Development and Tribal Women of Odisha

Mishra, Subrata

Introduction Educational status of Tribal women
Development Process and the Tribal Rights Health status of Tribal Women
Social Status of Tribal Women Conclusion

1. Introduction
    Odisha occupies a special position in the tribal map of India. The state has the third highest tribal population in the country, and the tribals constitute 23% of the total population of the state. There are 62 tribal communities in Odisha out of which 13 communities are declared as primitive tribes. The districts of Mayurbhanj, Sundargarh, Koraput, Rayagada, Nawarangpur, Malkanagiri and Parts of Balasore, Keonjhar, Sambalpur, Gajapati, Ganjam, Kalahandi and Phulbani are declared as 'Scheduled Areas” under Article 244 (Fifth Schedule) of the Constitution of India.

    The tribal communities speak different languages, but not all tribal languages have their own written scripts. Of late for some tribal languages like Kui, one finds written scripts being developed 
The tribal communities largely depend on agriculture, forest based productive activities, animal herding, rural crafts etc for their livelihood. It is important to note that the tribal woman play a major role in the tribal economy as they work in the fields of agriculture, take care of animals, collect forest produce and design/create rural crafts besides managing household chores. Many tribal communities practice shifting cultivation or Podu, where tribal women play even a more important role.

2. Development Process and the Tribal Rights

    It is significant to note that the 'community-based' life had been the hallmark of tribal communities. Resources like land, water and forests were traditionally, held by the entire community. Everybody, men and women, had equal access to such resources. But things began to change when such common accessible resources were begun to be alienated from the tribal communities. The onslaught of the modern development process on their otherwise calm and serene environment in the name of industrialization, urbanization and modernization has disturbed the traditional tribal society, which has aggravated since the nineties of the last century in the new economic regime of globalization, liberalization and privatization (Debarajan, 2011). The development projects at various points of time have uprooted large number of people from their home and hearth. Many of these displacements have taken place through forced land acquisition with the help of the colonial Land Acquisition Act of 1894 (Sahoo, 2011). For the people so displaced, rehabilitation was never undertaken to the satisfaction of the displaced people. The inadequacy in the colonial Act being perceived as the reason, to replace this Act with a more comprehensive Act has recently been proposed, and accordingly, The Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2011 has been introduced, which, however, awaits to be passed by the Parliament. It is therefore not uncommon to find a number of people’s movements (Mishra, 2011) raising their heads against such development projects and the people of the affected area refuse to move (Nigam, 2011; Behera, 2011). Interestingly in such movements, the women participate in large number along with their men folk. This is because the displacement is perceived by women as more adverse to them as their familiar sphere of activities breaks down adversely affecting their role in effective rearing of the family that they are entrusted with. Further, unlike the men folk, it becomes difficult for women to go and find work at distant places with children and household burden.

    Tribal livelihood, lifestyle and culture being closely interwined with the natural resources such as land, forests and water, tribal's access to resources is important. In the tribal areas, the tribals usually do not have Patta that is Record of Rights (ROR). This sometimes creates problems to get compensation. Moreover, even when compensation, rehabilitation and resettlement assistance is considered due to land acquisition, women remain at the receiving end. Usually as the representative of the family the male members receive all the benefits. Women as productive individuals in their own right remain in the background.

    It is also to be noted that with the movement of non tribals, be they are peasants, traders, businessmen, companies or any other categories of aliens, the tribal rights to basic resources such as land, forest and water are seriously eroded. Needless to say with industrial and mining activities in the tribal areas, which ostensibly claimed as happening for the development of the tribal area, leave the tribal people more impoverished. Not surprisingly, the tribals, therefore, are usually described as victims and refugees of development.

2.1 Impact on tribal women
    Tribal communities as they live in and around the forests usually are known as forest dwellers. They also largely depend on forest based economic activities. Tribal women play an important role in forest based productive activities. But, the development processes in the tribal areas, particularly in the regime of liberalization, globalization and privatization, have resulted in large-scale deforestation (Bharathi, 2012). The tribal areas in Odisha are no exceptions. As the tribal women play a significant role in the tribal economy, and contribute to sustain the family by working in forest resource based activities, such deforestation has caused their loss of access to livelihood and sustenance, overtime. The activities like taking animal for grazing in forest, and collection of fuel and fodder from forest, which largely require women engagement, have been seriously affected due to deforestation. Due to the deforestation and mining work, water resources in and around the forests and hills are found to be drying up or polluted, thus compelling women, to walk long distances to fetch water for their household consumption. We find these phenomena more or less in many parts of Odisha such as Rayagada, Kalahandi, Sundargarh, Sambalpur, Malkangiri, Nuapada etc.

3. Social Status of Tribal Women
    Socially tribal women have a specific image (Singh and Rayalakshmi, 1993). There is no child marriage, no stigma on widowhood. They have right to decide about their marriage etc. Instead of dowry there is usually the custom of bride price. Tribal women can divorce and remarry easily. They have economic independence to a great extent as family economy depends on their contribution. But there are some negative aspects to the status of the tribal women like the tribal women do not have property rights except in matrilineal communities, they cannot hold the office of priest, they can not touch the plough, they can not participate in ancestor worship. However, certain taboos prevail during certain periods and ceremonies, which may vary from tribe to tribe.

4. Educational status of Tribal women
    The educational status of the tribal women also is hardly encouraging. Tribal women's literacy rate is low, which is less than 30%. A historical account of the Government School programs in Scheduled Tribe area shows that there are some major programs of the government to enroll tribals. (Mishra, 2010; Pradhan,2010) These are the Non Formal Education (NFE), District Primary Education program (DPEP) and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA). The Govt. of Odisha has established special schools like Sevashrams and Kanyashrams for tribal children. Studies made in Mayurbhanj, Phulbani and Keonjhar districts show various problems relating to tribal education. Enrolment and dropout rates are related to distance and geographical barrier like difficult terrain and water bodies , which has a laid back effect on the girls to access the school. Very few schools have boarding facilities for girls. Further there is a mismatch between the life style of the tribal groups and the demands of the conventional school system. It may be noted that the culture, socio-economic condition of the individual family, village, and district play a significant role in the development of education, which unfortunately, in tribal areas, is not paid adequate attention. Due to all these reasons tribal girls either fail to enroll or dropout. (Barma, 2012) Further, even if Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act. 1996 has given wide-ranging powers to the tribals through Gram Sabhas to take decisions for the development of their community, the studies reveal that the impact of the Act on tribal education has hardly been significant (Devi and Mahesh, 2011). Another important factor relating to the education of tribal groups is the question of language. Language is a powerful symbol of identity. Government policies and official documents as early as 1950s have advocated that primary education be imparted in the mother tongue to children belonging to the linguistic minority groups. The Dhebar Commission in early 1960s and the Kothari Commission in 1966 highlighted the importance of language in the schooling of tribal children and had advocated for the tribal language to be the medium of instruction in the first years of School. This was again echoed by the National Policy on Education (NPE) 1986. Recommendations have been made by different Commissions to prepare textbooks in tribal languages and recruit teachers familiar with the spoken tongue. But the steps towards this have been quite slow. Needless to say, this has affected the tribals’access to education. All these problems taken together have negatively affected education of tribal women as well.

5. Health status of Tribal Women
    Health is a prerequisite for human development and is an essential component for the well being of the mankind. The health problems of any community are influenced by interplay of various factors such as social, economic and cultural. The Customs, practices, beliefs related to health and disease in turn influence the health seeking behavior of the community. Odisha Health Strategy 2003 has advocated for improving health status of tribal population by reducing mortality and morbidity. It indicates that the tribal people suffer from malaria, sexually transmitted diseases, tuberculosis, sickle cell anemia and nutritional deficiency diseases. High incidence of malnutrition is documented in the tribal districts of Odisha. Health problems relating to mortality rate, maternal mortality rate, infant mortality rate, malnutrition, chronic energy deficiency are high among the primitive tribes of Odisha.( ICMR, 2003) The average number of pregnancies and maternal mortality are high among these people. Malnutrition, under nourishment and crude birth practices lead to maternal mortality, which indicate the low health status of the tribal women.

6. Conclusion
    The United Nations had declared 1993 as the International year of the indigenous peoples. There are many studies on tribal Communities but very few studies focus on tribal women. There is a need for more micro studies, which can fill the information gap about variations existing among tribal women from one region to another and one tribal community to another. In this context, it is important to generate more studies on the tribal women of Odisha. 


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