The truth of development for tribal populations under Gujarat model

Jainaben (left), a tribal resident of Jhakri village in Tapi, walks 3 kms every week to fetch wood for cooking. Photos: Damayantee Dhar

In August 2021, when a 25-year-old Aabha (name changed) complained of uneasiness and pain in the stomach early in her pregnancy, the family tried to bring her some relief using home remedies at the Mathasar village in Dediapada taluka of Narmada district. After momentary relief, the pain and uneasiness returned for Aabha with increased vigour. By then a few neighbours had gathered at Aabha’s house. It was clear she had to be taken to hospital without any delay. What stood in the way of the village and the hospital was incessant rain and Dev river in spate.

The villagers quickly arranged a bedsheet, tied both its ends to a wooden staff, turning it into a makeshift stretcher. They put Aabha in it and began the arduous journey to the hospital with four men carrying the ‘stretcher’ on their shoulders. They shifted the staff from one shoulder to the other to ease the pain as they walked on land. But when it came to crossing the 70-feet wide Dev river, they knew they couldn’t take any risks. So they just crossed the river precariously as their shoulders went numb with the pain. On the other hand, hanging in in the uncomfortable ‘stretcher’, Aabha’s condition had only worsened.

The ritual of enduring hardships to reach the hospital is, however, routine during monsoons not just for the residents of Mathasar village, but also Kanji and Vandari villages, which are dominated by tribals. Every year, the villages are cut off during monsoon from the rest of the taluka when a causeway on Dev river is submerged.

The three villages surviving administrative neglect are located about six to eight kilometres from the 182-metres high Statue of Unity, built as a cost of Rs 6,000 crore and touted as a global tourist spot, in Kevadiya village, in Narmada district.

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