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'No Water or Jobs in Village': Why Palghar's Tribal Women Returned Free Sarees

'Give jobs so we can buy our own sarees,' said tribal women in Maharashtra's Palghar, demanding basic facilities.

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Video Editor :Mohd. Irshad Alam

"If you would have given us jobs, we would have been able to buy these sarees ourselves. Who is Modi government to give us sarees? You think we cannot buy our own clothes? We will buy better sarees than these. We want work, we are hardworking. We are not sitting at home," said Ladkubai (52), a local from Vasantwadi village, a tribal hamlet in Maharashtra's Palghar.

Vasantwadi, a village with about 250 families, undertook a small but very significant rebellion earlier in April.

'Give jobs so we can buy our own sarees,' said tribal women in Maharashtra's Palghar, demanding basic facilities.

A local fills water in utensils at the local hand pump in Vasantwadi, Palghar, Maharashtra.

(Photo: The Quint)

Inside the village about 120 km away from Mumbai, one can see broken roads, makeshift homes, women and children filling water at handpumps, and some people with these freebies — a saree and a bag bearing a picture of PM Modi along with an advertisement of the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (PMGKAY).

A few days before the elections were announced and the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) kicked in on 16 March, people across several villages received these bags and sarees at the local ration outlets while they went to avail the free food grains under the Centre's PMGKAY scheme.

'Give jobs so we can buy our own sarees,' said tribal women in Maharashtra's Palghar, demanding basic facilities.

Local women from  Vasantwadi in Maharashtra's Palghar show one of the sarees they received under the state government's scheme

(Photo: The Quint)

In November last year, the Maharashtra government launched a scheme to provide free sarees to women holding the 'Antyodaya' ration cards every year during a festival of the government's choice till 2028.

On 3 and 8 April, scores of tribal women from across 23 villages in Palghar, led by social workers and activists, marched to the Jawhar and Dahanu tehsildar offices and returned over 300 of these sarees and 700 of these bags.

'Give jobs so we can buy our own sarees,' said tribal women in Maharashtra's Palghar, demanding basic facilities.

In April, scores of tribal women marched to the Jawhar and Dahanu tehsildar offices and returned over 300 of sarees and 700 bags distributed by the government. 

(Photo: The Quint)

Don't give us freebies, give us jobs, better schools, better roads, and better healthcare is the underlying message of their movement.
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'No Water Supply, No Jobs, What do we Do with Free Sarees?'

Villagers questioned the rationale behind getting free sarees and bags while the village lacked the most basic facilities.

"We don't want these sarees and bags. For water, we have wake up at 4 am or 5 am sometimes. There are no lights here, but we still wake up at 4 am to fetch water. Moreover, the roads are bad. You have to walk for at least 30 minutes to the nearest borewell to get water sometimes. We carry two-three pots on our heads, another on the waist. This is the situation. We need taps in every home," said Mamta Vattha (22).

'Give jobs so we can buy our own sarees,' said tribal women in Maharashtra's Palghar, demanding basic facilities.

Ladkubai (left) and Mamata Vattha show the bags they received at the ration shop in March. The bag bears a picture of PM Modi along with an advertisement of the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (PMGKAY).

(Photo: The Quint)

Ladkubai echoed Mamta's demands.

"We go to the river to fetch water but even the river is dry this summer. We try to dig wells but we don't get water in them too. Borewells don't fetch us any water anymore either. We wake up at 3 am to fetch water sometimes. Why don't you improve our situation? Make provisions for water, give taps in every house," she said.

While lack of employment opportunities and better schools is a problem faced by all, the two major issues that concern the women the most is access to water in their homes and easier access to healthcare.

"Our local hospital does not have a good doctor. If you take a pregnant woman there, there isn't a female doctor either. We either have to go to Ganjed, Silvasaa, or Valsad," Ladkubai said.

'Give jobs so we can buy our own sarees,' said tribal women in Maharashtra's Palghar, demanding basic facilities.

Local hospital at Vasantvadi village, Palghar, Maharashtra.

(Photo: The Quint)

"We had taken my sister-in-law to the nearest hospital when she was pregnant. We went to the hospital in Ganjed, and from there they asked us to go to Cottage. She was about to deliver but the doctor was asking us to take her to Valsad or Jawhar.  I told the doctor that I would take any responsibility but you deliver the baby here and then I will take them anywhere after that," Mamta narrated.

'We Are Citizens, Not Beggars'

Women from the 23 villages were assisted by a social work group Kashtakari Sanghatana in carrying out the demonstrations. The organisation has been helping create awareness in tribal villages on the importance of voting, the issues that they must actually vote on, registering voters, and ensuring paperwork.

Madhubai Dhodi (56), a social worker associated with the group said free sarees won't ensure 'vikas'.

You give one saree in a year which is not going get us any development. The government has made promises under 'Har Ghar Nal' yojana. You go and see if there are any taps in any of the houses. They built water tanks and wells but there are no pipelines to people's homes," Dhodi said.

'Give jobs so we can buy our own sarees,' said tribal women in Maharashtra's Palghar, demanding basic facilities.

Brian Lobo, a social worker associated with Kashtakari Sanghtana.

(Photo: The Quint)

"They claim Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas. Where is the vikas?  Hence, we returned these sarees and bags. We also gave them in writing the reasons behind returning them," she added.

Brian Lobo (61), one of the founding members of the group said that the government needs to spend money on more schemes for upliftment of the tribals.

"So, much money was spent by the Modi government for this kind of advertisement. The distribution of the bags happened before the MCC but when will they be used? Even after 16 March. It meant that these things would get used even during the MCC and would lead to free campaigning for them," Lobo alleged.

"These things have been distributed without looking at what people actually need. See, we are saying that there should be schemes. But there are two types of schemes. One is the kind wherein you take the benefits of the schemes for your upliftment. But these types of schemes in which you are distributing freebies, it is not a development scheme, it is a scheme for beggars. We are humans, we are not beggars. We are citizens, we are not beggars," Lobo said.

'Give jobs so we can buy our own sarees,' said tribal women in Maharashtra's Palghar, demanding basic facilities.

Ladkubai narrated how most villagers have never been able to get proper jobs and have to leave the village for days in search of employment.

"We earn very little by farming. We have to go to Dahanu to find work sometimes. Sometimes we get work on people's farms. It pays us Rs 150 per day. How will that suffice? Sometimes we go up to Gujarat, Surat, Wapi to find work," she said.

"If the government gave us jobs in villages, why would we have to go? The government didn't give us jobs but it's giving us sarees," Ladkubai said.

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