The sociology of drought

Published : May 23, 2003 00:00 IST

Gruel (`ambali' in Telugu) of millet supplied by CPI(M) cadre at Kistapuram village of Dhanwada mandal in Mahboobnagar district. -

Gruel (`ambali' in Telugu) of millet supplied by CPI(M) cadre at Kistapuram village of Dhanwada mandal in Mahboobnagar district. -

BAGAR GOVIND, past 60 years of age, breathed his last on April 5, in his tiny hamlet in the sleepy Kistapuram village in Mahboobnagar district, some 100 km from Hyderabad. According to his neighbours, he had fever. He died because he could not afford even the medicines to contain fever. And as his body lay on the floor of his house, wrapped in a blanket, his three sons were unaware of the death of their father. They had migrated (the villagers presume) a few weeks earlier either to Mumbai or to somewhere in Gujarat, in search of livelihood. None in the village knew how to contact them.

Korutu Kistamma, in her 80s, has been relatively fortunate. Her son left Kistapuram a few months ago in search of a living, leaving behind his children. She has managed to survive.

Govind, Kistamma and several others of their generation as well as their grandchildren have been sustained by a liberal helping of gruel made of `ragi' (ambali in Telugu) at centres organised in several villages in the past few weeks by the Communist Party of India (Marxist). The number of villages where the party has set up such gruel centres is growing. Indeed, a number of people, including the old and the infirm as well as thousands of children under 14, seem to stay alive on the gruel they get every morning.

Yet Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu frowns at the CPI(M)'s initiative. His lament is that the party is sullying the image of Andhra Pradesh by letting village folk queue up, bowl in hand. The State government, meanwhile, has set up a cell in the Secretariat to monitor the situation (where one could access data by simply tapping the keyboard) and placed senior officials in charge of managing the drought situation in the districts. But then, they seem to be unaware of the reality, such as that in Kistapuram.

The able-bodied sons of Govind, Kistamma and others from this Madiga cluster would not have left their village had the monsoons not failed. They were, after all, willing to till the land that belongs to the upper caste landlords from whom they were also used to borrowing small sums of money, in some cases to build dwellings for themselves. Their labour would sustain them and also enable them to repay the loans. But then, agricultural operations having come to a halt in the last couple of years, they were left to fend for themselves. Worse, they were under pressure from the landlords to clear the debts.

The hapless Dalits would have cleared their debts had the monsoon not failed for successive years. They were agricultural workers anyway and the landlords too needed their labour. But in the absence of sowing there was no work. The only option was to leave behind their children and parents to go and work in the cities at construction sites, earn some money and get back to the village to clear the debts.

A fair implementation of the special programmes was another way out in such situations. These men, after all, are not ones to shy away from physical labour. The Sampoorna Grameen Rozgar Yojana (SGRY), which provides for 10 days' work a month to those left out of gainful employment owing to drought, should have fetched them 10 kg of rice. It may well have provided sustenance to them, their parents and children and saved them from the agony of leaving their homes in search of a living.

This indeed is an instance that suggests that while the drought conditions have ruined the rural economy, the real story is that the adverse effects of the failure of the monsoon are felt more intensely and in a far more cruel way by those sections of society that have been denied the fruits of the progress in the various walks of life by an oppressive caste structure; the wheels of change have not helped them.

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