By Dr Palla Trinadha Rao
Sometimes a question is raised whether the survival of adivasis is sustained only due to the intervention of state? If not what is the secret of their success in leading a peaceful and harmonious life without depending on the external sources for their survival. The answer lies in the experiences of adivasis who have several coping abilities to overcome varied shocks like hunger, malnutrition, ill health and so on. Savara, Kondh, Porja, Gadaba, Kondareddy and Chenchu tribes in Andhra Pradesh (AP) are administratively called as Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PvTGs). They are more backward in many aspects compared to other tribal groups.
Among them Kondareddis were classified as PvTGs in the year 1980. The growth rate of Kondareddis is a disturbing trend. Their growth rate was 20.71% during 1961-71, increased between 1971- 1981 (27.84%) and notably increased during 1981-1991 (39.69%) after notifying them as PVTGs, but later on it declined to 8.78% during 1991-2001 and 4.31% in 2001-2011 respectively. The case study of Pullangi Gram Pancahyat, (GP) in Maredumilli Mandal in East Godavari District of AP shows how the Kondareddis are struggling to survive and what their coping strategies are to overcome the crisis. The Pullangi is an interior GP, has 11 habitations with about 350 households of Kondareddis,consisting of 1100 population.
The tribals have ability to understand adversities of food insecurity and prepare themselves to overcome the crises. Tribals depend on podu cultivations but now it is not a vital source of food security due to land degradation and monkey menace on harvested crops. Tribals are protecting two hills traditionally namely Koppu konda, Kallu konda in Gundrthi habitation of Panchayat for collection of minor forest produce, fuel wood, timber for housing, grazing lands for goats etc. The commercial crop rubber inroad into interior habitations of Addarivalasa, Pusivada, Pullangi and Pidamarri with the state intervention. Market agriculture is replacing traditional crops and livelihoods.
Due to climate change the seasonal agricultural calendar of tribes is changing and affecting their food security. Earlier they used to raise Sama (little millet) during the beginning of monsoon in May and continued raising small millets, pulses till September. However, due to change in the climate, the rainy season starts in July and ending in August. So the crop of sama in May was missing, hardly it is seen in 30 acres only in the GP. Earlier it was the major source of food. Climate change is also affecting yield of pulses due to lack of sufficient water till September.
During the period October-January they survive on boiled pumpkin, gruel of small millets. They depend on ragi (finger millet) as part of their meal from February to October in addition to government susbsidised rice. The kitchen garden with beans, tubers, leafy vegetables sustain their food basket. All the crops that they are sufficient only for six months and invariably depend on the subsidized rice to fill the belly for about two weeks every month. Particularly during the August to November months, it is dry season for them and difficult to manage hunger with their locally available stuff. Tribal households sometimes are forced to sell PDS rice in distress to procure other provisions. Shandy plays an important role in market economy where transactions of goods and services take place.
It is not uncommon for Kondareddy families to skip a day or days or half day of meal to ensure food to their children, or sometimes adjusting with Jeeluga (Caryota Urens-Bustard Sagopalm) or locally available minor forest produce. There are different levels of poverty among the tribal households in the GP. Mutual help in harvesting season and sharing grains instead cash helps sustainable practices of agriculture. It is also observed that when the support system is in adequate, taking help from kith and kin in the neighbourhood works as a coping strategy. Sometimes they change their food habits to suit the demand. Vulnerable households are forced to sell half of the total livestock like goats.
They rear chicken for both domestic needs and traditional ritual practices. An average family requires 12 chickens a year for festivals and ceremonies according to a former sarpanch Andala Mangireddy of Pullangi GP. About 20 tribal youth from the GP villages migrated to work in acqua fields in other parts of the district, and Hyderabad to tide over the economic poverty crisis. Tribals in these GP harvest hill brooms extensively which is the major sources for cash economy. There are Self Self Groups and money lenders to provide credit. Tribals take advances from money lenders during August-September and supply the hill brooms during the April-May month.
The distinct traditional, cultural practices and belief system play a key role in myriad ways to cope with stress related to health problems. Beliefs give a value to their lives and reinforce their confidence in living in harmony with the forces of nature. Majority of the tribal habitations do not have safe drinking water. Tribals are prone to several health disorders which lead to death. For example tribals living in several habitations in Pullangi GP still depend on hill stream water. If any sudden death occurs, tribals believe that the hill spirits are responsible for the deaths.
The self-reliant Kondareddis have interdependency for mutual care. The cultural norms of tribes are resilient and create ability to adjust and adapt to changes for the well being of their social fabric. The social bond among the tribes is a major factor in overcoming the crisis in the tribal areas. The major coping strategy is social solidarity and belief or norms that they are good as a group.
However, tribals in general are unable to overcome the macro level shocks of the state through its interventions like taking up of mining projects, construction of larger dams, establishment of industries as part of structural adjustment programs. For instance the Kondareddys living on the bank of river Godavari in Devipatnam mandal of East Godavari District are subjected to involuntary displacement due to Polavaram Project. The displaced Kondareddis will lose all their coping abilities to overcome vulnerabilities in relocated places.