Starvation deaths in Chenchu Adivasi of Nallamala forest, Andhra Pradesh
Chenchus of Nallamala forest are close to starvation. Serious malnutrition has induced malaria and dreaded tuberculosis in the community.
According to statistics, around 41.23 per cent of Chenchu population has been struck by malaria and over 2,000 TB cases detected. Infant morality rate was 215 per thousand as against 80 in the rest of the population. Maternal mortality was seven per thousand as against average of four elsewhere.
Their poor health status is attributed to lack of nutritious diet. While there is no incidence of malaria and TB among other forest dwellers, the diseases were dogging the Chenchu population.
Starvation deaths were detected among Chenchus way back in 1994. On the direction of Centre, the State government constituted a high level committee headed by the Chief Secretary to tackle the problem. But the committee appears to have met last only in 1997. When this correspondent was driving on the ghat roads of Nallamala forest recently, emaciated Chenchu children were seen running after the vehicles carrying pilgrims to Srisailam temple for food or money.
The plight of the Chenchus can be attributed to the poor or half-hearted implementation of the government's guidelines framed in 1994 to help them. For instance, the Antyodaya cards for tribals are expected to ensure that every family gets 35 kg rice at Rs. 3 a kg and 10 kg extra for senior citizens, but only half the families are covered so far.
The 40,000-strong Chenchu tribals, who are spread across six districts, are considered among the poorest of the poor.
It is a losing a battle for them ever since the first law came into force in 1891 reserving the Nallamala forest and seeking to resettle them elsewhere. Since then, the noose around Chenchu necks is tightening year after year.
Income earned from pilgrims in the form of 'metta' (resting place) fee is lost after the motorable road was laid to Srisailam. Chenchus also used to collect a small fee for escorting pilgrims to safety as wild animals and dacoits roamed the forests. In the days of yore, Chenchus were taken care of by the temple.
The confrontation with the forest department intensified after declaration of a tiger reserve on 6,197 sq km covering the entire habitat of Chenchus in the nineties. Rampant alcoholism among the Chechus is partly to blame.
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