The rains are always welcome, but these tribals from drought-hit Betul district in Madhya Pradesh have another reason to breathlessly await the onset of the monsoon this year.
For the last five months, 30 to 35 Korku tribals from Markhandhana village have been toiling tirelessly every day to construct a check dam over the Mandu Kheda stream. The structure – measuring 40 metres in length and 16 feet in height – is almost ready, and the ‘builders’ cannot wait to see it fill up with water once the rains start.
The tribals planned, designed and constructed the dam without any aid from the government. “For Korku tribals, life means jal, jungle aur zameen (water, forests and land)… We have been battling drought and water shortage for many years now, and the government didn’t seem keen on helping. So we decided to construct the check dam on our own,” said Sumar Lal Korku, a tribal from Markadhana village who was in the forefront of the project.
The Korkus are a scheduled tribe found primarily in the Betul, Harda, Khandwa, Burhanpur and Chhindwara districts of Madhya Pradesh.
According to Sumar Lal, the project will resolve many problems faced by tribals in the area. “The check dam will provide water for our cattle as well as bathing and washing activities. It will also be used to water fruit trees in the region and make our forests richer,” he said.
Activist Anurag Modi, who has been working in Betul for over a decade now, praised the tribals for taking the initiative to improve the water situation in the area. “The tribals will use the water not only for their personal needs but also to grow trees in the nearby forest, where they have planted more than 9,000 trees over the years,” he said.
Sumar Lal and his friends are also digging a 40-foot-deep well in the village. “They have dug five to six feet till now, and are going strong. The well will provide drinking water to the residents of Markhandhana,” said Betul-based tribal activist Rajendra Gadwal. Alok Sagar, a former IIT Delhi professor, frequently visits the Korku tribals to provide logistical and technical help.