AYUSH-Isha Baseline Survey – Some Observations of an Isha Resident
On October 26, 2010, I was in the orientation program for doing a baseline survey being conducted at the Sannidhi in Namakkal. Dr.Krishnamurthy introduced the project – AYUSH-Isha – to the entire group. Mr. Johnson of Swasti Group, Madurai explained the household survey questionnaire.
Upon conclusion of the training program, we left for Kolli Hills that night.
The following day, we conducted a Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) in the village of Pungampatti. Mr.Samudhiram, who has many years of experience working in the NGO SPEECH, was the team leader.
Over the next three days, I was part of three PRAs conducted in the villages of Oorpuram, Aripalapatti and Melkalingampatti. Save for the last PRA session, our team did not find it difficult to mobilize people for carrying out the process.
Generally, the responses from all four villages were similar and the paragraphs that follow capture the crux of the general observations made:
Life in the Kolli Hills Today
Till a few years ago, the tribal diet constituted nourishing ragi, samai and thenai – traditional cereals grown on farms. But today, they eat only rice since the government has set the price of rice at Re 1.00/Kg. So the grain is procured from the ration shop. Tribal health has whittled down after this started.
Ploughing the Land
In recent years, there has been a simultaneous increase in agriculture and population. Most forests have been cut down to make place for homes and cultivable lands. Earlier, a range of crops were grown but today, it is almost entirely cash crops. Pertinently, not a single home has a vegetable garden except for a few creepers that grow unattended. Most homes cannot afford to buy vegetables and do not therefore include them in their daily diet.
Keeping and Tending Animals
Even 10 years ago, each family had about 10 cows and 20 to 30 goats. Today, only a few houses keep livestock. Even if they do, it is only two cows. People are growing hens for sale. So they hatch the egg, grow the chick and sell it to the butcher. Nobody eats eggs any longer.
Likewise, pigs are kept in many homes in shabby conditions. Pork is served and eaten on special occasions. No milk is available and people do not wish to spend money to buy milk from dairies and co-operative societies.
Away from Home
Consequent to intermittent, sparse rainfall and dry spells, agriculture has not been able to sustain families year round. In most families, two male members migrate to Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and other parts of Tamil Nadu to work in textile mills, coffee estates and construction sites.
Health is fragile and vulnerable. Most individuals fall sick regularly. Lately, fever, cold and headache are common ailments in every village and many villagers suffer from jaundice, diabetes, heart attack and hypertension.
Most complained of severe toothache and other dental troubles. Upon deeper questioning, we were told that AIDS and other venereal diseases are increasing by the day.
Treating and Healing
The Hills are rich in medicinal herbs but ironically, the tribals prefer to go to the government and private hospital for allopathic treatment. The practice of the traditional healer is of the time of their forefathers. The times have changed and today all take to allopathy.
Bound But Not Quite Bound by Marriage
Earlier, girls were married by the time they were 13 and men by the age of 18. But now, people are aware that it is an offence to get married before 18. So they wait till the appropriate age.
Where there was no dowry in the past, today there is. Gold is offered but it is not termed as dowry. Rather, giving gold is seen as a status symbol. The family of the bridegroom bears the marriage costs and there is feasting in the village for three days.
Promiscuity is quite common. In such instances, women pay back the money spent on the wedding to the husband and move in with a new partner.
Previously, families had 12 to 14 children. Now, because of government pressure and the economic situation, the largest families have no more than three children. Most individuals have undergone sterilization. Though the villagers said that they do not favor a male child, it was more than apparent that the birth of a boy is considered a blessing as against that of a girl.
The tribals seem to have understood the importance of education. Their children now go to government schools and some to the English medium private schools.
Religion in a Day
The villagers are mostly orthodox and have no clear cut idea of religious practices. At the same time they are very religious, to use a term. All of the religious festivals are celebrated.
For instance, if a patient remains sick even after treatment from the private hospital, they think it is because the patient is impious and take the sickness to be the wrath of God. They then take the sick person to the temple or to a traditional healer for treatment. The whole family prays and adheres to a pattern of eating that is without salt or oil.
The villagers are quite happy with the government schemes. Under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), they have the 100 day employment scheme. They are now able to get rice and other provisions from the ration shop at minimum price.
Also, the 108 ambulance service of the government is available to all. With just a phone call, the ambulance travels to the most distant village in the Hills.
Habits and Health
Wearing footwear is rare. Children and adults walk barefoot in the slush and mud because of which they get skin ailments. Despite this, habits have not improved. It was quite a sight to see small children playing in the mud unmindful of the stench and filth around.
There are no toilets around. In some villages, the government has constructed toilets which are now used as godowns.
Among men, heavy use of alcohol and tobacco has been documented. Alcohol consumption is also prevalent among women, but this information was not readily available.
As for drinking water, all the waste and garbage seems to overflow into the village wells and it is this water which is being used by the people for drinking and cooking purposes.
A Lost Life, Looking Down the Road
To conclude, given the poor, degenerate, fragile life and health of the community at Kolli Hills, the AYUSH-Isha intervention at this juncture, is important. Most have forgotten their traditional medicine. They take pride in saying ‘Just a walk in the hills will cure any ailment because the herbs will touch your skin and the air you breathe can cure you.’
But sadly, nobody seems to take a walk in the hills anymore and most are apparently only looking down the road to the private hospital at Namakkal.