Under the radar: Nomadic communities don’t have two meals a day

With their livelihoods disrupted due to the lockdown, members are struggling to make ends meet

Sumera, a member of the nomadic Moghia tribe from Ashok Nagar district in Madhya Pradesh currently lives at a settlement in Bengaluru. He makes his living selling balloons, safety pins and cosmetics. However, his movements and business have been restricted by the lockdown, forcing him and 15 other families who live in makeshift tents in a settlement at Vijaynagar to beg for food and money.

“We can’t sell our wares. The government has not given us any relief or ration kits unlike last year, pushing us to starvation,” said Mahesh, another member of the community.

This has not gone down well with residents, who have started raising concerns with the authorities. In the last week, the settlement has been evicted twice, by police and civic officials, as a result of which the 15 families are living on the streets.

While the government is making a concerted effort to reach out to people residing in slums and labour camps, nomadic communities, like the Moghia tribe, have not been captured in the radar of the State health and welfare machinery.

Most of these communities not just in Bengaluru but also in other parts of Karnataka are below the poverty line, and have been severely affected by the lockdown.

‘Many are starving’

Nandeesh, from the Korama community whose members are traditionally fortune tellers, is puzzled by the lack of relief or food supply. “Last year during the lockdown, the Karnataka government and several NGOs distributed ration kits and even cooked meals every day. Somehow, we managed. But this year, neither the government nor NGOs are distributing food,” he said.

Two days ago, he visited a settlement in Byadarahalli with an NGO that wanted to distribute 30 ration kits. “But there were 80 families. The way they fought among themselves to get the ration left all of us very sad. Many were starving in that settlement,” he said.

This tragedy appears to be unfolding across nomadic settlements.

Rajasab Kalandar, a member of the Karadi Kalandar tribe in Koppal district, said, “The ration some of us get through PDS is all we have. In many of our houses, the children and the old are given preference over others. We have to make do with one or two meals a day, to stretch the ration till the lockdown is lifted,” he said.

Keshva, a member of the Hakki-Pikki community from Amalapura village in Tumakuru district, said two settlements in the district were fortunate to get ration kits from a religious matha in Pavagada. “But those rations are almost coming to an end. If the lockdown is extended, the situation will be very tough,” he said, adding that many villagers blamed them for the spread of the coronavirus even though they are now confined to their settlements.

‘Lack of database is no excuse’

Dr. C.S. Dwarakanath, Honorary President, Karnataka Rajya Alemari Mattu Budakattu Mahasabha, estimates that there are at least 56 nomadic communities and together they account for as much as 8% of Karnataka’s population. However, there is no data of these communities, which is one of the main reasons why no government help has come their way.

“We have repeatedly appealed to the government to do a census of nomads and enumerate them in a database, which has never happened. But a large vulnerable section of the society cannot be denied relief just because they don’t exist in some database,” he said.

Dr. Dwarakanath pointed out that tahsildars are aware of the location of their settlements.

‘Risk of starvation deaths’

Dr. C.S. Dwarakanath, Honorary President, Karnataka Rajya Alemari Mattu Budakattu Mahasabha has written multiple letters to Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa seeking that the relief package be extended to nomadic groups as well. He sent his most recent letter on Tuesday.

“Members of these historically neglected communities are living in unimaginable conditions facing the double whammy of the pandemic and lockdown. They are struggling for two meals a day. Unless relief is extended to them, we may witness starvation deaths in these communities,” he said in the letter. He suggested providing ₹5,000 and a food ration kit to each family.

(This is the first in a three-part series on the struggles of communities that have fallen through the cracks in the Karnataka government’s health machinery)

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