They abandoned their original settlements in Chhattisgarh to escape the tyranny of the armed forces and the Naxals.

Photo Essay The Gotte Koya tribes search for a settlement to survive in Telangana Kunja Laxmi lights a kerosene lamp in her kitchen. There is no electricity in her village.
Delve Tribal issues Monday, August 06, 2018 - 12:43
Written by  Rohit Jain

Rayanpeta, a village situated amidst the lush green forest reserve of Bhadradri Kothagudam district in Telangana, has 16 households of internally displaced persons (IDP) belonging to the Gotte Koya tribe. Reserved forest areas are traditionally preferred places of settlement for tribal people. At first sight, the village gives a sense of calm. But when one understands the daily life of people, their everyday struggle to survive emerges.

This group of the Gotte Koya tribe was forced to migrate around 1998 from the Pamed village of Bijapur district in Chhattisgarh, bordering Telangana (then Andhra Pradesh), when killings between the armed forces and Naxals were high. The state police charged these villagers as Naxal accomplices.

They walked hundreds of kilometres through forests with their children and personal belongings in search of a new place. Finally, having noticed a small source of water nearby, they settled in Rayanpeta. However, this water source is also drying up now.

Sunny Badse with her children Mahesh (L) and Sunita at her home, in village Rayanpeta.

Guddi draws water from well while other women clean dishes.

This is the only well for drinking water and cooking, which almost dried up in the summer. Villagers have dug another well themselves in the outskirts of the village, which is now used only for bathing and washing clothes as the water is not potable.

A woman washes clothes at newly dug well.

Youth from the tribe take bath under a railway water pipeline at the near the Manuguru railway station.

While the men usually take a bath at the railway line, while women take bath here in the evening, when it is dark.

Admaya, Budra, Somdu, Nanda and Ungi return from work, while a girl fetched water from the well in the evening.

“Villagers are living in darkness without electricity and water, trying hard to cope with life. They work in nearby farms and at construction sites as daily-wage labourers. Thanks to their struggle, two of their boys are studying at the Industrial Training Institute and one of the girls got admitted to the University of Delhi this year,” says Shravanthi Shivram of Step Up, a non-profit organization which has made attempts to reach out to the communities to identify their key problems.

“The government is not providing any resources like water and electricity because they live in reserved forests. In fact, they fear that if villagers get electricity and water, it will invite more migrants into reserved forests,” says an official of Manuguru railway station. Manuguru is the nearest block-level town from Rayanpeta.

Devi Gundi at her house.

Devi Gundi studies in class six in Telangana government’s Ashram School for girls from scheduled tribe communities. She aspires to be a Telugu language teacher.

Anushka Badse picks chilies from a farm in nearby Gopalapuram village.

Anushka studies in class 12. She says, “I want to do a regular job, but I don’t know what subject to study or get training for a job.” She works in a chilli farm along with her parents, and each of them earn Rs 150 per day.

Kunja Shankar on a palm tree in nearby Mittagudem village, which the people here call ‘taad’. He is peeling off the branches to release a liquid called ‘taadi’.

Shankar, the father of the girl who got admitted to the University of Delhi, collects taadi from three trees. He keeps the taadi from two of the trees and gives the rest to the owner of the trees. Shankar has fixed buyers of taadi from the towns around, and sells a litre of for Rs 100.

Anita Gundi chafes rice before cooking them.

Anita studies in class 5. She lives along with her two elder siblings as her parents passed away. She says, “I won’t study much as I need to look after my home.”

Mahesh gets his hair cut from his friend Pawan.

Fear always hovers in the minds of villagers as forest officials can evict them from the reserved forest any time, as it has happened with other Gotte Koya tribe members settled in other areas of Telangana.

Ramesh Gundi with his fresh catchment of fish from nearby pond.

Ramesh Gundi smokes the fish after removing its viscera to preserve it for longer period.

A retired forest official says, “The government is aware that there is migration happening and it is also known that these people possibly cannot live in a reserved forest. Internal migration is legal. A citizen can go anywhere in India and reside over there. Shouldn’t the government take a step to provide them with a piece of revenue land?”

He further added, “Finding them a suitable place to live is a big challenge and as long as we don't respect their cultural requirements, we are bound to fail and this has been proven time and again. Also, we must ensure that they are located close to their work places, so this would encourage them to continue 'community living', one of the core aspects of the tribal way of life.”

Kunja Laxmi feeds her chicken at her house.

Anganwadi (Integrated Child Development Services) center’s children play around.

“Poor rehabilitation and consequent impoverishment can be identified as the key problems of these communities. A very small population of tribal people reside in Rayanpeta. That’s why we might not be able to understand the severity of their problem. Once the water resource in their village become scarce, or forest officials object to them staying in a reserved forest, where they will go?” asks Shravanthi.

Rohit Jain is an Independent Social Documentary Photographer based in New Delhi. His work focuses on human and life development stories. Previously he has worked with Hindustan Times.

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