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In Pics: A Day In the Life of Birhor Community’s Daily Struggle

It has taken almost 10 years to integrate cleanliness into the lives of the Birhor children.

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“Masen, Neha, Masen…” (which literally means, “Go, Neha, Go”), shouts Pinki didi from behind, as the little Birhor girl trots her way back home from the Anganwadi Centre, and reaches out to the road to future...

It was a walk into the open fields for about fifteen minutes from the main road, and I was suddenly greeted by the fenced entrance to the Birhor Colony. The small close-knit settlement of this primitive and extremely marginalised tribe in the Satgawan Block, Koderma District of Jharkhand, is inhabited by about a hundred families who still practise hunting and gathering as their main occupation.

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It is here that I met three-year-old Neha Birhor, and thus began my journey into the lives of this community.

A typical day in Neha’s life begins with her reaching the Anganwadi Centre in the Birhor Colony at 9 in the morning. She, and almost fifty other children in the age-group of 0-6 years, are served by the Anganwadi in this Tola.

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It is now mandatory for all her friends to wash themselves clean before Pinki Birhor (the Anganwadi worker) would serve them a breakfast of laddoos made from Sattu.

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It has taken almost 10 years to integrate cleanliness into the lives of the Birhor children.

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Following this, Pinki leads an hour-long process of coaching Neha and her friends through rhymes and various teaching and learning materials that are essential to pre-school education, before a hot, cooked meal of dal, chawal and green vegetables is provided to the children for lunch before they head back home.

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Home, in the Birhor colony, earlier meant huts made of tree leaves, susceptible to all kinds of danger. Rashtriya Jharkhand Seva Sansthan, an organisation supported by CRY – Child Rights and You – has been working relentlessly to ensure that the families move to the housing provided under the Rajiv Awas Yojana Scheme.

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Surinder is one of the first generation learners, an agent of change, in this community – the very first person to go to school. He has just completed his graduation with Honours in Physics and is preparing for UPSC exam in Patna. He is someone the entire community looks up to.

“It is difficult to change age-old traditions and belief systems, we all know that. However, it is even more difficult to change behaviour patterns one is used to,” says Surinder Birhor.

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Luckily for Neha, her access to services ensured by the Government will not end with the Anganwadi. Once she is of school-going age, she will be enrolled into the primary school in the colony.

This small school, functional since 2002, now has about fifty students, and the number of students has been steadily increasing with Surinder’s every educational achievement.

Another man instrumental in the running of the school is Ram Singh Paswan, a teacher and a well-wisher of this Birhor Colony. His education goes beyond subjects to matters of cleanliness and opening up the windows to a world much bigger than the hundred-strong community life.

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Neha is also one of the lucky few who were delivered institutionally, after her mother went through the entire process of vaccinations.

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Vaccinations and doctors were feared in this very closed community until CRY-supported project Rashtriya Jharkhand Seva Sansthan started work on awareness to health and nutrition issues through the Anganwadi Centre.

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“In fact, heavily pregnant mothers, days before they were due to deliver, would retreat into the tiny huts called ‘khuva’ with a sharp instrument at hand. This they would need while they performed their own deliveries, while cutting the umbilical cord. Not only could they be attacked at any point in time by animals, snakes and poisonous insects, but just the horror of the situation in itself is unimaginable for most of us,” says Josephine Ekka, who has been working with the women and children of this community for over eight years now.

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In a community where women were not seen, nor heard, Neha’s journey into life would have become a stereotypical one. Where she would have grown to marry, deliver children, suffered from malnourishment and vanish into oblivion like thousands of others before her.

But now, she can dream to become like Surinder Bhaiyya, and lead the change in her little tribe.

“Masen, Neha, Masen...” (“Go, Neha, Go...”)

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(Tanmoy Bhaduri is a freelance news and documentary photographer based in Kolkata, India. He is currently working for Pacific Press Agency and NurPhoto Agency. He has previously worked for The Times of India. For more information log on to www.tanmoybhaduri.com)

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