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Mira's Worlds: Delhi and Gumla

Omkar Goswami

 

Mira is a young Christian tribal woman from Jharkhand who lived and worked in our home for the last year and a half. Gentle and waif-like, Mira worked with huge intelligence and a perpetual smile; lived in a private quarter on our roof; had her own toilet and bathroom; was paid well and had everything taken care of, so that her salary became her savings; ate three full meals a day, sharing our food; enjoyed watching cable TV; and had her Sunday off to attend church and spend the day with her friends in Delhi.

For a year and a half, Mira lived in a world that was far removed from where she was born and brought up.

Then came a call from her family. Her brother was very unwell. Mira didn’t know how unwell, except that the local ojha (tribal shaman) wasn’t being able to cure him. Fearing the worst, Mira asked us to relieve her, so that she could take a train as early as possible to be with him and the family. We very reluctantly did; and gave her two months’ salary as a bonus for her to tide over initial costs. Mira left last week.

This is where Mira went to. She lives in a village located in the tehsil of Kamdara, which is a part of the district of Gumla in Jharkhand. To reach her village, she had to take a train to Ranchi; then wait for almost 24 hours at the Ranchi station to take a connecting passenger train to Jharsaguda; get off at the station of Basia; and then walk four hours to her village.

Comprising 1.4 million people, over 68 per cent of whom belong to scheduled tribes, Gumla, according to the 2001 Census, is the 17th poorest district in India. In 2001, only 9 per cent of the households in the district had pucca houses, versus 52 per cent for India as a whole. Just 5 per cent of the households had electricity connections, compared to 56 per cent for India. Over 84 per cent of the households had no toilet in their home, vis--vis an Indian average of 64 per cent. Gumla is in India’s heart of darkness. It is also overrun by Maoists.

The tehsil of Kamdara is much worse. In 2001, less than 5 per cent of its 54,000 households lived in pucca houses; only 4 per cent had electricity connections; 97 per cent of the households had no toilets; 98 per cent had no bathing facilities within their homes; just 14 per cent had a bank or post office account; and less than half a per cent owned a phone or mobile. Kamdara was in the bottom 4 per cent of all tehsils in rural India.

Mira’s kutcha house has no electricity. There is no proper road linking her village to Basia. If her brother needs allopathic medical care — which he certainly will — Mira will have to take him in a cart for over three hours to some quack in Basia who pretends to be a doctor. Most likely, he will be injected God knows what (‘sui’ is a sign of high medicine) and prescribed tablets or purias of spurious drugs. Given that there are just 3 registered medical doctors per 10,000 people in Bihar and Jharkhand, and probably less than 2 per 10,000 in Gumla, the brother’s survival is in grave doubt.

After she goes through the ordeal with her brother, Mira’s father, a hopeless alcoholic, will then force her to get married to some subsistence farmer of the village — most likely a person far less intelligent and capable than she. And, unless she picks up courage to escape back to Delhi, she will sink in a quagmire of malnutrition, ill health and poverty.

So, as we laud 60 years of independence and celebrate the stupendous entrepreneurship of today’s India, spare a thought for Mira. She who was once lucky to escape abject poverty in one of the poorest and forgotten parts of India and make a decent life for herself in Delhi, has been pulled back to her home. To slave, sweat and suffer.

Think of this other India. If we can’t get the fruits of development to Kamdara, believe me a thousand Kamdaras may rise to get us.

Published: Business World, August 2007

 

 

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