Life of a tribal family in rural Maharashtra in the time of drought
SHEGA Irma Paradke, a tribal from Gaurya village in Akrani tehsil, has walked miles and miles in his life. But the journey on April 3 will continue to haunt him for the rest of his life.
Under the cruel April sun, he walked over 50km from the Dhule District Hospital to Dondaicha, carrying the dead body of his one-year-old son Rakesh as he did not have enough money to buy a bus ticket.
Shega is just one of the tribals at the mercy of nature in rural Maharashtra where drought, poverty, unemployment and arrogance of the ''civilised'' world dictate lives.
Shega and two brothers, Soma and Rama, till five acres at Gaurya, cultivating jowar, maize and toor dal. The major crop is jowar and they produce about five to six bags (of one quintal each) every year, selling some and keeping the rest for themselves. This year, however, due to insufficient rainfall, they could not produce even a single bag of jowar during the Kharif season. The result was poverty and hunger for the rest of the year.
Shega had seven children, Soma four and Rama had five. They worked intermittently for road contractors, earning about Rs 40 per day but the jobs did not last long. So when a labour contractor, looking for prospective cheap labour for sugar factories in Gujarat, visited Gaurya four months ago, the Paradkes could not resist the temptation. Shega, his brothers and their families migrated to Bardoli in Gujarat to work in the sugarcane fields. They were part of the 47 families who were taken to Bardoli.
Each family was given 30 kilos of jowar every month and Rs 30 for miscellaneous expenses. The final wage settlement is done after the conclusion of the cane-cutting season which can last up to five months. After the season, the contractor distributes the total wages, which are in the range of Rs 3,500-Rs 5,000 per couple.
All was well until Shega's youngest son Rakesh fell ill. He was vomiting and had loose motions. When the usual treatment failed, the family decided to return and on April 2, Shega borrowed some money and came back to Gaurya. He took Rakesh to the rural hospital at Dhadgaon in Akrani. His wife, Khetri and 10-year-old son Ishwar accompanied him. The doctors who examined Rakesh asked Shega to rush him to the Dhule District Hospital. Shega said that he had given up all hopes and requested the doctors to allow him to take the child home. However, the doctors insisted and a vehicle was provided. Rakesh was admitted to Dhule hospital where he died the next morning.
''I had only Rs 70 with me and had no money to return to my village (about 130 kms away),'' he said. He requested the doctors to provide a vehicle but he said they shooed him away.
Shega began his walk through hell, clutching the dead body of his son wrapped in a cloth, with his wailing wife and 10-year-old son in tow. In the scorching sun they walked all day, covered 53 km. At Doindaicha, a truck driver offered them lift till Dorakamat, his wife's ancestral village, for Rs 50. By the time they reached there, the body had begun to rot. He buried his son in the village at midnight.
When contacted, the medical officers at the Dhule hospital said that the boy was in a severely dehydrated condition when he was brought to the hospital. They said the child could not be saved despite their best efforts and claimed that Shega had become violent and had accused them of killing his son. They also said Shega did not request for a vehicle.
Shega will never go so far to counter their version. It's useless, he is tired and has other things to worry about. Hunger and death are staring at the rest of his family as he waits for the contractor to settle the payment and his eldest son Khilpya, who is still working in Gujarat, to bring it home.
(This is the first of a series of reports from the drought-hit rural belt of Maharashtra which has reported several malnutrition deaths)