03 Nov 2016  |   05:44am IST

Attack on a tribe, exposes govt callousness

When it happened it was shocking, but the response from the people shows that there is still concern for those who are less fortunate, but the attitude of the administration has been callous.

It was in mid-October that a settlement of the Vanarmare tribe, also called as the makadmare tribe, that has been living in Goa since the colonial period was attacked in Nirankal, which comes under the Bethora panchayat, in Ponda taluka. According to police records, five of the tribe’s 14 huts were completely demolished. This led to the tribal people, including around 40 children, being forced to virtually live on the streets. They were also threatened with dire consequences by the persons who destroyed the huts. A case was filed and one person has been arrested.

The sorry plight of the tribe led to a sustained social media campaign, that the Nirankal villagers said has tarnished their image. The residents of Nirankal, denied their involvement in the demolition of huts, and still maintain that they had no hand in it. The Nirankal villagers, alleging that the attack was the handiwork of persons from outside the village said that an attempt was being made to tarnish their name, nevertheless admitted that they were opposed to the nomadic tribe claiming that the tribe’s people were a threat to children and women, due to their cultural habits and behaviour. They reiterated the same even this week and stated that the gram sabha has in the past twice resolved to clear the huts from the forest area, but pointed out that they have never physically hurt the people from the tribe. The Nirankal villagers seek that either Maharashtra, from where the tribe originally came, or the Goa government rehabilitate the tribe away from the village. 

The incident went viral and the social media campaign and later when the Goa Human Rights Commission (GHRC) stepped into the picture brought the plight of the tribe to people’s homes. People who did not know of the existence of the tribe learnt about it leading to many people from across the State visiting the site attempting to bring some solace to the tribe’s people and offer whatever support they could. While the people acted on their own will, it took the government a little longer to act. The local authorities visited the site only about a fortnight after the incident and that to after the GHRC directed the South Goa Collector to provide the tribe with the basic amenities. This came following a petition seeking justice to the tribe. Under the GHRC order, the South Goa collector has to provide the tribe members with food, water, solar panels for lighting and other necessities until permanent arrangements are made for their rehabilitation. 

According to the petition, the tribe has been living in absolutely primitive conditions with no potable water, no electricity, medical aid for over five decades and is totally dependent on daily wages with no other source of income. The men are paid Rs 150 a day and women Rs 75 a day and with that they make a living. Their traditional occupation of hunting monkeys, as the tribe’s name suggests, was given up long ago as wildlife laws prohibited it. They will now get water, solar panels and a doctor visiting them every week to check on their health, thanks to the GHRC order.

But the government and the local administration has to answer as to why the people of this tribe were made to live in such primitive conditions? That it took an attack on the tribe to bring its plight to fore, speaks volumes of the administration callousness and society’s indifference to what is happening around. This is not a community that arrived in the area overnight and started a settlement. They have been here for a period longer than Goa has been free. Yet, they were not given the basic needs. Why? It’s not just the attack on the tribe that needs to investigated, but also why the tribe’s people were not integrated with the rest of society. That is a question the government needs to answer.

IDhar UDHAR

IDHAR UDHAR