accepting him as part of the group from that day onwards.

Ramdas joined in whatever the boys played every evening. The whole day he used to be alone. Other boys would go to work in the field. Once with some hesitation told the Social Worker how he too wished to go with the boys to work in the field. Social Worker spoke to the group leader who readily accepted to take Ramdas along. Ramdas was wiry and tough. He worked hard in the field. The employer was happy with his work. He started going to work regularly with village youth. All the youth worked in the field and played in the evening. The boys had accepted Ramdas as a member in the youth group. Ram’s parents were happy as he had started mingling with his age group and also had started earning.

Some weeks later Ram’s mother came to Nav Chetna office with him (Ramdas) and said, “Brother, can doctors help my son’s hearing problem? Will you be able to help us?” It was a hot afternoon. Social Worker first gave them water to drink. Spread a chatai (mat) on the floor and made them sit. Social Worker sat with them. His mother said, “Since you came to our village Ramdas has started playing with other village boys, he has started earning. We will not go to brick –kilns this year. We will hire a small field on rent and earn our wages. Now we will stay in the village for good. We won’t migrate. We have come to you to find out if something can be done about his hearing.” Social Worker wondered how come he had not thought about this. Social Worker assured her to check out what was possible and get back to her.

Social Worker visited Sarva Shisksha Abhiyan (SSA) office in Pen. SSA has a project under which Anganwadi, Balwadi and school going children with disability are helped. They said they help children up to the age of 17 years. Though Ramdas was already 19 years, they could have made an exception if he was studying but he was not in school. Social Worker did not give up. Social Worker took Ramdas to the Ali Yavar Jung Institute for the Hearing Impaired in Bandra, Mumbai. They conducted all the tests and concluded that more than one surgery was required. After opening both the ear drums they had to fix a plastic outer ear by plastic surgery. Estimated cost was around Rs 4 Lakhs. If this is done, they assured that he will be able to hear. Though the news was positive the cost was beyond the capacity of the family.

Social Worker was not going to give up. He went to Nair Hospital. The doctor turned out to be sensitive and sympathetic. After going through the reports she said ‘We will operate him in this hospital. Go and see the social workers in the Department of Social Medicine. They should be able to help you out with the finances”. We met the social worker. She said the hospital does not have any such provision to perform the surgery free of cost, but if required recommendation letters from elected MLA, she can approach some funding agencies or individual donors to raise required funds.

The list of required documents were:

  1. Disability Certificate

  2. Caste Certificate

  3. Ration card and Residence proof

  4. A recommendation letter from a MLA

  5. Income proof

  6. Two Identity card size photographs of Ramdas.

She told us to submit all the documents and then wait for her call. Once she has found a donor, she would call us. But Ramdas families don’t have even one document from above the list and collecting all the documents was not easy work for educated person like social worker can we think about Katkari people? it took two and half months. Finally all the documents were submitted to the social worker in Nair Hospital. Almost five year passed by and there was no call from the social worker or doctors of Nair hospital.

Ram has become part of the boys group, plays regularly, goes to work in the fields as a wage earner. He has now been accepted by the villagers as well. If anyone is falling short of labor they go to Ram’s house to call him which never happened earlier.

Social Worker came to know Ram’s family well. Social Worker visits them often. Social Worker also realized that if he spoke to Ramdas loudly from close range, he could hear, at least understood what was being said. As he couldn’t hear what was exactly said when spoken to him in normal voice he would feel shy and being unsure would speak in mono syllables or would just keep quiet. So people considered him to be deaf. Family members learnt to communicate with him in sign language as that was easier. Social Worker could also see that Ramdas was not dumb. But having spent most of the time at home he had heard and learnt very few words and so was comfortable using just those words. As everyone called him Bahira he preferred to either remain at home or roam around in the jungle alone.

Social Worker had developed contacts with youth in Hedoshi. Social Worker learnt to play the games they played. Social Worker studied their likes and dislikes. Slowly a close knit youth group was formed. Some of them expressed a wish to register the group. Social Worker helped them to register the youth group (cooperative society) with the name Utkarsha Adivasi Yuva Sava Sahkari Sanstha in six months. Often Social Worker had group meetings at Ramdas’s house. Slowly the group members got to know his situation. Observing the Social Worker, they also started talking to him in a loud voice and he started responding. He gained ability to speak to some extent.

Social Worker had also developed contacts with the village elders. Deliberately SW started visiting them along with Ramdas. The village elders not only accepted Ramdas, but he started being part of different activities including dancing which is such a major part of tribal life. He is now invited for family celebrations such as marriage, naming ceremony in the village along with others.

Looking back, Social Worker realized that he had used case work, group work as well as community work to integrate Ramdas within the Doshi village. It also helped him to actualize all his potential which was unexplored earlier.

Since last five years Ram’s family does not migrate. Though Ram earns Rs. 250 per day as an agricultural laborer but agricultural season is for a maximum four to four and half months. He does not get work round the year. Social Worker is trying to identify suitable vocational training for Ram. And most importantly, needs to follow-up on the medical intervention to restore his hearing.

Social worker was not able to give health care facility to Ram its heart to social worker but process of socialization with Ramdas in Doshi village it was very unexpected work done by social worker which was very important for today’s life for human being and this is always remembering things to social worker when the matter come to field work.

I (author) don’t know how much this study will help to social work students to theory part because in this case social worker used three primary methods of social work like case work, group work and community work but in field work this is very good process and we can use this process in our field.

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Puri, C. (2009). Development of Primitive Tribes in India.

Samuel, J. (2002). Struggles for Survival. National Centre for Advocacy Studies, Pune.

Bokil, M. (2006). Katkari: Vikas ki visthapan.

Enthoven, R. E. (1922). The tribes and castes of Bombay. Asian educational services

Nathan, D., & Xaxa, V. (2012). Social Exclusion and Adverse Inclusion: Development and Deprivation of Adivasis in India. Oxford University Press.


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