Study on Bundelkhand of Planning Commission: Concerns in Development : Issues for Action

Study on Bundelkhand of Planning Commission: Concerns in Development : Issues for Action

 Concerns in Development : Issues for Action

Bundelkhand and the districts of northern MP are considered among the backward regions of MP. With no rail links, transportation is dependent on rough and broken roads linking only some to the major towns in the region. Even certain blocks headquarters are approachable only with much difficulty through irregularly running government buses. One can’t think of reaching to villages during most of the rainy seasons. So, improper links with the outside world, keeps the region of Bundelkhand isolated, in its restricted sense.

Its poor literacy rate, high mortality of children, poor infrastructure in terms of roads, electricity, health care facilities, drinking water facilities, household sanitation measures and school building tells the story of its backwardness. The sectoral issues, related to health, education, economy and environmental degradation are mostly covered and discussed in earlier chapters. Lots needs to be done in these sectors. Other major concerns, specific to this region are as follows:


The social relations in Bundelkhand are still based on feudalism and its remains. Thakurs or zamindar and Brahmins dominate in the traditional power structure. The previous caste based hierarchical order prevails in the region. No poor can question the dominance of feudal lords. Feudal forces control land and mining and also the forests and forests products. The semi feudal production relations are characterised by the traditional socio economic dominance of the top peasantry over the middle and poor peasants and the agricultural labourers who were mostly landless. The top peasantry or big farmers are mostly from the upper castes namely Thakurs and Brahmins. The trade and business is controlled by Banias and Jains. The middle and lower middle peasants were essentially from the middle castes and backward castes. Agricultural labourers were mostly from the SC and ST.

Upper castes got educated first and thus control polity, bureaucracy and services. So caste relations are still dominating the social systems. Elements of untouchability are widely prevalent in the rural areas. ‘Thakurshahi’ rules the rural life. There are areas along the Dhasan river, starting from Prithivipur- Palara belt in Tikamgarh upto Chhatarpur in which its prevalence can be easily noticed. No scheduled caste /tribe person think of crossing the doors of Thakurs along the streets, without taking his shoes in his hands, and putting his head down looking towards the earth. In villages, if a Thakur’s shoe is outside the home of a SC person and Thakur is inside the room with SC person’s wife, the person can’t dare to enter his own house and question the Thakur. Such things are still seen in Bundelkhand. The officials visiting the villages go to zamindars’ place first. Teachers of primary schools prefer to sit at landlords houses. Elected sarpanches of SC and STs are playing in the hands of such forces. If an independent surveyor visits a SC/ST house first and then to a Thakur’s place, he/she may have to face consequences. A lower caste person can’t sit at an elevated place in front of a upper caste person, mostly Brahmins and Thakurs. If such are the realities, long battle is to be fought against traditional power relations. Feudalism is all pervasive and needs to be broken if new egalitarian power-relation are to be established.

Concern for livelihood:

SC/STs are mostly landless. Whatever land they possess, is either barren or has no irrigation facility. If they had to take loan from the landlords, that meant that their land would go out of their hands. So, manual labour is the only source of their income. Working on the farm and in rivers, cutting stones or involved in quarrying, everywhere they are exploited. No proper wage is given. Forests resources are dwindling and they are mostly not allowed to get anything substantial from these forests.

Traditional caste occupations are unable to survive in open market competitions. There is hardly any traditional occupation surviving and economically viable.

Landless poor are forced to migrate to other parts of the country for their survivals. They migrate mostly with their families and live in pathetic conditions at their places of migration. Back home, they eat up what they had earned and then again migrate for earnings. Brokers are involved to supply cheap labour to other states.

Only employment generation activities, both through government and non-government efforts, can help out in this situation.

Water issue in Bundelkhand:

In all the districts of Bundelkhand, the nonavailability of water for drinking purpose and irrigation is a major problem. The irony is that, there are a number of major rivers like Betwa, Dhasan, Ken flowing in the region but with the improper management of rain water, and degrading forests, these rivers serve the purpose of only draining the water of Bundelkhand into Yamuna.

The recharging of ground water resources through collecting the rain water in traditional ponds is not taking place due to degradation of such ponds, encroachment of forest lands, cutting of forests and blocking the catchment areas of watershed regions. The result is that wells being used for drinking water and irrigation are not providing enough water to serve the purpose for the whole year.

Water is so precious and important in the life of Bundelkhand that in certain regions there is a say, “Gagari na phoote, Chhahe Balam mar jaye”, (The waterpot should not be broken even if husband dies).

Chandeli Ponds in the region of Tikamgarh and Chhatarpur have been able to provide drinking water and irrigation facilities from the medieval days. But the way they are being encroached for cultivation in villages and making buildings and houses in the townships, they are not going to survive for long. There are hundreds of such chandeli ponds in Tikamgarh and Chhatarpur. They have been serving the most important purpose of collecting the rain-water and recharging the ground water so that the drinking water well remains filled with water throughout the year. The cycle is broken. Bundelkhand, with a rich tradition behind to show the judicious use and collection of water, is without sufficient water. Chandeli ponds and other such ponds were serving the purpose of livelihood to many people, besides serving the irrigation purposes. They were used for fisheries and growing murar and kamalgata (lotus). But now these traditional occupations are in danger due to depletion of water in such ponds.

It is the need of the hour that catchment areas of such reservoirs, like ponds are looked after, encroachment is stopped, illegal lease of the pond’s ‘dub’ area is stopped and such ponds are reconstructed with the help of the local community.

One of the largest chandeli ponds, Nandanwara in Tikamgarh, is in danger due to uncontrolled mining in the area. Mining may damage the dam made over it. There is the need to watch that mining in the area does not damage the traditional and useful resources of water.

Specific issues: Tikamgarh.

1. Migration of labour.
2. Non-timber forest products- Mahuwa, Palash, Gond (gum) and medicinal plants controlled by middlemen and feudal lords.
3. Feudalism in every sphere of activities (Region along Dhasan river, Prithivipur- Palara blocks most affected).
4 Depleting ponds/chandeli ponds.
5. Bidi workers and issues related to them.
6. Mining and quarrying- exploitation of labour.
7. Issue of environmental degradation- Nandanwara Dam in danger due to mining.
8. Leather work at village Lidhaura (Jatara Block)- issues of improvement.
9. Scavengers- still operating.(Tikamgarh Town)
10. Depleting water table particularly in Newari block.
11. Wastelands and its management.

Mining and Quarrying - wage labour and health hazards:

Mining and quarrying are the major non- farm activities in the region and provide employment to a large number of manual labour, mostly coming from scheduled castes and tribes. Semi feudal relations still hold the ground in these relation also. Bundelkhand is rich in mineral ores like limestone, diasphore and diamond (Panna) apart from building materials in the form of stones. Mining and cutting of stone involves hard working on the part of the labour. If feudal and exploitative relations prevail, the labour works for relatively long hours, gets relatively less wages, works hard and hard to complete the work and gets diseases like TB and respiratory problems in such kind of mining.

There is the need to organise the labour force and make them demand for the proper wage and working conditions, apart from making them aware on the health hazards and possible diseases.

Specific issues : Chhatarpur.

1. Issues of bidi workers.
2. Migration of labour.
3. Depleting ponds and related issues.
4. Atrocities against women.
5. Mining and quarrying related problems.
6. Production of jute- issue of its constructive use.
7. Handicaps and the use of khesari (pulse)in rural areas.
8. Issue of Bedia caste - the traditional sex workers.
9. Alcoholism - growing space and its dangers.

Non-Timber Forest Produce (NTFP):

Minor forest products are very many in the region of Bundelkhand. Panna exports amla (goose berries). Other products like gond, harra, trifala, khair and other medicinal plants are widely available in the forests of Tikamgarh, Chhatarpur, Panna and Satna. Mahuwa is also so important into the life of poor people that they colect it to serve their livelihood needs for at least 4 months in a year. But who ultimately controls it, is a big questions.Poor people get it anyhow from the forest and are forced to sell it to middlemen who get profits out of it.Tendu and Palash leaves are important for the livelihood of people. Bidi making and the collection of tendu leaves are larger issues because of the state and business interest involved in it. Palash leaves are important in the cultivation of ‘adarakh’(ginger) in the regions of Orchha and Niwari in Tikamgarh. But recently there were reports in the local newspaper telling that feudal forces were not allowing the poor people to enter in the forest areas and were selling the leaves to these people on higher rates after collecting it through their own means. Such relations are prevalent in almost every sphere of life in Bundelkhand. The nexus needs to be broken.

Bidi-making and issues involved:

This is also a big issue in Bundelkhand, particularly in the districts of Chhatarpur, Tikamgarh and Satna where a very large work force is involved in this business. In all, there are 2 million bidi rollers in MP , all across tribal areas in Vindhya, Bundelkhand and others. Tendu leaf has always been in and around the centre of politics in MP.

Specific issues : Panna

1. Exploitation of labour in stone cutting/Diamond mining.
2. Issue of Bedia community - the traditional sex workers.
3. Rehabilitation of Project Tigers- villages (10 villages ).
4. Unapproachable villages/blocks - poor transport, roads.
5. Non-timber forest products-Amla, Harra, Trifala-control in the hands of feudal lords.
6. Degrading forests and related issues.
7. Bidi Making and related issues.

The kind of problems these bidi workers face in their life, includes respiratory and stomach ailments, malnutrition, stiff joints and poor eyesight. The diseases like tuberculosis, asthma, scabies, bronchitis, spondylitis and lumbajo are common among the bidi rollers. As most the rollers work at home, their children are also affected with such diseases. Untimely death is common among the bidi workers, mostly the women.

Most of the bidi rollers work for 12 hours a day rolling around 800 to 1000 bidis, early merely Rs15 to 20/ which comes to the amount of about Rs8100/yearly. There is a nexus of manufacturers and contractors against the bidi workers. Worker is handed 650 gram of tendu leaf and 250 gram of tobacco to roll 1000 bidis at the wage rate of Rs22.50 per 1000 bidis. Most of the time, the material is not enough, and the worker has to supply the material himself. The bidi workers collect themselves the tendu leaf, illegally from the forest and for which they are not paid by the contractors while making bidis. If the bidis are not rolled properly, as decided by the contractors (sattedor), the workers have to bear it from their own pockets.

Specific Issues: Datia

1. Issue of Saharia tribe.
2. Issue of denotified (so-called criminal) tribes.
3. Land grabbing of poor by feudal landlords.
4. Issue of survival of Bundeli art and culture.

When The Minimum Wages Act And Factories Act provide for better working conditions, the factory owners decided to close their workshops because of the bidi workers remained on the factory campus, they would have to be paid better. The entire bidi rolling work was shifted to domestic homes. To make matters worse, bidi barons introduced a sattador or a middlemen who would collect the bidis from these workers’ homes and ferry it to the manufacturers. These middlemen’ word is like a law for the bidi rollers.

When the Bidi Cigar Workers Act, 1966, declared the home bred bidi workers as an employee and hence deemed it essential that he/she should get all the benefits, it did not work either. In MP, thirty two years later only eight lakh out of an estimated 22 lakh bidi workers, have been issued their identity cards. There are only 1.20 lakh workers who have a Provident Fund account. In the region of Bundelkhand, situation is further worst. Swashrayi Mahila Sewa Sangh (SEVA), Chhatarpur has been constantly trying to survey the number of women involved in bidi making and to get for them their identity cards and provident fund account, by acting as a pressure group on the government and labour department. In the districts like Tikamgarh and Satna, efforts are required to work among the bidi rollers, get them organised and avail the benefits given for them under various Acts.

Specific issues: Satna

  •  Satna - one of the most polluted (air) towns , Maihar follows.

  •  Mining of limestone - wage labour and health hazards.

  •  Problems of bidi workers.

  •  Land-grabbing (of poors) by landowners and rich.

  •  Workers in cement factories- health and respiratory problems.

  •  Displacement due to Bansagar Dam- issue of rehabilitation

Recently, on the basis of the recommendations of the Minimum Wages Act Committee, the state govt. decided to fix a dearness allowance for bidi workers at the rate of 2 Ps per 1000 bidis rolled, in accordance with the price index. But bidi barons, who influence the politics of MP, pressurized the government to bring down the rat to one paise.

The issue of bidi workers is always alive in Bundelkhand. There is a large number of women and children involved in the process of bidi rolling. The exploitation of labour and health hazards are the major concern areas. Voluntary efforts can get involved in the process of organising the labour force and making them aware on the issues involved.

Women Atrocities:

Women, particularly that of lower castes, are open to exploitation, assault and harassment, including sexual, in Bundelkhand region. In the semi feudal society, male dominance is clearly visible. It extends to the males of lower castes also where women are considered below men. To listen the abuses of feudal lords, outside and of the husbands at home, are common to lower caste women. Women, working in the houses of jamindars, are more prone to sexual harassment also. Such cases go unreported and if one tries to go to police station , either the report is not written or it invites more trouble to the family of harassed women.

Leaving one wife, and getting another, is also common among the lower castes. Wife beating is widely prevalent, particularly under the influence of alcohol, now becoming commonly available to men folks. Left out wives, are sometimes sold to another person or widower because poor parents can’t look after them for long.

Mahila Samiti Parivar Paramarsh Kendra, in Chhatarpur, comes across various types of atrocities the women suffer, either in the hands of their husbands or landlords. It has gone up to recording a case in which a husband cuts the legs of his wife simply because she was trying to stop him taking a decision against the family interest. It is difficult for the women to fight back in such cases, if organised and institutionalised help is not provided to harassed women. Such helps and efforts in this direction on large scales are missing in the region of Bundelkhand.There is a caste, named Bedia, living in this region, particularly around Narendra Nagar in Panna and Bijawar and adjoining areas of Chhatarpur, in which women are traditional sex workers. The males among them are considered criminal, but now this notion is getting diluted. When females become sex workers and remain unmarried, Bedia males get their  wives from other communities. In certain section of Bedias, it is a rule that Bedia males can’t marry their own caste females. Bedia girls hardly marry because they enter into their traditional business. Society attaches stigma around Bedias. It is difficult for their children to study in normal schools. There are other problems, once social stigma is attached with the community. Special efforts are needed to take this community out of the flesh trade.

Issues of displacement and rehabilitation:

In Panna and Satna, two cases of displacement and rehabilitation were noted. Though, not much probed into, the Project Tiger in Panna has to displace the tribals of at least 10 villages. Though they have not been officially rehabilitated, they are reportedly not satisfied with such efforts. People, used to live within the forests, found themselves homeless, out of their original places. Their whole cycle of livelihood is disturbed.

Similarly in district Satna, Bansagar dam is causing displacement to a number of villages in Amar Patan Block. People are complaining that they are being thrown out of their villages by the government because for the government, construction of Ban Sagar is important and not the people getting displaced. Further study is required to understand the issues involved in such displacements and rehabilitation efforts taken by the government. But the problem exists.

Capacity Building for NGOs/CBOs:

It has been noted that Bundelkhand has not witnesses organised voluntary efforts, to a large extent, for rural development and other development issues. Though, charity and voluntarism for the creation of cultural and literary groups has been traditionally there in the region, development work has been minimal by the institutions of civil society. There is not any big non-government organisation, except the groups of Ekta Parishad, with clear perspective and resources, which is working in the region of Bundelkhand. There are either government NGOs like Nehru Yuva Kendra, or government promoted NGOs for specific programmes like Total Literacy Campaigns and Watershed Development, who emerge and disappear after the programme is over. But there are certain voluntary efforts which are emerging and at present, are in the form of small, fluid NGOs/CBOSs. They are scattered throughout Bundelkhand and dependent either on their own funds, generated through contribution or on government. They have no idea of larger voluntary and development sector. Apart from these,  there are committed and credible individuals who have interests and potentiality to grow into organisations. Such small NGOs and committed individuals need to be strengthened so that they can take up burning issues of the region into their programmes and contribute in the development of poor and marginal people. Capacity Building effort for such NGOs CBOs individuals is required in the context of overall development of the region.

There might be many other issues in Bundelkhand but which are of primary concern are noted above. These issues do not stand in isolation but are inter-linked. There is an urgent need that efforts are taken by the development agencies, government institutions and concerned individuals to break the mechanism of feudalism, to develop programmes of development and to enable the community to take initiatives for its own development in Bundelkhand to come out of backwardness.


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