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Adivasis in Dahanu

Locked Down and Left Out

The COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown have further marginalised the precarious lives of the Adivasis of Dahanu, Maharashtra.

The most unexpected things have happened in the four months since the COVID-19 lockdown began. Who would have imagined that while we are enjoying nature’s calm beauty and promising ourselves to not exploit nature any more, simultaneously, there would be a significant increase in the illegal felling of trees? Having unexpectedly returned home from brick kilns, salt pans or construction sites where they worked as manual labour, and in the absence of any gainful employment at home, many Adivasis in Dahanu taluka, Maharashtra, have resorted to just that! Of course, many from the community have busied themselves with creating assets on their own fields, by repairing agricultural bunds and levelling sloping land. While these construction activities are undertaken in the summer months every year, the scale of bund repairs this year has been significant. Most villagers are small and marginal farmers who migrate to cities in search of work post Diwali. Having been forced to return home, some villagers have come together and undertaken these operations in a communitarian way, with everyone working together in rotation on each and everyone’s field.

In remote villages, getting fresh vegetables from the market has continued to be a problem for the entire duration of the lockdown. Shopkeepers from villages close to Dahanu town obtained passes to ferry essential goods, but in remote villages, getting even essentials like salt and soap has been almost impossible. With no vegetables available, the Adivasis have fallen back on their traditional aasra (shelter)—the forest. Leaves and flowers (like mokhanaal bhaji, and shelti) from the jungles, which used to be consumed regularly earlier but are rarely accessed today, have become common items on the menu once again. Given their desperation, people have resorted to some overexploitation too, especially in villages which fell in containment zones. Every leaf of the naal bhaji was plucked and every snail was foraged from the riverbeds! Dried fish and sukat (dried shrimp) were sorely missed. While there was very little food and even lesser money for food, there seemed to be enough for addicts to somehow purchase tobacco that saw an almost 500% rise in its price, going from `200 to `900 per kilogram. While sale of liquor and toddy in the market was prohibited, severely affecting the income of those in the toddy trade, tapping of toddy for self-consumption or for sale within the villages continued.

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Updated On : 28th Jul, 2020

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