Twoandahalfweeks in India – Staying with tribal farmers in Sishvad

Two days spending in a rural tribal family in the mountains of Maharashtra is a journey back to the past, even in India. Sishvad – that’s the village’s name – is a location somewhere in the mountains at 1400 meters of altitude. it appears after leaving ordinary streets and passing bumpy paths in the middle of nowhere. People live there like hundreds of years ago. There is a huge need of water reservoirs and irrigation due to a long dry period every year. The tribal families have been suffering in the past from malnutrition and some of them left the village in search of better life conditions in towns and big cities. Educational level is very low.

The WOTR organization has two rural development projects running in this area – one in the surroundings of Sishvad and another one in Purushwadi, just a few kilometers away where the rest of our group stays. These WOTR projects aim to develop further the agricultural cultivation and the optimisation of water reservoirs.

A family experience
Just in five – plus a local guide, a driver and the regional monitoring project manager of KKS (Karl Kübel Stiftung) – we start this experience for getting in contact with these tribal families, to eat with them, to sit and sleep in their houses, to observe and to learn more about the rural development program and the people living here. The project is running already for more than three years now and – without any doubt- the success is visible. Some farmers who left their homes have come back in the last months. Dams and other systems to keep water in huge reservoirs and make dwelling happen, a special field treatment and terrace constructions as well as an intelligent planting system have allowed an enourmous growth of bountiful crop. The fields are green: onions, tomatoes, aubergines, chillis, peanuts, potatoes… Children go to school.

Farmer meetings, a very active involvement and engagement of all village families are the basis of this success. Women started to have regular meetings, as well. Most of the women are not educated at all, only a few men understand English. Most of them just speak the local language. Main languages here in Maharashtra are Marathi, Hindi and English. Marathi and English are mostly understood all over the region. But different regional parts have their own dialects. Here in the tribal village people just speak Marathi.

A traditional welcome
We are welcome in the traditional Indian way by receiving flowers and a red spot coloring at the forehead when we arrive. It is a small village – maybe 20 – 30 houses. There are some houses also in the mountains and hills around. Many men, children and some women are waiting for our arrival and look curiously at us. What might they think about us? Who we are and how we react? But they make us feel well and soon we start talk to each other – via our local guide and with hands and feet.

In the evening we all gather at the plaza, a small place in front of a hut where the tribal families sit together. They call some men and began to give us a drumming session. Our male group members are invited to participate and join the dancing tribal men. Well, I think they – our German friends – still have to improve a little bit, before they can call themselves real tribal dancers. Somehow strange how these Germans move…

The teacher’s family
During the two days in these vilages me and another German woman stay in the teacher’s family. This family is for certain one of the privileged ones. We are able to communicate – in broken English, but anyhow. He is a primary school teacher who walks every day four kilometers to school and back, teaching English, physics, chemics, geography. She is doing all work at home and spends 7 hours on the field, as well – together with the grandmother who lives with them. And then there is the son who has just finished school, 16 years old. Their day starts early – there is always a lot to do. Women still wash clothes in the river nearby.

During the meals we sit together in the dark two rooms hut, on the ground, get fed up with spicy, but fantastic food and bread freshly prepared by the grandmother who roasts it on the indoor fireplace… Both women do not talk that much. There are only a few pots, two shelves, one bed in the other room.



A mouse can provoke that much
The second day it happens: During dinner a mouse falls down from upper level of the roof on my frined’s shoulder – and misses just for a few centimeters our plate. A little shock. Waaah…

But then we all laugh and even the teacher’s wife who during the last hours has just served us and looked what we needed (we learn quickly that ‘bas-bas’ means stop, otherwise she would have filled our plates continously with food) sits closer to us and shows us with proud her jewelery and ten saris. We show them photos from Germany, from our homes and families and on how we live. The entire family is very interested in watching these strange photos. The teacher and his son ask many questions.

We find out that the mobile phone is even there one of the most attractive devices in the household, especially for young people. The son has heard about Facebook and he likes mobile games. Interested he looks on my iphone. No, he has no own mobile. But in school, there they have one computer… unfortunatly, just one for all students. But he is happy, because his father has the mobile and he can use it every day for ten minutes. No, not the Internet access, just the offline games – the limited Internet access is just for his father.

His biggest dream? Having a continous Internet access and then, one day, becoming a pilot and seeing the world…

Maybe this village that for hundreds of years seems to have slept and remained the same will change soon. Technology and globalization have left first marks…




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