KORKUS : The heartthrobs of Satpura hills
Colonel Satish Singh Lalotra
Homosapiens (Homo sapiens) a word denoting humans is derived from a Latin word Homo i.e. Human and sapiens i.e. wise. On the whole a wise human. The Etymology of homosapiens has in fact undergone a drastic change as humans developed over thousands of years.But in the race for this blind development the human as such has given a short shrift to its own community by failing to carry a section of his alongside towards the El Dorado so envisaged by him. A vast majority of people in this world (India no exception) have been systematically marginalized to the fringes of their existence, forcing them to lead a life in obscurity. The state of India is one of those few countries which contain within itself the maximum number of such marginalized people i.e. the Tribal population. There are about 645 tribes in India as on today living in this huge landmass. As per the 1951 census, 5.6% of total population of the country was tribal which surged to about 8.6% as per 2011 census.
The total population of scheduled tribe in India is approximately 10.43 crores as per the above census which accounts for the above percentage given. The share of the scheduled tribe population in urban areas is a meager 2.8%. Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Gujarat, WB and Karnataka are the states having a large number of scheduled tribe populations. Out of these above mentioned states it is Madhya Pradesh which has maximum number of tribal population accounting for in our country. The above mentioned states in fact account for 83.2% of total tribal population in our country.Madhya Pradesh has many tribes to include Baiga, Gond, Birhors, Bios, and Korkusetc. My interest in the tribals of MP got an impetus while in service posted at DGQA/ Itarsi which is epicenter of this particular tribe in Central India. Daily commuting about 60 kms on NH-46 (which connects Gwalior with Betul) for reaching the proof firing ranges nestled in the Satpurahills, I used to be a witness to the razzmatazz of colours, people, traffic choc a bloc with these tribal population called as Korkus who used to go about their daily drudgery of collecting tendu leaves as also firewood loaded on to their heads moving in the direction of Itarsi market for selling to earn their livelihood. Most of these would be walking barefooted on the hot tarmac of NH-46 oblivious to the running traffic by their side.
Many of the Dhabas on this NH-46 are being run by these Korku tribe people. In one of the informal chats at these Dhabas I learnt their trials and tribulations to eke out a living which most often is difficult to say. In fact the establishment where I was posted had employed a sizable number of these korkus, etc in their various capacities. Determined to mine more information of this tribe, I hit upon an idea of visiting their villages nearest to our ranges which were generally a stone’s throw away. Since self was staying single/ forced bachelor in the establishment for 2 years I had all the time on my hands to do a thorough analysis of this tribe. The stretches of Satpura hills along the MP- Maharashtra border particularly Betul, Hoshangabad, Burhanpur, Itarsi, Chhindwara and near Melghat tiger reserve of Maharashtra are predominantly the abodes of these korku tribe. They speak korku language which is a member of Mundha languages and is written in Devnagriscript. These korkus are classified as a scheduled tribe under the scheduled tribe act enacted by the GOI.
In MP these Korkus have a population of about 7.3 lakhs with 2.64 lakhs living in adjoining Maharashtra. Incidentally these korkus follow the Hindu religion .The name korku has been derived from Koro, meaning person and ku means alive; an alive person. They are actually believed to be hunter/gathering community who live on both the sides of river Tapti. The korku tribe lives in small groups of huts made of grass and wood. Every household has got an elevated structure which is used for storing the farm produces such as cattle feed. They socially consume liquor made from the flowers of Mahua trees which is a cottage industry in this tribal belt of MP. Predominantly a rural based community with 97% living in rural areas and being cultivators. Korku tribe is home to a unique and distant culture; possess a rich heritage of old traditional customs and social systems. Traditional representative body of the society is known as Koru panchayatin many of these korku villages. Headed by a chief known as Patel, other members are called as Kotwar (chokidar), Padihar (priest) etc.
Known for their poverty, hunger, malnutrition, Korkus are a challenging community for any activist to help deliver from their misery.Until the states reorganization in 1956, the Melghat region in Maharashtra was a part of Central provinces and Berar (CP&Berar). Almost every aspect of their life is connected with the forests they live in. Despite India having gained independence more than 7 decades back, no modern medical facilities, transportation etc are available in this korku belt. Child mortality and maternal mortality are amongst the highest in the country over here. But few good Samaritans like Dr.RavinderaKhole decided to work in this area to ameliorate the cause of these hapless people and is the sole bright spot in this otherwise hope less situation. While driving up and down the NH-46 from Itarsi I used to pass by a village called as Kesla where one could see buildings of schools painted with slogans informing people about panchayat (extension to scheduled areas) act (PESA) of 1996. This act provides for protection of traditional rights, forest produce and forest land. It also empowers the local korkupanchyat to protect their culture. But unfortunately it has been foundthat almost nobody in the village is aware of these rules /act etc. Naturally there are many loop holes in the implementation of PESA act in this region. As for education, the Korku students are faced with the complicated problem of language. The mother tongue of these students is korku, but in neighboring Maharashtra the medium of instruction is Marathi. Many teachers do not know korku, they only know either Hindi or Marathi, a rather very confused situation for imparting of education to a community which is already deemed as doomed by many human development indicators.
As the region was earlier a part of Hindi speaking CP & Berar province, korku people are more familiar with Hindi than Marathi. But as the medium of instruction is Marathi, the students have to learn from the teachers in Hindi and then reproduce it in exam in Marathi. What can be a better case for our educationists to step in and rectify this anomaly? In korku culture the women are more empowered and the dowry system is reversed here. As for the korku homes they are constructed in a straight row having a line of open drainage system in front of them. The interiors are decorated with locally made colours and artistic shapes inscribed on the walls. This work is generally done by the elder most women of the house. Religion wise the korkus are followers of Hinduism and keep the deities of Ganesha and Maruti outside the village. Interestingly many korku villages also keep the local deity of Jaitubaba, a lifelong bachelor who was a philanthropist and undertook many welfare tasks for the korkous. Though the community has been always living on the margins of society, the MP government has gone out of its way to make its integration in the mainstream by its various schemes. On one of my visits to Silk reeling center at Malakhedi near Hoshangabada little distance of about 25 kms from Itarsi, I was in for a shock when I saw that MP Silk federation had really done wonders to uplift the lives of this hapless community where in they had purchased all the silk cocoons produced by these various korku farmers to undertake cocoon reeling at various units of theirs.
MP Silk federation has 8 cocoon banks where in cocoon growers can sell their produce and instantly get payment. As a one stop shop for these korku farmers this has come as a big boon and lifted them from their morass of poverty. Not to be left behind, MP Forest department has employed hundreds of korku men, women as security guards, feeders, camera trap men etc at Satpura tiger reserve /National park .These korkus have in fact proved a boon for Satpura tiger reserve since these people have taken to their tasks as fish takes to water i.e. forest people in their natural habitat. MP government way back in 1958 had started the work on Tawa dam and reservoir which took 20 years to complete and finally was completed in 1978 employing again dime a dozen korkus in this gigantic project. The dam was built by late Shri Vinaykumar Dewan the “Gandhi of Denva” for his welfare programmes in this general area being the local MLA. Despite all these earthshaking efforts by the state government a lot of ground still needs to be covered to make this vibrant community part and parcel of our mainstream so that they too can partake in the fruits of development of India. By virtue of being posted at Itarsi I was face to face with stark reality of our tribal population which I was not hitherto aware of. Korkus are all in all the real heartthrobs of Satpura hills because without them the hills of Satpura will loose its sheen.