“We have no money for food, can you help us?”

Divya Candade

Tribal Naik community member relates their situation

“We have no money for food, can you help us?”

The call came from Bhagat Singh Sastiya a few days after the 25th of March, speaking on behalf of 32 other tribal families in his village. The Naik community in Sakkari village, Ali Rajpur, MP collect fire wood from the forest and sell it in the neighbouring town of Sondwa. Their daily practice is to sell wood and use their earnings to buy provisions for the day’s meal. They are a landless community wholly dependent on this activity for their sustenance. The COVID19 lockdown has crippled their livelihood. Precariously poised, living from day to day, they had no reserves for the situation they found themselves in. Without a ration or Aadhar card, they had no access to the relief and rations being provided by the government. The call was to a field resource person with INREM Foundation, which works with local communities on issues of health and water quality in this Fluoride-affected region. It was a call that got INREM to dive into COVID19 relief work, as the pandemic challenged these vulnerable communities even more, and they needed urgent help.

Houses in this tribal hamlet

With no time to lose, the field team distributed initial supplies to the 32 Naik families, that would help them tide over a few days. Simultaneously, the team started collecting funds to distribute food packages.

Contributions came in quickly, from personal contacts as well as from members of the village. “Village ke kuch youth ne 100 -100 bhi contribute kiya tha”, shares Sachin Vani, District Coordinator, INREM Foundation. Within days, a total of ₹ 7500 was collected, which was used to provide supplies for these families.

Local newspaper report about the community’s plight

The INREM team also contacted the District Command Control Center to bring to government notice the situation of the Naiks in Sakkari village. Newspaper clippings helped increase awareness, and the District Collector ensured that wheat and rice rations were distributed to these families. The INREM team has further provided oil, masalas and dal to supplement their meals, along with supplies like soap, matchsticks and hygiene kits. The Zilla Panchayat has now also initiated the process of getting the members of the Naik community their Aadhar and ration cards.

But the case of Sakkari village just marks the start. The need is not just for distribution of supplies. These communities require access to safe and sufficient drinking water, nutritious food, mechanisms and infrastructure to deal with social distancing, an understanding of isolation requirements, high-risk populations and livelihood security.

As of May 2020, the estimated number of people returning to the tribal districts of Jhabua and Ali Rajpur alone is close to 1 Lakh. INREM field teams are collaborating with other organizations to distribute hygiene kits with masks and soaps, on a priority basis, keeping in mind the high number of people returning home. Across the districts of Ali Rajpur and Jhabua, nutrition and fruit kits are being distributed to vulnerable families and TB patients. Efforts are on to install makeshift taps for sanitization near water sources. In these Fluoride-affected areas, where the ground water has high levels of fluoride, there is a critical need to provide safe drinking water during the summer months.

The stark surroundings of the Naik tribal hamlet

Owing to the nature of its work, INREM Foundation works with vulnerable rural communities in pockets of India that are characterised by issues of water availability and food security. Currently, INREM is operating in 250 villages across 5 districts in Jhabua (Madhya Pradesh), Chikkaballapur (Karnataka), Dungarpur (Rajasthan), Nalgonda (Telangana) and Balasore (Odisha). In each region, the impact of the COVID19 crisis highlights different concerns — health, water scarcity, nutrition, hygiene awareness and livelihoods generation.

Responding to the need of the hour, INREM Foundation is aiming to build local capacities to combat the COVID19 crisis across different landscapes.

The Foundation is running a campaign to gather funds for their COVID19 relief work here http://bit.ly/inremCovidKetto

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