This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by CHAITALI KAMBLE. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Are Teen Years Being Stolen From Katkari Girls?


This post is a part of Kaksha Crisis, a campaign supported by Malala Fund to demand for dialogue around the provisions in the New Education Policy 2020. Click here to find out more.

As part of my work, during a field visit to understand the livelihood opportunities available in a particular geographical area, I visited Bheema Shankar near Pune. There I met a group belonging to the Katkari Tribe. The Katkari are among the Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTG) of Maharashtra. They are historically nomadic, forest-dwelling people listed under the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871 by the British Raj.

While discussing various aspects of livelihoods and culture with them, I learned that seasonally all of them engage in procuring and selling the forest produce; however, during other seasons, they work as daily wage labourers at brick kilns. They say, “If we don’t work a day, what will we eat that day?” If not brick kilns, in the rainy season, they catch fish; other days, they collect honey or prepare alcohol and sell.

Credits: Manas Foundation on Twitter

I asked what do women do? They said, “Women work with us; otherwise, who will carry the bricks? We prepare them, women carry them, and help us in the process. Even our kids are of help at brick kilns. Only the older people stay at home and take care of very young children. Everyone else can be found at some brick kilns site.

Curiously I asked about their opinion on education. If everyone works at a brick kiln, when do kids go to school? And they said, “What is the use of education if it can’t provide our boys with a job? Only one boy from the hamlet of 100 did graduation and had no job; we also have no job.

Based on it, they say, “Education is just a waste of time and money.” There was one Ashramshala for tribal people of the area started by a local NGO. However, the point person of the same present in the conversation complains that “Children do not come, what can we do?” I asked, “why don’t they come?” He replied, “Because they have to go with their parents to the brick kiln or take care of younger siblings.

As per a study, measure reasons for non-attainment of school among the Scheduled Tribe (ST) of Maharashtra show that 42.6% have to supplement household income and 23.6% need to do domestic chores, consequently missing schools. Language also becomes a barrier where Katkari people have their own Katkari language, and schools have Marathi as a medium of communication.

When specifically asked about girl education and marriage, they seem to have collectively agreed upon their stance that it is better to marry off girls and boys soon after they attain puberty as this preserves their virginity from being lost before marriage and prevent girls from being single mothers. This is because their ‘argument’ was so brief. “Shadi nahi karayenge to yaha waha much marenge, usase acchha shadi kara do.” They also supplemented their comment by saying, “It’s natural; how can we prevent them from doing so?” (referring to having physical attraction between gender).

As per the article of The Quint, in India, a third of all our young women (tribal and non-tribal) are married before their 18th birthday. Thus, we have one of the world’s highest numbers of teenage mothers, all married. This is again due to their higher exposure to sex, lower probability of using contraception than their unmarried peers, and pressure to conceive quickly after marriage (UNICEF).

Early marriage followed by early pregnancy naturally brings along the responsibilities at a very young age: to take care of a newborn, to earn for their survival. It also impacts health, which can be lifelong and intergenerational, including undernutrition, underweight among the children, and high rates of anaemia among women and girls.

The Katkari married girls, new mothers, have no option but to work, mostly at brick kilns where the contractor takes advantage of their informal education by paying them less and often charging extra interest on the loans they had taken on a few occasions like festivals. This vicious cycle keeps them poor economically as well as physically.

Credits: Manas Foundation on Twitter

A UNICEF case study on girls dropping out of school due to pregnancy and factors preventing their re-entry after delivery, carried out in Ghana had the key findings befitting description of lives of the young girls of the Katkari tribe, as per my observation, for example:

  • The strong connection between school pregnancy and household instability and low incomes suggests that Katkari people have a low income and dwelling nature.
  • Male partners of the schoolgirls were mainly their peers either in school, unemployed or in highly vulnerable informal economy jobs; In the case of Katkari people, the boys are of the same tribe and locality, either unemployed or working at the brick kilns.
  • Inadequate sexual and reproductive health education from schools and other agents, which is the case in the context of the whole of India.
  • A tendency to blame young girls and not boys for failing to exercise due diligence over their sexuality. This, I feel, is the existing culture in India. It might not be true everywhere, but my experiences aren’t any different.

In other parts of the country, w.r.t. tribal population, there are few examples where the process of assimilation with the larger connected world, sought by either/both parties(tribal/non-tribal), have resulted in positive exchanges with the neighbouring people and culture. For example, in Jharkhand, where I used to work earlier, I have seen tribes celebrating Hindu/Christian festivals and some instances of inter-caste/tribe marriages too.

This, in turn, has resulted in their exposure to the ‘mainstream’ understanding and experiencing the benefits of education in employability and improved economic status and standard of living. In the case of Katkari people, however, it seems that xenophobic perception against people who eat rodents is believed to be the primary reason for preventing any assimilation with other populations and keeping them away from the ‘mainstream’ education, employment, economy.

All of this reminds me of my childhood and two Katkari families I had seen as a child. I saw a husband and wife staying in our village every day at the bus stand just in front of my house, selling crabs. Every night the husband was heard yelling at his wife many times drunk, beating her up. They had five daughters; I do not remember seeing them after the age of 9-10 years old.

The daughters were married soon and occasionally seen after a few months/year’s gaps in saree. So was another family I had seen at my paternal uncle’s place, near Panchgani hill station. Two Katkari brothers used to bring us mangoes, Jamun and honey in summer while custard apples in winter, whole baskets of it, and some other days fish.

My aunt always negotiated and underpaid him. He knew she would buy and hence kept coming year after year. I do not remember seeing any teenage girls within their family either. However, we had seen his wife. I wonder if there is no ‘teenage’ among the Katkari girls, and it’s just a young girl to an adult woman transitioning if the whole phase and experiences of teenagers are altogether missing.

The author is a Kaksha Correspondent as a part of writers’ training program under Kaksha Crisis.

You must be to comment.


Similar Posts

By The Third Eye

By The Third Eye

By The Third Eye

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below