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India’s Tribal Communities- The Sahariya Tribe of Madhya Pradesh

The Saharia, Sahar, Sehariya, or Sahariya are an ethnic group in the state of Madhya Pradesh,  India. The Saharias are mainly found in the districts of Morena, Sheopur, Bhind, Gwalior, Datia,  Shivpuri, Vidisha and Guna districts of Madhya Pradesh and Baran district of Rajasthan.

  • Sahariya tribe comes under the special backward tribes of Madhya Pradesh.
  • The Saharias are mainly found in many districts of Madhya Pradesh and Baran district of Rajasthan.
  • Traditionally, they trace their beginnings to the days of the Ramayana and beyond. They trace their origin from Shabri of the Ramayana.
  •  Due to the fact that it is the most backward tribe of Madhya Pradesh the government declared this tribe a special backward tribe.
  • The tribe members believe in Folk Hinduism’s gods and goddess that they worship and  celebrate in major festivals
  • They are also known as the younger brothers of Bhil’s (Bhils or Bheels are primarily an ethnic group of people in West India).
  • Their habitats are located in the forest area, barren and stony land and they are still a  primitive society.
  • Even after a long span of India’s independence, the people of the Sahariya tribe are economically underdeveloped and socially backward.
  • Sahariya tribe is losing its primitive nature and status due to the social changes, the encroachment of forests and rapid urbanization.

SAHARIYA TRIBE OF MADHYA PRADESH 

POPULATION: 862,000

LANGUAGE: The most widely spoken language in this region is Hindi with its dialectal variations like Brij Bhasha, Malawi and Bundelkhand.

RELIGION: The tribe members believe in Animism Folk Hinduism’s gods and goddess that they worship and celebrate in major festivals: Veer Teja, Dhakar Baba, Durga, Hanuman, Lalbai,  Bejasan, Savini Amavasya, Janmashtami, Raksha Bandhan, Deepavali, Holi and Teja Dashmi.

  • According to the manifold concepts about Saharias, it has been implied that without religious activities, life is unthinkable.
  • As supreme God ‘Bhagwan’ is respected among them.
  • They believe that the world is created by the desire of his supreme God.
  • This great soul is not confined in a temple of abode or in a particular area, he is loitering all over the universal.
  • They traditional worship the various deities like ‘Behran, Thakur, Bhumij, Naharsingh, Ghatoiya’ etc for various purposes.
  • Mata is a female deity and she is acquainted with several names like”Sitla Devi’ Sardamai”  etc.
  • Whenever the villagers are suffered from the disease of chickenpox, then they offer different fruits, sweets, cooked food, etc.
  • She is worshipped by the help of the village priest. Besides this, the God ‟Molishugh, Tejajee and Nahardeo’ are this community people.
  • For performing the various puja festivals, they are not limited to call their traditional priest (Pujari) and even they are allowed to request the Hindu Brahmin (Pandit).
  • By the influence of the Hindu community, Saharia is motivated to enjoy Diwali, Holi, Rakhi  Bandhan, Dussehra and other festivals.

LOCATION:

HABITAT  

  • Saharia tribe is spread over seven districts of Madhya Pradesh and one district of  Rajasthan.
  • Topographically, the western part of the block is covered with mountain valley‟s, while plains in the south-east part.
  • Saharia villages are generally situated in hilly areas.
  • Some of the saharia villages are located valley sites like Dobha village in charch region.
  • The houses are constructed in rows, one facing the other, forming almost a rectangular pattern.
  • A saharia settlement is known as Sahrana.
  • The Saharias have a definite pattern of settlement, which helps to distinguish their settlement from others.
  • The saharia usually lives in a cluster of huts on a hillock.
  • Nowadays, due to multiethnic settlement good numbers of saharia have settled in plains and lives with other caste groups.
  • Each settlement has one or two entrances with a common sitting platform with hexagonal shape as known as Bangla.
  • The village headmen i.e. Patel makes his house in the middle of the settlement.

VILLAGE

  • A typical saharia village is set against the background of hills and jungles with a stream nearby.
  • The highland remains green with plants and other shrubs during the rainy season, but dry during the summer.
  • The forest around the saharia settlement was pretty thick in the past but due to selling of firewood, cutting of trees and deforestation, the forest has thinned in size and its density.

DWELLING  

  • Houses are very simple and constructed on a plain surface.
  • Before selecting a site, the magician-cum-priest (jankar) is consulted for construction of a house.
  • If it looks to be inauspicious, then the Sahariya would, immediately change the site and select a new plot.
  • Before starting the work, haldi (turmeric), a copper coin and a coconut are put into a pit dug near the dwelling house.
  • The work is generally started either on Sunday or Monday and lord ‘Shankar’ is worshipped.
  • The house (tapra) of Sahariyas is small and rectangular in shape, the walls are raised with bamboo knitted plates between the wooden pillars and walls are plastered with black soil and cow-dung.
  • The roofs are of two-slope types, low and covered with grass or hand-made tiles  (khapra).
  • No windows are provided.
  • Only one opening door provides ventilation to the house.
  • The absence of plinth keeps the floor damp.
  • A house is divided into two parts.
  • One part is used for storage, and the other part is utilized for cooking, sleeping and grinding purposes.
  • Domestic animals like cow, bullock, goat, sheep, pigs and hen, are kept either at the backside of the hut or in one corner of the hut.
  • A small open space in front of a house is used as a courtyard.
  • In every house, there is a wooden platform (dhanchi), just at the entrance to keep the pitchers and firewood.
  • The walls of the huts are very often decorated with lime.
  • There is a common courtyard in every village.
  • The houses are built up around the village courtyard or open ground.
  • This courtyard is used for the celebration of marriage and other ceremonies.
  •  Due to the shortage of homestead land and population growth, the new huts are constructed small in size, while the huts in remote areas are much bigger and spacious.  ∙
  • The huts of Sahariyas in the western part have stone walls with flat roofs made of small stone-slabs, whereas the huts of the Sahariyas in eastern part have mud walls with tiled roofs.
  • Similarly, the Sahariyas who live in jungle area construct their huts out of bamboo and grass-thatched roofs.
  • The granaries are box type made up of mud with a small opening at bottom and entrance at the top.
  • These granaries (kothi) are used to keep wheat and grains.
  • Each one contains 2-3 quintals of grains.
  • Bamboo baskets (tukri) of different shapes and sizes are found in every house for daily use. One grinding stone is an essential item for a Sahariya.
  • As weapons, the Sahariyas use the bolt spear, gun, axe and cutter.

FOOD AND DRINKS

  • The wheat and jwar bread are the main staple food of the saharias, they also eat millets.
  • They take rice mainly in festivals.
  • Their economic condition is so pitiable that during rainy season most of them cannot afford two square meals and depends on mahua, kandmool, and other forest produces to satisfy their hunger.
  • Along with bread a little vegetable curry or pulses is also taken, they occasionally take a meal of goat, pig, and dear.
  • They hunt jungle fowl, bear, hare and also catch fishes.
  • Community hunts are also organised during festivals and leisure period.
  • The quality and quantity of food taken by a family, of course, depend on its economic status.
  • There are seasonal variations as far as the consumption of food is concerned.
  • Usually, they take meals thrice a day i.e. morning, noon and night, when they work hard in the fields.
  • Scarcity of foods starts from July to September when they have no work and have only one meal a day.
  • The Saharias are non-vegetarians.
  • Though, they don‟t eat the wild animals.
  • At the time of marriage, only well to do families prepare non-veg food.  ∙ The daily diet is vegetarian.
  • They use mahua, gulli oil as cooking medium.
  • Marginalise people collects wild leafy vegetables from forest areas.
  • They also produce vegetables in nearby.
  • During summer season fruits, roots and tubers are collected from the forest areas and consumed in a large quantity too.
  • The important fruits are Mango, Achar, Jamun, Tendu, Bel, Ber, Kakore etc.
  • They eat pulses like gram, maur, been etc. Among the species turmeric, chillies, garlic,  onions and salt are common.
  • Besides wheat and jwar chapatti, they prepared the ball-shaped wheat cakes i.e. Bati.
  • A bati could be preserved for a week or so.
  • In village wheat and jwar flour are prepared with the help of grinding stone that is called Jattha.
  • Usually, saharias don’t consume milk, only infant and small children are given milk.
  •  Along with the festival, the ceremonial diet consists of puri, curry and sweet like laddu‟s. Sweet  rice is a special item for a festive menu.
  • The saharias are addicted to smoke Bidi, Chillam, Ganja and gutkha.
  • They are much addicted to liquor.
  • Locally liquor is prepared from mahua flowers, which are collected in a summer season.
  • All their social ceremonies and traditional rituals are performed with liquor.
  • Liquor is not only consumed as a drink but also it has religious values.
  • Priests need liquor to propitiate the village deities.
  • Women also drinking liquor during festivals and ceremonies.
  • For the preparation of mahau liquor, the women prepare and dry a mixture of  intoxicated bark, seeds, roots of some jungle plants.

DRESS AND ORNAMENTS

  • Saharia men put on a dhoti, kurta (saloaka) and a turban (safa).
  • Some times old age person uses langota just to cover a lower part only.
  • The women wear colourful dress and ornaments.
  • Generally, dress and garments vary with age and sex.
  • It’s customary for man, on his marriage, use a short length of Safa.
  •  Saharias of the younger generation prefers to wear trousers and shirts.
  • In past, men used to wear dhoti above the knees but now in multiethnic villages they  put on dhoti in the style of neighbouring caste Hindus.
  • The dress of children is very scanty. Children up the age of three to four years remain without clothes.
  • A grown-up boy is provided dhoti and upper garments at the time of marriage  ceremony and festivals.
  • The dress of women mainly consist of a long skirt (ghaghra), upper garments [choli] and  Saari. Use of choli is not common to young girls.
  • The dress of Saharia women is comparable to Rajasthani women.
  • Two sets of Ghaghra are sufficient for women. Nowadays, women have started wearing blouse and sari.
  • The widow wears the same kind of dress as worn by other married women, widow do  not wear glass/silver bangles.
  • The ceremonial dresses of a bride and bridegroom are different.
  • The bride wears a ghaghra of yellow colour, which is more decorated and costly.
  • The Saharia women in general, use ornaments made of silver, brass, bronze and glass.
  •  Though, saharia women are fond of ornaments, most of the women wear glass bangles (churi), heavy rings on each arm (choora), leg (bichia).
  • The saharia women of remote areas like Dehde and Mahloni can be distinguished from the women of multiethnic villages like Aishwarya, Parasari, Ghatai by number of bangles on their legs.
  • Unmarried girls generally don’t put on the special types of bangles as it has also become symbolic of the married women.
  • They also bear the nose ring, nose pin, earring, necklace etc. of different forms and size.  Women purchase these ornaments from the weekly markets (haat), fairs (mela) and  from local vendors.
  • Tattooing is one of the traditional art of adorning women in the tribal region.
  • Every saharia women should have tattoo marks on her body.
  • The pona Saharia (saharias from eastern belt) are very efficient in this art.
  • They believe that tattoo marks enhance beauty.
  • With the help of a needle, tattoo marks are made on the body by using coloured juice of  beeza wood.
  • Every married woman must have tattoo marks of a different design.
  • Instead of tattooing all over the body, women of the younger generation prefer tattoo  marks on their arms only.

PERSONAL HYGIENE 

  • Forest-dwelling saharias keep long hair.
  • They do not have shave regularly.
  • The saharia men and women neither take regular bath nor they wash their clothes regularly because of sufficient water not being available on highlands.
  • Water scarcity is more acute during summer. For the bucket of water, they have to walk  long distances.
  • They are not very careful about their personal hygiene.
  • Women go out for defection call early in the morning in the open fields.
  • They use water after defection.
  • Children take bath irregularly.
  • They go to village tank, Atalaya for washing their clothes and to bathe.

SOCIAL ASPECTS 

FAMILY

  • Family is regarded as the first structural and functional unit among Saharia.
  • Their perception about that it is the smallest social grouping consisting of parents and their biological and adopted offspring residing in the same house and sharing the common fire space but something, unmarried sister, married brother and son (with his wife) also inhabit in family.
  • Nuclear type of family is found commonly but in a few cases, it also evident of some  joint families among them.
  • After marriage, they generally live in patrilocal as well as neolocal residence.
  • Normally, Father is respected as the supreme powerful man in a family.
  • He not only directs the family members for involving in various activities but also regulates the (financial) family budget.
  • Both joking and avoidance relations are also followed among them.
  • A Saharia woman has to avoid her husband’s father and elder brother.
  • By keeping the vell, she is directly restricted not to talk with them and not to see them.
  • Jocking relation is found with wife’s younger brother and sister and husband’s younger brother and sister.
GOTRA 
  • It has been found that Saharia are identified as endogamous groups and they are  divided into thirteen patrilineal exogamous clans or ‘gotra or gati’ but fourteen clans.
  • The present study evidences twenty-one patrilineal exogamous clans.
  • So many exogamous lineages of Saharia are originated by the division of each clan.
  • Totemistic in nature is generally followed among most of the clans and specific deities like-plant, animal, etc. are worshipped by specific clan members.
  • Some clan members also worship common deities because they believe that these common deities have been begotten from a common origin.
  • Traditionally, they believe that the members of the same clan are the descendent of a  common ancestor.
  • According to the study among Saharias, it has been confirmed that the members of the largest populated clans are always dominated and all privileges are enjoyed by them in every hamlet.
  • But direct or indirect relation and co-operation are always continued among different clan members.
  • One clan members are kinship is very much relevant among Saharia tribal groups.
  • The present study informs that all Saharia are bounded together in groups by kinship relation.
  • Both final and consanguineous kinship relations are followed among them.
  •  The marital alliance is followed among the socially of legally recognized of final kins but as biological relation (same blood), this marital alliance is totally prohibited among consanguineous kins.
  • In Saharia society, it is evident that both jocking and avoidance relation have existed.

SOCIAL RULES

  • Patriarchal socially approved rules and regulations are followed among Saharia.
  • Only sons are allowed to inherit their father’s properties.
  • After the marriage of sons, they usually leave their father’s house and separately construct  the new residences for them (New couples).
  • In that condition, the father does not give any properties to these separated sons.
  • Sons have to maintain their family budget depending on their own income.
  • But after the death of the father, by the interference of village panchayat, both moveable and immoveable properties of the deceased father are equally divided among all sons.
  • A few cases inform that if any son provides any special care in old age condition of  father, the gets some more moveable properties than the other brothers.
  • Daughters of deceased person have no right to inherit any properties, they are socially permitted to accept only the husband’s properties may be divided among daughter’s or brother’s sons as per the decision of society members.
  • The widow of a deceased person can choice any son for staying with him as a family member.
  • Saharias usually inhabitated the interior hilly and plain forest regions.
  • They have no direct contact with advanced community people and in this context,  they feel themselves as untouchable.
  • Further, it is expressed that they have no objection to eating food which is prepared by the superior of equal community people.
  • But they are not agreed to eat food which is cooked by other community people in their social hierarchy.
  • Clan exogamy and tribal endogamy are community people, then their traditional village panchayat justifies the case and as punishment, he has to pay the decided amount and  feed them of leaving his native hamlet.
  • Saharia is acquainted as a member of patriarchal society.
  • Males always behave as the dominant groups on females.
  • Their society approved rules indicated that women are not considered as property inheritators.
  • At an early age, their marriages are generally organised by the decision of father.
  • Family management and domestic works are considered as their lion part of daily activities.
  • Beside this, cultivation, daily labour, craft, child caring and child rearing etc. are all practised by the women in Saharia society, in most of the Saharia families, the earned amount is expended by the permission of the husband.
  • Men govern all vital decisions and women just support it, but all ritual activities are  performed by the direct involvement of women,
  • In spite of all these stated socially disagreement rules, friendship behaviour is usually continued between husband and wife and both of them are satisfied.

MARRIAGE

  • Among Saharias, marriage is considered as the socially recognized relationship between man and woman and by which they are permitted to stay in common residence, cooperative in all activities, attain sexual cohabitation and procreate offsprings.
  • Tribal endogamy and clan exogamy marital alliances are strictly governed among them.
  • Their society approved rules inform that they are allowed to practice monogamy but in some special cases, they are permitted to practice polygamy.
  • By the influence of Hindu society, they are introduced to practice early marriage, in the present study, the mean age at marriage of women and men have been measured as 14 to18 years and 16 to 20 years respectively.
  • Usually, negotiation marriage is followed but marriage by service, marriage by exchange, marriage by elopement etc. are also rarely occurred among them.
  • In their society, parallel cousin, cross-cousin and junior levirate marriages are prohibited  but junior sororate marriage is allowed.
  • Dowry and bride price (vardan) are not considered as an important thinkable matter for the marriage.
  • As a dowry, the bride’s father generally endows a few forests to the groom and from there, he is restricted to collect any products from those forests.
  • Generally, they use palanquin (palki) and bullock cart to carry the bride-groom and party respectively.
  • If the road is not suitable then they move on foot in bride’s place groom and party stay for one day and night and next day when marriage ceremony is over, then they return home.
  • According to their traditional customs, band, copper plate is beaten for making a loud noise.
  • Generally, their priest (Pujari) is requested to perform the marriage.
  • Their Hinduized marriage reveals that both the bride and groom revolve seven times around the nuptial fire and this fire is regarded as a witness of their marriage.
  • Vermillion on forehead, hair parting and finger ring is followed as the symbols of married women.
  • Lastly, it has been defined that their marriages are not so much expensive.
  • The bride’s father serves bread of jawar, jawar kharhi, dal, vegetable, etc. for feeding to the bride-groom party.
  • They are a patriarchal tribe and after marriage, the new couples usually dwell in patrilocal residence.

DIVORCE

  • Divorce and remarriage are rarely practised among Saharias.
  • Divorce is generally allowed on the base of adultery, insanity, they think that it is reasonable, then they declare divorce.
  • After divorce, if the woman marries with another person, then the paramour is asked some fine (Ghagra) by the council.
  • Some amount of this asked money is given to her previous husband is also permitted to marry if he gives the amount as fine to his previous wife and serves such type of communal feast.
  • According to the present study, it is no evidence that there is any prohibition against widow remarriage.
  • The widow is restricted to marry her deceased husband’s young brother (levirate) but widower is permitted to marry his deceased wife’s younger (if unmarried) sister (surrogate).
  • On the ground of widow remarriage, the bride price is usually restricted among them.

DEATH 

  • In the life cycle, death is considered as the last closing chapter of human beings.
  • Most of the Saharia speculate that after death, God takes away the soul of a dead person.
  • They generally cremate the dead body.
  • But in some cases, it has been informed that after death, either the very old persons are cremated or buried.
  • With employing music, they carry the male dead body towards cremation place.
  • In the case of female, they cremate the dead body with her ornaments, expect the ornaments which are made of gold and silver.
  • Their traditional rules and regulations define that in the house of deceased family food is not cooked for three days.
  • Neighbours, villagers and friends prepare food in their own house and supply it to the bereaved persons.
  • Bathing and washing activities on the fourth day are performed by the help of the village priest.
  • If the bereaved family members do not have any financial problem, then on this occasion, a single feast is afforded by them.

POLITICAL SYSTEM

  • Nowadays, both traditional and modern political organizations exist in every Saharia village.
  • In their traditional political organization, the post is hereditary occupied by the head and he is designated as ‘Sahrama’ (makadom).
  • Besides this, ‘patel, Barhai, prodhan and jankar’ are regarded as the subordinates of  “Sahrama‟.
  • This political body not only regulates their socio-cultural homogeneity but also justify the various dispute and punish the offenders in their society.
  • But slowly, this traditional political organization is disappearing and they are motivated to come in modem political organization.
  • The leaders of this modem political organization are selected by election through public  secret vote.
  • Saharia generally prefers the leaders who are educated, talkative, free from hesitation, capable of conducting any meeting with a government official, experienced about outer world affairs, cooperative, commendable beneficiary nature and so on.
  • Their main duties are to govern to justify the internal conflicts and always involve themselves for overall communal development.

ECONOMY

  • The Sahariyas are expert woodsmen and forest product gatherers.
  • They are particularly skilled in making catechu from Khair trees.
  • The main business is gathering & selling of forest wood, gum, tendu leaf, honey, mahua and medicinal herbs.
  • Their traditional occupations also include making baskets, mining and quarrying, and breaking stones.
  • They also hunt and fish.
  • Some Sahariyas are settled cultivators.
  • Wheat, pearl millet and maize are the main cereal crops.
  • Gram and Aarhar are the main pulses.
  • Agriculture is largely rain-dependent with merely 2% of the total land area being irrigated.
  • The main sources of irrigation are wells and rivulets, which are seasonal.
  • Others are landless labourers who were earlier bonded labourers.

HEALTH

  • The general health conditions of the tribe are very poor.
  • There is a prevalence of malnutrition and pulmonary tuberculosis.

OCCUPATION 

  • At present, their principal occupation is agricultural labour as well as cultivation.
  • They work as labourers in the forest, road construction, and in farms.
  • Their economy is from hand to mouth.
  • The poor Sahariyas cannot manage to have even two square meals a day.
  • Cultivation and agricultural labour are the main source of earning livelihood for them.
  • Besides these, they also depend on forest produces.
  • Selling of firewood is one of the main secondary sources of income for them.
  • They still depend on forest and practice the shifting cultivation

IMPACT OF MODERN WORLD 

  • Very low literacy rate
  • Lack of basic facilities such as health, education, electricity, water etc.
  • Less connectivity to towns and markets
  • Death due to malnutrition in children

Acute malnutrition among Saharias, a particularly vulnerable tribal group, due to crushing poverty, delayed breastfeeding, premature pregnancies and seasonal migrations is continuing to take away lives. As a result, every second child under five in the Shivpuri and Sheopur districts of central India is underweight. Even the country, in the  2018 Global Hunger Index, ranked an abysmal 103 out of 119 countries, consistently showing a downward trend on wasting and undernourishment parameters.