By Kalpesh Chauhan:
For one month, I stayed in Batbani, a village of Narharpur Block, North Bastar-Kanker district in Chhattisgarh, India, as part of the development apprenticeship of Pradan, an NGO. Living in the village, I understood their way of life, their culture, their food habits, their issues and concerns.
But one thing which took my attention since the very first day were the relationships between the social groups of the village. I found out that the Scheduled Tribe (Gond), Scheduled Caste (Harijan or Gada) and Other Backward Castes (Yadav) – the communities living in the village – have a mixed settlement. There are 103 households consisting of 6 SC households, 12 OBC and 85 ST households. The people here have very similar socio-economic backgrounds and sustain themselves through the same livelihood activities.
Two to three decades ago, the relationship between STs and OBCs wasn’t too different, but the relationships of both STs and OBCs with the SCs were different. At that time, during special events, the STs and OBCs used to give food and other things separately to the SCs. Not only were the SCs not allowed to share food with STs and OBCs, there was even a separate sitting arrangement for them during any events in the village. The entry of SCs in ST and OBC houses was also restricted.
The few water resources available in the village other than the river is a community well and a Hand Pump. During monsoon, people take water from the river. But during summers and winters, due to low water level in the river, they meet their needs for water by digging a ‘zariya’ (small hole) in the river and taking water from it. This ‘zariya’ was also separate for the SCs. They weren’t allowed to fetch water from the community well. The STs and the OBCs used to fetch water and give it to the SCs without touching them and their vessels. As for the hand pump, the SCs were allowed to take water only once the STs and OBCs were done taking water.
A 46-year-old ST women, with whom I had the opportunity to interact, shared that during her childhood when her SC friends used to visit her home, she used to serve them tea. But the tea cups had to be washed by her SC friends or herself as her parents would not wash the cups used by the SCs.
With time, however, that slowly changed. Moreover, during any functions in SC families, the STs and OBCs used to go and cook the food, so that all of them could eat in the function. During the last decade, the STs and OBCs started giving some work to SCs because they didn’t want to do everything by themselves.
Today, the SCs are also involved in cutting vegetables and cleaning vessels not only in their own houses during functions but also in the houses of STs and OBCs. Also, now they have started fetching water together from individual and community wells and hand pumps, they have entry into each other’s houses, they drink tea together in each other’s houses and celebrate community functions together.
When I asked a few people what led them to change their mindset, they replied that they realised that all human beings are equal and must be treated equally. They also shared that education and migration to urban areas also influenced their behaviour. They shared that when people used to migrate to urban area like Kanker, Raipur and nearby cities, they were working with all social groups and they didn’t know who cooks the food in the hotel.
Seeing all these, they also felt that they shouldn’t resort to discrimination. So when they came back, things changed. The change in relationship may not have changed in all forms of interactions, but the change which has come at the village level is in the right direction which is really an inspiration for people who aspires to see a just and egalitarian society.