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Adivasis

Yes, how many deaths will it take till we know…

Maitreyi Bordia Das's picture

…that too many children have died?

I adapt this from Dylan’s famous 1962 lyrics, but it is nowhere more true than for Adivasis or tribal peoples (called Scheduled Tribes) in India.

Come monsoon, the Indian media is rife with stories of child deaths in tribal areas, frequently reported as “malnutrition deaths”. Kalahandi district in Orissa for instance, had been a metaphor for starvation due to press reports dating back to the 1980s. Melghat area in Maharashtra has similarly surfaced in the press especially during the monsoon when migrant Adivasis return to their villages and to empty food stocks in the home. This is followed by public outrage, sometimes by public interest litigation and often a haggling over numbers.

We recently published a working paper that looks at child mortality among India’s adivasis – the starkest manifestation of their deprivation. We find that an average Indian child has a 25 percent lower likelihood of dying under the age of five compared to an adivasi child. In rural areas, where the majority of adivasi children live, they made up about 11 percent of all births but 23 percent of all deaths in the five years preceding the National Family Heath Survey 2005. While there has been progress in child survival over the years, and much greater vigilance, which often leads to these stories surfacing in the media at all, the fact remains that children in tribal areas are at much greater risk of dying than those in other areas.