‘Drought Duty’ Took These Students to Drought Areas

Drought duty interns

Drought duty interns Sambhavi Narang and Sai Vishwas. Credit: Gaurav Vivek Bhatnagar

New Delhi: The NGO Swaraj Abhiyan decided to connect students in cities with the agrarian distress in drought-affected districts of the country by asking them to stay in the villages and participate in a project called ‘Drought Duty’.

On Thursday, the organisation’s founding member Yogendra Yadav said about 500 students applied for the programme and over a hundred visited affected villages in various states.

Two of the students who had visited villages in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh told The Wire about their experiences.

Sambhavi Narang, pursuing her masters in economics from Jawaharlal Nehru University, spent a week in Jhawar, in the Lalitpur district of Uttar Pradesh. Narang talked how the Kheria tribals she lived with witnessed constant discrimination as they were adivasis. “There was just one well for about 15 families, while the higher castes had seven or eight wells and pumps. Also, while there was no dearth of rations from the public distribution system for the higher caste households in the village, many of the adivasis complained that they did not get any the whole year round. The shop owner said this was because he was not getting supplies for all those named in the list.”

“Likewise,” she said, “the adivasis get jobs but no compensation for months on end.” Pointing to corruption in the anganwadi system as well, Narang said many women complained that they were not getting their entitlements from these centres.

As a consequence of such neglect, many of the tribals are being forced to sell off their meagre holdings. “These are being bought by Rajputs, Punjabis and Yadavs. Many people have also got embroiled in court cases.”

Sai Vishwas from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Hyderabad had similar experiences to narrate from Shankarpur, Sheopur district, Madhya Pradesh. Vishwas, who was in the village from May 25 to June 1, said the drought had triggered distress migration and people had moved out to Jaipur or Ahmedabad for work.

He said water mismanagement and the lack of employment were the major problems in this village. “While some residents had received work and payment about 10 years ago when the MGNREGA scheme was launched in 2006, in the years since that had stopped. The village sarpanch took away their job cards and the villagers insisted that he began giving the jobs to higher caste people, who too were paid only partial amounts.”

The condition of the widows and persons with disability in the villages was also extremely poor in the absence of any support from the government, Vishwas claimed.