Mutthiya sits with his back resting on a wall of a house; a lock dangles on its door. Out of forty two houses, only four of the doors remain unlocked in this Chenchu penta(the colony is known as penta). The entire village has migrated in the search of employment to the towns… left behind are the likes of Mutthiya, who are old and cannot toil hard. He occasionally goes in the nearby forests (forest seem an overstatement) to collect honey and sells it at the nearest town Devarkonda. Chinamma, an old lady in her fifties collects groundnuts and earns Rs 10 per day. There are many such old men women in the penta who live for pittance as most of them do not get the old age pension that they are entitled to.
Chenchus are the hunting tribes who once dwelled in the forests of Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. With the cities swallowing up the forests and their lands being washed away by mighty dams, Chenchus have relocated themselves or have been ‘rehabilitated’ In other parts of the land. As is the case with this Chenchu group, their colony was gifted to them in exchange of the forests that Nagarjunasagar dam drowned in 1967
It has been almost forty years and Chenchus are yet to merge in the mainstream mode of life. The colony or penta as it is popularly known is located around 50 kms from Devarkonda, other adjoining town includes Timapur. 9866163824 , a phone number is written with charcoal on a wall facing Deenamma’s home, it is the phone number of a doctor residing in Timapur. The penta doesn’t have a primary health centre.
Deenamma has called up this number many times as she has a new born baby girl, due to this reason her husband has chosen not to work far away from their penta. The number comes handy as Doctor is just a phone call away, Thanks to the nokia set! Most of the Chenchus own mobile phones…the road connectivity may be poor but the tele connectivity is excellent!
Not just mobile sets, one could spot a dish antenna on the roof top of two shut houses. I wondered if the house had a TV set. It is amazing to witness the paradox… A one room house, where a bedroom, kitchen, living room, guest room (all kind of fancy rooms we love to have in our homes) is crammed up, also has a space for a TV set. A more intriguing question is the fact that how one does manages it? Is it through collecting honey, killing rabbits, porcupines, working in fields or through sweating at the construction sites in the urban centres? Chenchus are hard working people. Employment card elude most of these hard working Chenchus …. Other people have it … certainly on the name of Chenchus folks!
It is relatively easy to con the tribals are as the literacy levels are depressingly low. The Chenchu penta had one dilapidated room in the name of a primary school. Around 30 to 35 children in the age group of 5 to 13 who should be ideally going to a primary school actually accompany their parents where they migrate in search of work. Whoever are left are lucky to have more holidays than working days as the teacher visits once in four days in the so called primary school which is deprived of the primary facilities!
The issues are numerous but Chenchus are not an organised tribe unlike the other tribal communities such as the lambadas. Their political representation is nil and the population is also declining soon… thus a vanishing tribe. E.V.L.Narayana , President of Green Cross, an NGO based in Devarkonda says “ Chenchus are lean , thin and usually malnourished. One of the reasons is the rampant arrack consumption. The immunity levels are very low as Chenchus marry within their community only and the life span is usually up to 45 to 50 years”.
There are programs like Integrated Tribal Development Agency ITDA initiated by the government that are functional in various places such as Mehboobnagar ands Srisailam. The program constitutes of community and women's development, health and education, natural resources development, credit and marketing support and project management support, including monitoring and evaluation. The Tribal Welfare Department had the overall responsibility for project implementation, with the commissioner for tribal welfare as the project coordinator. Project activities are implemented through the regular ITDA channels which includes local NGOs. Atleast the government has provided each home with a medical kit. Whether they have been briefed about its usage is altogether a different story that we couldn’t explore.
For long life … Chenchus believe in God! Apart from calling the Timapur Doctor occasionally, and using/or not using the medical kit Deenamma invokes God to ensure a healthy life for her family. She recently converted to Christianity along with the entire penta. Now every house has a holy cross enshrined on its outer wall. Few weeks back a lady from another Chenchu penta had visited this penta and had facilitated conversion to Christianity. Muthhiya says that he has stopped drinking arrack as he had taken oath in the name of Jesus Christ! Amen!