Karma tribal dance performers struggle to survive confronting social inequity and administrative apathy
Today ‘Karma dance’ is popular in the entire world but the performers are languishing in penury and their identities are at stake. If we turn back to the history then we see that in November 1986, these dancers performed in front of President at ‘Apna Mahotsav’ held in New Delhi. Even they were honoured and invited in a dinner hosted by the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi, the present UPA Chairperson at Teen Murti House on November 24, 1986. Later on, from 7th to 24th 1989, in Mumbai, there tribal dancers performed in the presence of Late Shri Rajiv Gandhi. In 2001-2002, 16 performers participated in Island Festival held at Andaman Nicobar Islands. Karma tribal dance performers belong to Ghasia tribe have no land, not home and not even safe source of drinking water. But they have the skill and had inherited the rich legacy of ‘Karma dance’.
These performers are facing virtual extinction due to poverty and administrative apathy. The insensate and corrupt-ridden administration has failed to lend its helping hand in linking up these ‘special artistes’ to welfare programmes and schemes, consequently Ghasia tribe had to confront economic hardship. In the name of granting ‘cultural programmes’ to the tribe, the dominant in the society in collusion with officials in the district officials want to extract undue favour from the Ghasia tribe as they wanted to satiate their carnal desire and had tempting eyes towards their women. It pricked their conscience and the tribe was not prepared to compromise with women’s dignity in lieu of few programmes. Ghasia tribe was forced to live in the rocky and undulated Raup village in Sonebhadra district of Uttar Pradesh. Karma dance facing administrative callousness, the tribal performers were forced to toil hard, pull rickshaw and dance in the marriages for earning their livelihood.
Pushed to economic deprivation, the Ghasia tribe living in Raup village were somehow eking out their living but between July and September 2003, within 3 months, there was heart wrenching incident when 18 children between the age of 3 and 7 years died of hunger and malnutrition. Post to hunger deaths, the local district officials’ callousness was at the extreme showing their apathy and ignorance about the incident even after newspapers prominently covering the hunger deaths depicting tribe’s abysmal condition. Seeing the news reports, People’s Vigilance Committee for Human Rights (PVCHR) intervened and a team talked to the villagers and developed a fact finding report.
The report is quite startling jolting everyone’s sensibilities. Children of the artistes endowed with the rich legacy of rare and exceptional folk culture ‘karma dance’ are dying of hunger and their families are on the verge of starvation. Coupled with that feudal thinking, arm-flexing politicians, anti-people reactionary forces had ganged up with the police to harass them and brand them as ‘Naxalite informers’. Police had unleashed a reign of terror by sexually assaulting the Ghasia women. Peeved by police repression, the Ghasia tribes protested and then the police retaliated by entering their homes in dark night and tried to silence children, elderly people and pregnant women by kicking them with their heavy boots. Many of the men arms and limbs were broken and are still incapacitated. Now they are eking their existence by begging at the streets. Intermittently, many of the youths from the Ghasia ghetto were falsely implicated and pushed behind the bars and to get them released in bail and for the bail amount they have to take loans. Loans were taken by mortgaging their ration cards to the money lenders, who showed their dominance by wielding stronger clout and charging heavy interest from the families of Ghasia youth. It pushed them further to deprivation and destitute.
Then, PVCHR organised the basti dwellers and initiated a process so that the justice should be delivered to them. PVCHR in collaboration with Care House Foundation, Indian orgin Sweden resident Parul Sharma had planted 100 saplings of drumsticks in Raup village to tide over infant and maternal mortalities. PVCHR had even petitioned NHRC on the problems confronting the Ghasia tribe. In its follow up, villagers staged protest ‘dharna’ at the district headquarter.
NHRC issued notice to the Uttar Pradesh Government for initiating action on the long-standing demands of the Ghasia tribe and asked the State Government to keep them posted with the development within a week. Then, the district administration was thrown from its slumber and was back in action. Then they pressurised the basti dwellers to downplay the deaths of the children not due to hunger but out of any disease. Even they were threatened of eviction if they didn’t submit and change their version of children’s death Facing official apathy and highhandedness, a cycle rally was organised to mark the death of the children’s starvation deaths as martyrdom, which commenced on 7th December from Kavardih (Nogarh), Chandauli. It culminated at Raup Ghasia basti on 10th December, which is Human Rights Day. The cycle rally was able to draw the attention of the district administration. In the district headquarter at Varanasi a memorandum signed by 300 people were submitted with a charter of demand.
The demands are as follows:
1) Families living in Ghasia basti be issued Below the Poverty Line (BPL) ration cards
2) Ensure employment to the basti dwellers
3) Stop evicting the Ghasia basti dwellers
4) Children till 14 years should be given and nutritious food
5) Anganwadi should be immediately opened in the basti
6) Agricultural land should be distributed to the landless villagers.
It mounted some pressure on the district administration and then administrated distributed some food grains and relief material but failed in providing sustainable livelihood. Seeing the office apathy, PVCHR sent the charter of demand to NHRC. PVCHR has been arduously trying to bring to the fore the deplorable conditions of the artistes and save the rare and exceptional culture. PVCHR had been successful in garnering support and people have extended support in the form of distribution of blankets, mosquito nets, rickshaws, goat, bands etc. But it’s quite pathetic that folk performers had to pick up shovel, spade etc to work for Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) scheme. They didn’t get a job under MNREGA and till now they have not got a job. Seeing the deaths due to fatal disease resulting out of impoverished conditions, PVCHR at its own level had organised health camps and health awareness programmes. In collaboration with New Delhi based Goonj, PVCHR distributed woollen materials and clothes to 306 children and adults living in Raup village.
To impart education to the children of the basti, PVCHR on August 2006 opened Jan Mitra Kendra (People Friendly Centre) in a room and started the school. 2 teachers have been appointed. After that, a school building was built and swings were installed so that children could play. Bal Panchayats (Children councils) were organised to bolster confidence. PVCHR’s initiative and regular advocacy helped in opening Anganwadi Kendra occupying a room in the school building. In other section, primary school was opened in 2012 where 62 children are enrolled. The struggle for survival of the traditional karma folk dance artistes still continues in 2012. People living in this basti say that listening to the flow of the streams, feet moved rhythmically and palash (Bengal Kino) blossoming in the mountain creates lyrics in the lips. Sometimes hubbub created in the atmosphere burst with the female voice singing ‘Mayi re aaiha sajaley rasiya’ which echoed the mountainous region.
But the present hapless and miserable plight abounding the Ghasia tribe the song has changed into ‘Raja soye lal palang, babu bhaiya khatia, garib soye khodo puhal’ Police and district administration is responsible for the miserable plight of the Ghasia tribe, who had been assiduously trying to evict them and even snatching the source of livelihood from them. If any of the youth gets a private job then the police create hindrances and are shunted out of the job. District administration had derogatorily branded the folk artistes as ‘thieves’. Social ostracism and abject poverty had pushed them to penury and deprivation. Both Ghasia women and men are not safe. Fear of women’s modesty being outraged and men’s pushed behind the bars on fabricated cases always looms large. Seeing the police or government vehicles, children hide themselves out of fear. The administration deliberately adopts dual approach with them. On the one side the Government though its website popularises Karma folk dance performers in the world by claiming it to be ‘India’s rich legacy’ .But on the other side the performers are branded as criminals. In this situation how the tribal dance performers would develop that is the point to be probed into?