The reddish tinge of the soil is unmistakable. And the picture-postcard beauty of the countryside as the road meanders through dense forests in Jharkhand’s Pat region, which straddles Gumla and Latehar districts.
Dotted with deep ravines and hills rich in bauxite – which gives the colour to the soil – this region is also home to some of the most endangered tribes in the country: Birjias, Birhors, Korwa, Parhaiyas and Asurs. The area of their concentration is around 150 km from capital Ranchi and an hour-and-a-half’s drive from Bishunpur.
Their categorisation is based on their dwindling numbers, low literacy levels and the threat of extinction looming over their spoken languages. The PVTG category consists of 75 communities across the country.To top it all, all these tribes are wallowing in extreme poverty due to erosion of their traditional livelihood.
Vimal Soren, a social worker in Dumka district, said that on occasions Paharias have to carry their ill brethren on shoulders for over 50 km through hilly terrain for medical attention.
Salomi Horo, a government medical officer in Gumla district, said that infrastructural issues and lack of staff members at community health centres often come in the way of extending basic healthcare to these vulnerable tribes.
Ramesh Sharan, head of the department of economics in Ranchi University, felt that “whether the state should attempt at modernising the tribes is a different debate altogether, but once it has attempted at settling them, now providing basic rights like health and food are a must.”
Activists have questioned the very rationale behind forcing nomadic forest dwellers into settled communities and said the tribes should have the autonomy to decide how and where they want to live and what kind of a life they want to pursue.
“How can we pressurise communities into becoming like us leaving behind their traditional lifestyle? Who are we to say that? Who are we to decide?” asked Philip Kujur, a social worker based in Ranchi.