Leave No ‘Oraon’ Behind
The Oraon are a tribal group who live in the Chota Nagpur Plateau region of Jharkhand. They are also known as the “Kurukh” people and fall under the category of Scheduled Tribes (STs). The Oraon community follows the Sarna dharma (nature worshippers) their villages have ‘Sarna Sthal’ or a religious site planted with holy Sal and other trees[i]. The tribal group lives in an extremely remote area in Jharkhand and depends on agriculture for their livelihood.
The ‘100 Hotspots: Snapshot of socially excluded and vulnerable population groups and SDGs in India’[ii] collaborated with Lok Prerna Kendra (LPK), Jharkhand[iii] to gather community data of the Oraon community. The LPK led by Mr. Filman Baxla has been working with the Oraon tribe for almost 20 years. The 100 Hotspots gathered data from 100 households in the Oraon Tribal group in 2020 through community volunteers to assess the status of SDGs in the community.
According to Filman, the community still lacks access to basic services like health and education. Many in the community depend on witchcraft/traditional healing - Jhad Phook - for medical purposes. The nearest hospital is located 15 km away from their habitation. Though the nearest Sub-Centre is about 3 km away, the absence of proper road infrastructure, transport facilities, lack of electricity in the centre and limited services available in public health centres force community members to travel long distances and seek healthcare in private establishments. The annual out-of-pocket expenditure (OOPE) on the health of the Oraon family at Rs. 19,283 is higher than the national average of Rs. 12,336.
Their access to education also remains poor with only one primary school in the village. With the nearest high school at 7 km away from their habitation, there is limited access to even secondary education. Poor literacy rate, a continuing burden of being unable to attend schools and growing privatization of education poses a danger of further pushing children from vulnerable communities, such as the Oraon tribe, out of school.
While the government has claimed to improve sanitation facilities across the country through the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM)[iv], only 3% of the study respondents from the Oraon community reported having individual household toilets. They also do not have access to safe drinking water; 27% of the community members reported drinking water from unsafe sources where the water has been tested to have excessive iron. The lack of safe drinking water makes them vulnerable to diseases and infections.
In the digital era, electricity coverage within the Oraon community is particularly low. With no legal electricity connections and frequent power cuts, community members reported that even their nearest health facility doesn’t have access to electricity. Almost all the households in the study, lived in kutcha houses (houses made of bamboo, mud, grass, reed, stones, thatch, straw, leaves and unburnt bricks). Residing in remote, interior forest areas, they are far removed from the benefits of government housing schemes.
The COVID-19 pandemic and nationwide lockdown severely affected the livelihoods of the Oraon tribe. With information pertaining to COVID-19 and precautionary measures not readily available for community members, many did not wear masks or observe COVID-appropriate behavior, making them vulnerable to transmission and infection. Further, due to the sudden lockdown imposed in 2020, markets were closed and community members were unable to purchase daily items for their households. The first few months of the lockdown also saw unavailability of ration for community members, adversely impacting their food security.
Many members of the Oraon tribe work as agricultural laborers or construction workers and were unable to secure any work during the lockdown. With most community members earning irregular wages, Oraon households saw a huge decline in their income due to the lack of work. While the situation slowly improved later in 2020, the sudden spike in COVID cases in 2021 and the possibility of lockdowns, unemployment looms large before them.
According to Filman’s observation, while government officials have undertaken surveys of the Oraon tribe, these have not translated into policy-level interventions or better access to basic services, resulting in the tribe becoming skeptical to reveal information. Community members are always suspicious of external people coming to collect data and are not always willing to answer their questions. He believes that a community-based approach to data collection will provide more authentic data. The 100 Hotspots study revealed that development indicators vary widely across different communities in the country and reinforces the necessity of disaggregated data at the community level as the basis for making policies for vulnerable communities.
As per the community members, their key concerns were better access to quality healthcare, education, employment opportunities and electricity supply. Increasing access to public healthcare and decreasing the OOPE borne by them was a paramount goal. A major issue highlighted was the need to improve the quality of schools present in the villages as well as ensure provision of higher education facilities within/close to the community habitation. Given their remote location, better road infrastructure and transport facilities are necessary to ensure access to basic facilities.
It is important for the government at all levels to recognize the specific challenges and needs of vulnerable communities, and create community-centric mechanisms to address their challenges. The LNOB principle embedded in the SDGs provide an important framework to focus on equitable development in favor of the most marginalized and vulnerable communities. The COVID-19 pandemic has deepened the vulnerabilities and inequalities and makes it imperative to have a focus on vulnerable communities to address the challenges of the pandemic and build forward better.
[ii]The 100 Hotspots is an initiative by Wada Na Todo Abhiyan (WNTA) to increase focus on the development of vulnerable communities and amplify their voice and narratives. It uses the Leave No One Behind (LNOB) principle in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to assess vulnerable communities and their progress in a holistic and intersectional manner. The project partners with local community organisations to gather disaggregated community driven data to build evidence and advocacy for greater inclusion of the communities. Initiated in 2018, the project has worked with 35 communities, the single women, being one of them.
[iii] Lok Prerna Kendra (LPK) has been working for the tribal community for almost 2 decades. LPK runs a community health centre and a school for tribal children in Chitra District, Jharkhand. The health centre provides free and accessible health services to the tribal community. [iv] https://swachhbharatmission.gov.in/sbmcms/index.htm
This blog is co-authored by Lok Prerna Kendra (LPK) & Wada Na Todo Abhiyan (WNTA)