Adv Diya Shetkar, Founder-President of the NGO Nari Adhikar has taken up the cause of the tribals and scheduled caste and scheduled tribes in the Nirankal area of Shiroda who live in the remote forest areas surrounding Nirankal, including the nomadic Vanarmare tribe, also known as Makadmari.
The Vanarmare claim to be descendants of the mythological Eklavya, who bettered Arjuna in archery. In fact, according to a Times of India report, so skilled are they, that they’ve mastered the technique of pulling the arrow without using the thumb—obviously in deference to Eklavya himself, who had to cut off his thumb and offer it to Dronacharya as guru dakshina.
Adv Diya Shetkar says untouchability still exists in Shiroda as some of the tribals are actually treated as untouchables. Though they work as domestic helps and as manual labour in agricultural farmlands, their landlords and bosses do not allow them to drink water from the same utensils or buckets which they use. The Vanarmare are forced to bring their own glasses, cups and utensils and draw water from a far-off well to avoid clashes with the other “high-caste” people. They are not allowed to socialise with the higher classes and their kids are forced to keep to their own group. They are mostly deprived of education even at the primary level and most of the Vanarmare are illiterate. Much-hyped schemes of the BJP government in Goa, for example the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan have miserably failed to reach the Vanarmare. In fact, no political worker wants to meet or interact with them for fear of offending the higher class people.
They are denied access to basic amenities like electricity, water and other civic amenities. They live in darkness with no electricity and do with tanker water which is supplied and stored in two tanks about a mile away from their dwelling.
As their name suggests, their traditional occupation involved killing monkeys and make a living selling their meat, but this is not relevant today, says Shetkar, refering to an earlier news report which very aptly describes the inhuman plight of the Makadmari. The conditions in which they live reveal a picture of deprivation and abject poverty. Forced to give up hunting lest it brings them in conflict with forest and wildlife laws, they now work as daily-wage labourers, mostly in agricultural or sugarcane farms, or as menial labourers, while many have taken up fishing to make ends meet.
According to Adv Diya Shetkar, three generations of the tribe have lived in Goa for more than 50 years now, and they are descendants of the Katkari people mostly found in the jungles of Maharashtra. They often visit their relatives in the neighbouring Maharashtrian village of Narul, in Kudal and move from place to place in search of grener pastures.
The other schedule caste and schedule tribes live in the forest lands of Ponda, Pernem and Sattari talukas.
Adv Diya Shetkar said she has approached the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the National Commission for Women (NCW) to get justice for the Tribals of Shiroda, but the BJP government both at the State level and the Centre have so far turned a deaf ear to her plea for support.