Brijesh Sahariya (13) with his grandmother at their shanty at Sakara village. He is one of the many children in Sakara village who was sent away by his father Jaalam Sahariya, with a man to work as bonded labour, so that he could send home Rs. 2,000 a month. Brijesh has never been to a school.
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Sakara village is located in Uttar Pradesh’s Lalitpur district and is part of Bundelkhand, a region in central India known for endemic poverty and lack of development.
The village houses close to 100 families of Sahariya tribe. Sahariyas, one of the 75 scheduled tribes in the country classified as Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups, earlier known as primitive tribal groups.
Acres of land lie barren as the average number of rainy days per year has been reduced from 52 to 23 here.
Traditionally Sahariya people were depended on the forests for livelihood. In last two decades, their access to forests and common lands has become increasingly limited due to demands of wildlife conservation. As a consequence, the Sahariyas are increasingly depending on wage labour for subsistence.
Making ‘Bidi’ from Tendu leaves is the only major profession that has been helping Sahariyas to earn a little. But with the massive degradation of the forests and subsequent displacement, they turned to farming. Farming is often difficult as the area has little irrigation and less rainfall.
Extreme poverty made the Sahariya people desperate to push their children into modern day slavery in the hope of saving them from starvation. In exchange for paltry sums a month, parents have been handing over their children to men who then transport them to unknown places in different states.
Cut off from their families, the children work for an indefinite number of hours and often do not know when they will be permitted to return. But conditions at home are so grim that a number of children are eager to escape through work of this sort.
Jaalam Sahariya with his son Brijesh Sahariya (13) at their shanty while Brijesh’s grandmother is showing the damaged crops of recent year in her palm at Sakara village in Lalitpur district located in southern Uttar Pradesh. Damage of all crops due to insufficient rains in every year is a common picture here.
After Ram Lal’s crop was destroyed, he incurred him a loss of Rs. 10,000. He needed another Rs. 7,000 to repay the loan he took to buy a water pump to irrigate his 2.5 acre plot of land.
To return the loan of local land lords, Ram Lal sent his son Sanju Sahariya to accompany a man into a dense forest in Madhya Pradesh at the age of only 14 for the first time. Sanju stayed there for eight months. In the forest, the day began at 4am and went on until 9 am when the children got an hour-long break. The next shift is from 10am to 5 pm. According to Sanju every child is responsible for around 500 sheep.
“During the first few days, I cried in pain.” – admitted by Sanju Sahariya pointing to his withered legs. His job would require him to walk 30 km in bare feet every day grazing cattle in return for two meals and Rs. 2000 a month.
“Had I not sent off my son to work, my family of eight would have died of hunger” – admitted by Ram Lal.
Two meals a day is a luxary here. To make ends meet and also to ensure that the children are at least fed, the tribe has been resorting to sending them away.
Homes of Sahariya tribes are a shanty with a handful of utensils and a cot. A maze of narrow lanes, open drains, and shanties with thatched ceilings, Sakara is a nondescript place with no electricity supply.
Villagers have to walk three km to access the public transport that can take them to the nearest primary health care centre about 35 kms away.
Scary eyes inside the little huts are very common picture here in Sakara village. Accordigng to the Sahariya people, they preferred male child over girl child as the former could add to the income of the family. In UP, the sex ratio of the scheduled tribe population is 934 females per 1000 males which is lower than the national average (978) for all scheduled tribes.
A polio victim Sahariya man is passing through at Sakara village. Suffering from malnutrition, dying for hunger is the common view in Sakara village. The village is full of old and sick, left to fend for themselves.
Different physical disabilities are common in the young generation of the Sahariya tribe here as a outcome of endemic poverty and malnutrition.
The endemic poverty and lack of development have made the Sahariya’s life too hard to sustain their existence in nearest future.
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