Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Gadhaladda : Dying Under the burden of Tradition


Dying under the burden of tradition By V.B.Rawat

In the Amirpura municipal area of Mau town, about 20 families belonging to Gadhaladda community face severe starvation yet the first sight of an NGO make people feel as if the campaigners have come to give the Polio drop to the children. ‘ What is your problem with the polio drop’, I ask an elderly woman in the village. “Why should they come every Sunday when we have already given them polio-drops. We fear that the children may not be well and develop impotency’, says the woman.

Such pathetic socio-economic conditions showcase the plight of Gadhaladda community who follow Islam. One may feel amused about the traditional occupation of this community and why is the community still sticking to age-old practices if the tradition has not fetched its results. Gadhaladda own donkeys and their trade is loading and unloading the bricks. Most of them work in the difficult conditions in the brick kiln and earn about Rs 150/- per day. Out of this Rs 50/- goes to service of donkeys and rest for the family. With the advent of other mode of good transport, Gadhaladda’s are finding them highly irrelevant. Today, they are not even earning the same amount for 6 months. They remain out of work for next six month. Traditional occupational hazards have caged them in their past and hence Gadhaladdas do not even fix anywhere in the new scheme of things. The maximum they could afford to do is basic labor work. Ishtiaq Ahmed, 25, says that ‘the work is very difficult particularly in rain. It is difficult to get work due to problems of the brick kiln. Since June 2005, there has been no work for us here. If we do not get the work in next few days, our families would starve. We are already debt ridden and the ‘bhatta’ owner would not give more now.’ For every one thousand rupees taken as a loan, if they fail to return the money on a stipulated period, the lender would take away the donkey and provide another Rs 500/- to the Gadhaladda. The economic condition of this community reflects clearly in their household. Women look frail, children anemic and animals hungry and unwell.

None of the women in the family work, unlike the Ansaris in the powerloom sector where the entire family-work. They feel that women should do the family work. “The root of the problem is illiteracy among the women. While the women feel that there is a need of developmental process to begin at their area, unfortunately, NGOs have not ventured in among the Muslims’ says Shri Ram Nikumb, a prominent secular activist of Mau town, who helped a number of Muslim friends during the recent riots. Nikumb and his organization plan to start Self Help Groups ( SHGs) in the Muslim dominated areas as he feel that formation of women’s group would help counter the communal forces as well as the atrocities on Muslim men. Women are power center and we must bring them out and make them vocal on their issues, he suggests.

The community lives in utter desperation and almost one hundred percent illiterate. The only thing they could recite is Arabic verses of Quran they learnt from Madrasa. Due to illiteracy, bigger families are a norm in the community though the younger generations feel that they want to smaller families. Majida Khatun 60, has 9 children. Four daughters and five sons. None of them is literate.

Due to illiteracy and the burden of tradition, the community remained highly apolitical and socially backward. No political leader ever visited the community and inquired about their condition.’ ‘We know about our ward member but very difficult to contact the ‘big leaders’, says an elderly person. In fact, Jubaida 60 is a widow without any family support and yet does not have a ration card. Strangely, no widow pension has ever been sanctioned in the community. The other members of the community have simple BPL ration card, which mean nothing, as they do not have the strength to buy ration from the ration shop.

The work of Gaddhaladda is tremendous. From the early morning around 5 am they start their work and get back to home around noon. After relaxing for a while, they go out to graze the donkeys and return in the evening. The occupation is not honorable one, as they have to hear abuses and jokes from the people. Some time, people do not even like that the donkeys be allowed to pass through their streets.

The community of Gadhaladda claim themselves as Sheikh Farookhi, who was a saint in Medina. According to Mustafa, 60, Sheikh Farookhi led the foundation stone of holy shrine in Medina. They were construction worker and the tradition continues afterwards. The community has its own Panchayat which decide in the matters of disputes and marriages and divorce. Elder people of the community informed that divorce is highly objectionable to the community and should be avoidable. Dowry is practiced but not forced in the community. The community Panchayat is headed by one elected elder of the community and supported by several elders. The community still feels themselves bigger then Ansaris though the latter are far better economically. The marriages are strictly within the community as nobody accepts them.

The young people of the community want change of occupation. ‘ We have been doing this work out of traditional gratitude but it does not fetch us. We are on the verge of starvation as we do not know any other work.’ Says Naseer Ahmed. He further says that he would like his son to educate and become a government servant. And what about family size, I ask him, ‘ I want a small family, say Naseer. How would he do it I ask him? I am ready to use all the modern method to keep my family size small. I have a son and I do not wish to have more than two. It is difficult to run family in such a situation.

Before, I conclude this article, there is one threat perception looming large over several hundred Gadhaladdas families living in Shahi Katra, Mau who face threat of eviction. They had settled in that area for over 200 years doing their traditional occupation. None of them have any other land and if they are evicted, we may find them dying much before their actual death. Unfortunately, the area which has sizeable Muslim presence with ‘powerful’ leaders making international headlines, remain completely unaware of such atrocious state of living conditions. Shameful, that the government has not been able to provide any hope and development to this community/

It is important that social activists, NGOs understand the need of the community and develop mechanism for an overall sustainable development of the community. Equally important is to come out of the shell that ‘old is gold’. There is ample space for openness and moderation. However, mere donation would not work. Need is to start schools and vocational training programme for the community. Gadhaladda’s are facing burden of tradition, let us unburden them with the new wave of alternative modules for their survival. It is only hoped that the organizations interested in social cause would come forward and take the initiative.