In the hills of Jharkhand reside the ancient tribe called the Sauria Paharias (hill dwellers). This Scheduled Tribe, considered as one of the oldest dwellers of the Santhal Pragana division – a largely tribal-dominated area of the state. They largely keep away from mainstream population and depend on agriculture, which they produce by clearing small patches of forest during the monsoons. For the rest of the months, they sustain themselves by sourcing and selling forest produce like sal leaves, mahua flowers, kokum, honey etc in the local markets. But the loss of habitat due to shrinking forest cover due to external intervention and so-called ‘development’ , the Sauria Paharia tribe’s population is on a steady, unfortunate decline. According the 2001 census, the tribe’s population was 61,121 but it steadily declined to 46,222 over the next decade. One of the prime reasons for the decline had been the scarcity of water in the region – both for sustained agriculture and for consumption.
While the government had perhaps forgotten the various provisions to make clean, drinking water accessible under schemes such as Accelerated Rural Water Supply Programme, the resilience of this ancient tribe shone through in these crises. Together with the Badlao Foundation, the community has learned and harnessed the concept of rainwater harvesting to put an end to the perpetual water shortage. Today the community can articulate the process of rainwater harvesting like experts. “The water collected through this process is used for rearing fish and vegetable farming,” says Chandra Dev Paharia, a resident of Sundar Paharia in Godda district of Santhal Pragana.
Acute scarcity of water in the region meant that agriculture was never a trusted source of livelihood for the tribe earlier. “Back in the days, it was very difficult for people to practice agriculture in this region. Even after toiling for months, there wasn’t enough food to eat,” says Chandra Dev Paharia, a resident of Sundar Paharia in Godda district of Santhal Pragana. Due to the unavailability of clean drinking water, the tribe was previously dependent on seasonal waterfalls for drinking water and other needs, which also a reason for the rapid decline in the tribe’s population. “We refer to this as drinking water, only because the community consumes it. But in reality, this water is not potable,” Chandra confesses.
The foundation has been working with the community to address the water crisis of the area since 1991. Along with rainwater harvesting, the foundation also installed check dams on the slopes to hold the rainwater and the seasonal waterfalls with the support of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. The results were surprising. While before the solutions were in place, 11 acres of Paharia land was barren. But today, the same area is cultivated twice a year.
Today, more than 100 farmers across eight villages of the region have successfully started rainwater harvesting. But as one issue gets solved, a new one has cropped up. ‘Development’ is here to bulldoze their lives once again. A 1600 megawatt thermal power plant by Adani Power is being laid out in Godda despite the protests from residents. The land acquisition of farmers’ lands have already started. Who knows where they will be displaced by this ‘development’?