By Mohammed Shafeeq*
They live close to the town but are miles away from civilization, living in utter poverty and inhuman conditions. They are Chenchus, a primitive tribe, in two villages barely 45 km from this town in the heart of Telangana state.
The majority of the 57 families in Chenchu Colony, a tribal hamlet of Chennapur village, survive on rats, cats, dogs, squirrels and other animals they hunt. Similar are the conditions of 24 families of Bhavusinghpally village.
The fruits of development have not reached the Chenchus, a majority of whom never stepped out of their villages till this week when Telangana assembly Speaker S. Madhusudana Chary brought them to Warangal to take them around. Though this aboriginal tribe mostly lives in the forests of Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Odisha, the two Chenchu villages are located in the plain area.
Their ancestors are believed to have come from deep forests and settled down over a century ago.
Wretchedness is writ large on their faces. With no decent and proper roof available to them, the frail-looking men and women and their children are prone to many ailments. Some work as farm labourers in nearby villages but their earnings are not enough to make both ends meet.
Like all others, Swamy of Chenchu Colony has no count of his age. “I don’t know. It may be 40 to 45,” Swamy told IANS. Working as a part-time labourer, he and his wife earn Rs.250 a month each to look after a family of four.
Swamy was a sarpanch or village head of Chennapur a few years ago.
People in the village say he was made the sarpanch as the post is reserved for a Scheduled Tribe but other people exercised the powers on his behalf.
“We are just carrying on with our lives,” says a dejected Swamy who wears no footwear. The condition of others in the village can be imagined.
The Chenchus feel reluctant to speak to outsiders.
“I don’t know what this tour is all about,” said Bandikoramma as she accompanied her son, daughter-in-law and other family members in the bus which brought them to the town.
“They speak Telugu. But when we go to their village, they hesitate to say anything and also get frightened on seeing outsiders,” said L. Raji Reddy, a former sarpanch who lives in Chennapur.
“They want to continue their traditions. But it is not just their hesitation to accept changes which is responsible for their pathetic conditions. Successive governments have also failed to ensure that development reached them,” said G. Bhaskar, a professor of economics at Kaktiya University, Warangal.
The houses built by the government for them in 2001 were of poor quality and lacked toilets and even doors. Some families send their children to schools in other villages. Swamy’s two children walk four kilometres each day to reach their school.
The village had no cement road or electricity till Madhusudhan Chary, the leader of the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) from Bhupalapally constituency, took the initiative.
“I had promised that I will do my best to improve their condition. I am fulfilling this promise,” Chary told IANS.
After taking over as the speaker in June, he spent money from his salary to distribute rice, clothes, bulbs and fans among Chenchus. He ensured the construction of an anganwadi centre and a road.
He took interest in organizing the tour of the town and showed them historic places like Warangal fort, the thousand pillar temple and the Bhadrakali temple. A Telugu film was screened for them.
Chary is also drawing up plans to provide better source of livelihood for the tribals. “I want to see light in their lives,” said the speaker.
*Mohammed Shafeeq can be contacted at [email protected]