The western most state of India, Gujarat, has a long tribal belt in its remote east and southern region. These tribal villages have a mostly arid and low rainfall landscape and its mountains to the south, are host to some of the largest tribal populations in the country. One such region with a significant adivasi population, is the Valsad-Dang region, to the south-east of the state. The region falls in the rain-shadow area and is extremely dry throughout the year. This geography comes with its own socio-economic challenges, and the youth here struggle through them to find a place for them in the mainstream. This is an attempt to summarise those challenges based on the experiences during the visits in these villages.
Gujarat has some of the lowest statistics when it comes to tribal communities’ health, education and employment. As already mentioned, the constant scarcity of water makes it almost impossible for the tribal families to engage in commercial farming or any such employment. The regions they live in are remote and there are few transportation facilities which could help them reach nearby cities on a day to day basis. The low literacy rate also hampers the employability of the tribal youth. This leaves them with only the local, informal employment, which is mostly working as daily wage workers in other farms or at construction sites or sugarcane, brickline factories. Here the wages are below the criteria of minimum wages.
The other option is to get employed in the textile- garments or chinese phone making industries which have recently grown as Gujarat’s major employers. These industries give a relatively better pay and give some benefits of formal sector employment. The tribal youth migrates to the city, pays high rent, gets used to the ‘urban language’ and works for 10 or more hours in an enclosed building. But considering the expenses at the city levels, the salaries in these jobs almost never leave any space for savings and hardly help these workers and their families survive the month. This constant struggle and insecurity of livelihood also creates another ripple effect.
In the never ending cyclical exploitation, the youth is helpless. They can either be at home with their families doing subsistence farming or be at the city level making their way through the mainstream. However, there are a few organisations which are training these youth in certain areas according to the needs of the industries nearby and providing them jobs in these companies post training. It impacts the family income at large and exposes the youth to a better lifestyle. Nevertheless, there can be more comprehensive measures which the government can take towards them.
- Roma Makati, Research Associate