We Save For Our Future, But The Tribal Don’t Even Have Any Daily Wages

Ramchandra Kolekar, Shrmajivi Janata Sahayyak Mandal 

Shrmajivi Janata Sahayyak Mandal (SJSM) works with over 2.5 lakh people from the rural communities of Satara and Raigad districts  of Maharashtra. Their work focuses on sustainable livelihood, agriculture, soil and water conservation, natural resource management and women empowerment. SJSM is a COVIDActionCollab partner and more about their work can be found here : https://sjsmsatara.org/

 The tribal communities we work with are mostly engaged in fishing and farming.  However, their work is seasonal and they have to keep scouting for work. During the rice season, they usually work for farmers, sometimes they go to the Konkan area to work on mango cultivation; in case they find more lucrative work with a big company, they go to work there. What do they have to leave behind?!! Nothing. It’s usually just two people who can get up and go wherever and whenever required. 

Collaborative action is the only way out to at least ensure food for the people

At the moment, they hardly have food to eat, so food packages for tribal are a priority. Last year, we supported more than 1000 families in the Raigad district. This year, we plan to support 1200 tribal families in Satara and 1500 families in Raigad. Female sex workers was never a focus area for us, but with the pandemic, they are out of work. So we are planning to find an organisation focused on them to support them. Many organisations are coming together to do collective work in specific areas.

We have confirmed contracts with AI, Swedish Chamber of Commerce, Atlas Corp, for relief-related work which covers food grains. We are also working with sister organisations to provide immunity-boosting foods to quarantine centres, in collaboration with Mariwala Health Initiative. 

Reaching the community remains a challenge

Working quickly on the ground in an emergency like COVID continues to remain our major challenge because there is restriction on movement in these areas. For instance, a staff members’ bike was taken into police custody when they were out to do relief work.  NGOs aren’t authorised in emergency services. We should ideally have permissions for movements to reach target beneficiaries on ground. Our classification as frontline workers can help facilitate our movement. 

We also have to take care of ourselves when we go into the community because the risk is higher this time. We are trying to get the entire team vaccinated. Once that happens, it will give them confidence that the disease will have a lesser impact. Even among beneficiaries, there is vaccine hesitancy and a lot of confusion, especially after the government’s announcement about the Covishield gap. ‘What if I miss the second dose?’ There are many misconceptions around vaccines which also need to be clarified to spread awareness. 

(as told to Soumita Basu & Rini Sinha, The Covid Action Collaborative)

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