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Published: November 26th 2018
Hanu takes us in the jeep to visit some of the local villages. He explains that the villagers are all tribal people from the Adivasis and Garasia tribes. We stop by the river, at a field growing a crop a bit like spinach. Women are filling up steel pots full of water from a hand pump, recently installed by the government. Next to that is a small shrine surrounded by armies of small terracotta horses, mostly about 18 inches tall. The tradition is to bring a horse to the shrine as an offering, with coconut, jaggery and oil, and your wish will come true. Behind the spinach field is one full of female cotton plants. All the flowers on the female plants are hand fertilised to produce seeds for the following year. Early each morning the villagers check which buds are at just the right stage to be fertilised, and put a plastic tag on them. They then collect large needles full of pollen from the male plants in an adjacent field, and inject each flagged female bud. When the seeds are ready they are sold to the government buyers.
There are several small local schools. Hanu tells us the
government incentivises tribal families to send their children to school by providing free flavoured milk mid morning and a free lunch. We stop at one school, where a dozen or so primary children are having lunch. We’re invited into a room which doubles as a classroom and the office, and the children troop back in and sing us a couple of songs. The teacher enjoys photography, so he inspects our cameras with interest and takes a few photos, before we say goodbye.
Next we visit the local shaman, who starts seeing patients from 7am every morning. He chants over a woman, and pours some oil over her head. Hanu tells us he has a good success rate – the power of placebo!
The villages mostly comprise separate homes spread out over a wide area, but we visit one settlement that has a handful of homes clustered together. They’re very basic, made of stones and plastered with clay and cow dung. One main room with a mud floor, with a cooking fire at one end, and a few charpoys at the other end, all with clothes draped over the top to keep them off the floor. Outside, a cow,
some goats and some chickens graze. Through the village, we climb up a little way onto some bare rocks, at the top of which is a shrine surrounded by thousands of terracotta horses. Further on, we stop by a small mud built hut. To our surprise, Hanu tells us it is the village shrine. He gets a boy to open it up for us and we peer inside. Around the walls are small stone panels depicting various gods. When the villagers can afford it, they go a few kilometres into Rajasthan and buy a new carving, which is carried back in a procession, stopping at every home that contributed to its purchase before being installed in the shrine. It is not Hinduism, but an ancient belief system among the tribals, which has some place in it for some of the Hindu gods.
The government has invested heavily in facilities for the tribal people, but with mixed success. The village water pumps are clearly a godsend, but the latrines languish unused (or at least not used for their intended purpose) as is typical throughout rural India. The government have also invested in bore pumps for irrigation, but Hanu thinks there
are probably too many of them and that the water level is gradually falling in consequence.
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