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Asgholi village lost highest number of fishermen in the entire Phyan ravaged Konkan district. Six men from the village died while they were out in the sea fending for their families. The fisherfolk say that though the government was aware about the Phyan warning, it was not communicated to them.

“Normally when a storm is expected, we are informed either by customs or fisheries department. But this time we did not get any warning from the authorities,” said Shankar Katnak, chairman of Machchimar Sanghatan in Asgholi.

Sarpanch Sridhar Natekar explained that the fishermen left the village on November 11 like any other day, not anticipating any trouble. While six never returned, 17 somehow managed to swim back. “Had we received any warning, we would have stepped out at all that day. So many people wouldn’t have died and we would have had our boats too today,” said Vishnu Palshetkar, a fisherman who is now bedridden after he hurt his back in the storm.

When officials from fisheries department and customs were confronted, both of whom have offices at stone’s throws distance from Asgholi, the officials refused to comment. “We did have the warning but due to some communication error failed to communicate it,” admitted a fisheries official.

Heroes of Asgholi

Cousins Ritesh Lakde (14) and Nikesh Lakde (17) have been declared heroes of Guhaghar Taluka by the locals. The duo saved a fisherman who had severely hurt his right hand and brought him to safety after Phyan struck the region on Novemeber 11, 2009. Both the cousins are too shy and humble to speak about their experience that day.  

“They had gone fishing like any other day early in the morning. There four of them in the boat, on which they are all employed. When the boat capsized, one of them, Padwal Waghivre, went down with it, while three of them somehow managed to swim out from under the boat,” said Vimal Lakde, Nikesh’s mother. While Nikesh and Ritesh were fit to swim, their companion Santosh Jhakkar had broken his right hand while trying to swim out from the capsized boat.

 “Santosh kept saying that he would die soon as he was unable to swim with one hand. Moreover, it was too windy for us to be able to see the shore,” said Nikesh. The two boys held Santosh by his arms and kept swimming in rough waters. For the next eight hours the boys held onto Santosh who was in lot of pain. At around 3.30 pm on November 11 the trio swam to safety.

The two boys have termed heroes by the locals. “Had it not been for them, Santosh would have died. At such a tender age they have displayed a lot of courage and valour,” said Yaswant Waijivaingankar, member of the panchayat samiti in Asgholi.

 Santosh, who is recuperating at his native village Katali Navanagar, located 100 kms away, said that he had given up that day. “I knew my hand was useless and that I would not survive even 10 minutes in the wild sea. But the two boys just held on to me and gave me hope all through,” he said.

Orphaned by Phyan

Yogesh Sadhwani

Sunaina Dophavkar (17) eyes are completely expressionless. Her tears have dried up and she seems completely at loss of words to explain her grief. The fifth standard pass has no clue what is to happen of her and her five siblings who have just been orphaned.

The Dophavkar family residing at Asgholi village in Guhaghar Taluka are talk of the entire district. Once an eight member family is now reduced to six, with the eldest living member being 17 years old. The lady of the house died a year ago due to cancer, while head of the family Bharat Ganu Dhopavkar died due to Phyan while he was fishing to fend his family. The six kids – Sunaina, Samiksha (16), Suraksha (12), Suchit (10), Sushmita (7) and Sadiksha (3) – are now orphaned and completely clueless about their future.

“My son left on November 11 morning. By 8 am some fishermen came back and told us that boat in which he was had overturned and he had gone down with it. The next day we found his body near Ranvi village located a little away from here,” explains Vijaya Dhopavkar, the kid’s grandmother. Their old grandmother is all the kids are left with now.

 Neighbours explain that after their mother died, the kids somehow managed to stay afloat and pieced their life together. “They were very close to their father. Bharat would do almost anything for them. In fact he always wanted all his kids to go to school but because all but one refused to go, he did not push them,” said a neighbour. Except for seven year old Sushmita, none of the kids go to school. Sumit did go to school a couple of years ago but dropped out and now refuses to go anywhere near the school building.

“Had we been educated, life would not have been as tough. But in our village though there is a school till seventh grade, education is not a priority with most kids,” regrets Sunaina. She adds that government has given them a large chunk of the Rs 3 lakh compensation package and many others have helped them financially. “What is the point of getting the money when we have no clue as to what to do with it. We girls cannot go on a boat and Suchit is too young to go fishing. Most importantly, we do not have anybody we can look up to anymore,” said a sobbing Sunaina, while three year old Sadiksha stares at her eldest sister with a puzzled look. 

Their grandmother says that some people have come forward to adopt the kids but she is no mood to give them away.

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If the recent Panthera study commissioned by the forest department and done by Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) is to be believed, leopard attacks are imminent in urban surroundings near Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) in the near future. The study is based on leopard scat (shit) samples collected, which reveal that the domestic dog makes more than half of the leopard’s prey these days. This according to surveyors indicates that leopards in SGNP have been venturing into human settlements quite often.

In the survey titled, Panthera study 08-09, BNHS collected 152 scat samples of which 117 were used for analysis. The scats were collected from May 6, 2008 to March 9, 2009 from along 17 routes in SGNP, which is spread over 103 square kms in Mumbai and Thane. 

A careful analysis of scats revealed that 47 per cent contained dogs while 23 per cent contained rodents, both of which are found in human settlements. Also during the survey residents of several areas near the SGNP pointed out that in the last five years leopard sightings in human settlements has increased considerably. Both these facts put together have made the researchers believe that the wild cats are straying into human settlements more often than they did earlier.

In the report it is stated that since 2004, the number of leopard attacks and associated deaths on humans has drastically reduced. In 2004 around 18 people were killed and 11 injured in various leopard attacks. This has come down to mere two injuries in 2008. “This can be mainly attributed to the massive trappings and imprisonment of 23 leopards in 2004 by the Forest Department from the most affected areas of SGNP. Two leopards from Thane and one from the Aarey Milk Colony were trapped from human settlements in and around the Park from 2007-2008,” states the report. “Despite this, leopard sightings have been increasing in most of the padas since 2004. Therefore, while the number of leopard attacks has reduced, the threat of potential attacks is in fact increasing,” states the report.

It can be noted that minus the caged leopards, according to forest department, there are 24 wild cats still in SGNP. More than 54 nagars and padas and the two revenue villages- Chena and Yeur- are situated inside the Park and the total population exceeds 250,000.

The report categorically states that leopard sightings have increased in the south of SGNP, which is towards Powai. “This only shows that leopards interaction with humans is increasing and will soon prove to be fatal for humans. Something ought to be done soon enough or we will have 2004 like attacks all over again,” said Krishna Tiwari, project head in conservation department of BNHS.

The report suggests construction of a high boundary wall around SGNP. “The proposed boundary wall is meant to span 32km in length and cover only a small portion of the 98km periphery of SGNP. Only 15 kms of the wall has been built to date. Leopard attacks on humans and domestic species can also be reduced by installing night lamps (as leopards tend not to stray into brightly lit areas), building enclosed latrines and having a person patrolling the padas at nights, especially during the monsoon when there is reduced visibility,” states the report.

Also reports suggests building of a corridor on Bassein Creek located in North of SGNP so that leopards can cross over to the Resrve forest in north or Tungareshwar wildlife sanctuary. “While leopards are able to swim, they are not inclined to do so and Bassein Creek is too large a distance to cross in order for the leopards to reach another forest area. Unless the corridor is built there is little hope for the long-term survival of the leopard in SGNP,” concludes the report.

16082007020.jpg                          Asif Patel, whose extended family alone has 11 kids who have not ben vaccinated

Around 20 Konkani Muslim families residing in Taloja village do not get their kids vaccinated as it might lead to impotency

Mumbai Mirror, August 17

Thirty-one kids residing in Taloja village, located 70 kms from Mumbai, have not been vaccinated for polio, thereby becoming a major cause for concern for the Raighad district administration. Several attempts on the part of the administration have not yielded any results as families believe that their kids would become impotent if they take the doses. 

Dominated by Konkani Muslims, the village has 31 such kids who have not been immunised at all. There are many others who do not take the doses on regular basis. Other than impotency, locals point out that “when there is no disease why should kids be given medicines”.  “The fact is that as of now the kids do not have any problem as such. Nobody has ever been affected by polio, so why take the dose,” argues Asif Patel, whose extended family alone has 11 kids who have not been immunised. He justifies his family’s opposition to the vaccination by adding that in the long run the doses might have some effects on the kids. “They might not be able to reproduce,” he added. 

Religious leaders, who play a very important role in the village and have a say in almost everything that locals do, are not doing anything to help the district administration. They point out that the administration must first take care of immediate problems like clean water supply, sanitation, among others, before expecting any help.  “Most people here believe that their kids would get impotent if they are vaccinated. Also some believe that when none of the kids who have not been vaccinated have contracted polio, then why bother. While we do not believe in this rubbish we firmly believe that the administration must look at issues like water, sanitation, health services, before expecting us to convince families to vaccinate their kids,” said Maulana Umar Hanif, a member of Ulema Committee in the area. 

Till a month ago there were 38 kids from the village who had not been vaccinated. Recently, the district collector, Seema Vyas, visited the village and managed to convince parents of seven kids to get them immunised. “The kids who have not been immunised are not only prone to get the disease but are also a threat to the entire area. If at all a case of polio crops up in the area, all the kids in the village and neighbouring areas run the risk of getting infected,” said Ramesh Surwade, resident deputy collector of Raigadh district.  

While the administration is trying its best to somehow convince the parents, they don’t seem to be budging. The authorities have now sought help from locals who get their kids vaccinated. “We will try our best to make them understand the importance of vaccination but there’s a limit to which we can push,” said a helpless Shafiq Patel, member of Taloja Gram Panchayat. Till such time that the orthodox community residing in Taloja village does not shed its inhibitions, 31 kids, and may be many more, continue to live on the edge.

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After having transformed Varachapada through his co-operative farming movement, Father George Kavukatt has started a Krishi Vidya Kendra to reach out to other villages in Shahpur Taluka 
 

He believes education is the only way to abolish poverty and fight hunger. At a time when thousands of tribal people residing in Thane district are starving to death, Father George Kavukatt has found a unique way to ensure that they don’t have sleep without food.If Father George, lovingly called Father Baba by the tribals residing in Shahpur Taluka, has his way vast expanses of wasteland will finally be put to use to cultivate crops. This he plans to do through the Agro Based Education Programme that his Deenbandhu Charitable Trust has initiated at the twin villages of Lobhipada and Pondyachapada, located three kilometers from Asangaon station.

“I am certain that this programme will change the face of the tribal belt in Shahpur. Locals here cultivate paddy on a very small scale. At a time when there are vast expanses of land yet to be cultivated, tribal youth while away their time hunting, fishing and roaming around in the forests aimlessly,” says Father Baba.  

Flagged off a couple of months ago, the programme is being run from Krishi Vidya Kendra at Lobhipada. “As of now we have admitted students from Lobhipada and Pondyachapada. The students attend school between 11 am and 4 pm. Once they are through with school they are taught modern methods of cultivation,” he says.In the near future Father Baba plans to induct children from other villages in the residential school. “Not more than three children from each tribal village would be admitted to the school,” he says. Why limited number of children from each village? “These children will go back to their villages after finishing school and educate others. We can’t accommodate all the children from every village, considering the fact that there are 200-odd villages in the Taluka,” says Father George. He adds that the programme is the only way, he can think of, to elevate the standard of living of the tribal residents of the area.

What’s more, a newly formed 13-member Prerna Adivasi Mahila Sahkari Samiti is managing the programme. “These are women from Pondyachapada and Lobhipada. It is important that locals take the initiative in the programme, which is going to benefit them in the long run. The Trust will support them in every which way but they must understand the significance of the programme,” says Father Baba.

Father Baba’s faith in the locals seems to be well placed. Hasibai Jettu Lobhi, chairperson of Prerna Adivasi Mahila Sahkari Samiti says that she has already started sending her children to school and convinced many others to follow her lead. “I don’t want my children to grow up and frantically search jobs in small scale units in and around Shahpur. This way they are learning to read and write and also getting to learn a lot about agriculture,” she says. 

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The tried and tested success story

For the residents of Varachapada, located 20 kilometres away from Asangaon, Father Baba is the man who saved them. “There was a time when I did not have enough money to buy two kilo rice to feed my family. But today, my society donates over seven tonnes of vegetables and five tonnes of tapioca every year to the underprivileged. We are where we are because of Father Baba,” says Vitthal Shivare, a resident of Varachapada, which is home to the 130-odd-member Thakar tribal community.

Father George started frequenting Varachapada eight years ago. In eight years he taught the villagers modern methods of cultivation. From traditional paddy cultivation, which can be taken up only once a year, the villagers now grow tapioca, onions, cashews, jackfruit and coconut. “When I first came here through Narayan Bua, the local priest, I saw that people barely had enough to eat. Gradually I started making friends with people and taught them modern methods of cultivation,” he says.

To begin with Father Baba bought a piece of land from Narayan Bua’s brother-in-law for Rs 10,000. Rather than getting the land transferred in his name, he transferred the three-acre plot in Bua’s wife’s name. “I made Bua the caretaker of the land and directed him to cultivate modern crops like tapioca which are economically viable and give better yield,” he explains.  Unfortunately Bua turned out to be a careless farmer. In two years his land gave very little yield. “But over a period of time I convinced others that agricultural yield can be better provided other crops are planted. Two other farmers agreed to try it out,” says Father Baba. The experiment worked well and gradually more farmers joined him.
Today Varachapada boasts of Prerna, a co-operative movement with six members, which not just cultivates their own lands but also leases out land from other farmers in the village. Of 100-odd acres land in the village, 25 acres is now utilised to grow modern crops. “When we lease out a piece of land from a farmer, we pay him rent on the basis of number of trees that can be planted on it. In addition to that we pay him a certain sum, as the owner is also the caretaker of the farm. Moreover if he does come to work in the fields, he gets paid Rs 60 daily,” says Vitthal, the chairman of Prerna.
“Till a few years ago we used travel several miles everyday in search of work. Often we came back empty handed. But now we provide employment to all the men in the village. We also employ several others from neighbouring villages,” says Ashok Wagh, another Prerna member.  In all this Sibi Joseph, Father Baba’s aide, assists the villagers. “I am totally convinced with what Fr George is doing for the villagers. I believe that if the lowest segment of our society comes up, the whole nation would benefit,” says Sibi.Sibi spends 12 hours of his day in Varachapada every day. “Father and I discuss the action plan at the end of the day at his residence in Asangaon. The next day I implement it,” says Sibi, who is responsible for clean drinking water systematic plantation, well that gives clean water, etc. Sibi often doubles up as a plumber, motor mechanic, farmer, electrician… the list is endless. “He helps the villagers in every which way. Over the years he has patiently worked with them. He knows that his job is very tedious and has to be done very patiently. Had he been the owner he could have forced the people to work. But he is working for their cause and he is well aware of this,” says Fr George.  Going a step ahead Fr George has introduced saving groups and Mahila Mandal in the village.  But all this took him eight years. “I realized that following the Varachapada-model, I could be in a position to develop at least one village in a span of some years. So I decided to start an agro-based education programme, which would educate the tribal community about high yield methods and crops,” says Father Baba. For the educationist and reformist its only the first step of a long road.

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Father’s co-operative movementTalking about his future plans Father George says he intends to take the co-operative movement to as many tribal villages as possible. “It took us eight years to turn things around at Varachapada. But now the locals at Varachapada are so stable and self sufficient that they are more than willing to reach out to others like them. We intend to start schools, technical education centres, promote dairy and poultry farming, etc for all round development of tribals,” he declares.

Mumbai Mirror, November 14, 2006

Students at tribal hostel in Kalyan go on hunger strike to protest the poor quality of food served to them

About 60 students of the state-run tribal hostel in Kalyan have gone on a hunger strike, to protest against the very poor quality of food served to them. The students say that most of them fall sick quite often. The students, who presently take turns for the hunger strike, have threatened to go on an indefinite hunger strike if the quality of food did not improve soon.

“The food here is pathetic. One can barely call it food. I think inmates in jails get better food than this,” said Jairam Wagh, a tribal from Murbad, who is doing his TY BCom from Agarwal College in Kalyan. Others said that all the three meals served at the hostel were not only bland but also lack nutritional value.

“Uncooked vegetables, burnt rotis, watery dal and raw rice are served to us daily. Though the food is unlimited we don’t take a second helping. In fact most of us eat out when we have the money,” said Ulhas Raut, a resident of Mokhada, a diploma student from the Indian Technical Institute in Ambernath.

The hostel is owned by the tribal welfare ministry and can accommodate 75 students. Presently, 69 students stay at the hostel near Birla College, Kalyan west. Students from tribal families get boarding and lodging for free here.

According to Wagh, “We are supposed to get 200 ml of milk when we wake up. Since we hail from villages we know what milk is all about. But here we get 10 per cent milk mixed with 90 per cent water.” The breakfast is equally pathetic. As per a tribal ministry circular, the students are supposed to get sheera, upma, poha, idli-sambhar and other food. “In all the years that I have been staying here we have got idli-sambhar only once. We get stale roti and vegetable daily as breakfast,” said Pravin Waghmare, a resident of Dhule, who is pursuing his Bachelor of Fine Arts from JJ School of Arts.

For lunch, the students are to get chapatis, rice, two vegetables and dal. Instead they get watery dal, burnt or paste like rice, one vegetable which is invariably cooked using rotten stock and burnt rotis.

For dinner, the students often get the same food that is served for lunch. “Only if we are very lucky do we get fresh food,” said an irked Umesh Gavit, a resident of Jawhar, who is doing his MBBS from Yerla Medical College, Navi Mumbai. Moreover, the students are supposed to get non-vegetarian food twice a month. “I don’t know what non-veg looks like here. We have never gotten any in the hostel,” says Pradip Virnekar, a resident of Pune, who is doing his HSC from Sonawane College, Kalyan.

The students said that they have been complaining to the authorities for the last several months, but to no avail. “We are now left with no option but to go on a hunger strike to set things right. After all we come from poor families and cannot afford to eat out often,” Waghmare added.

When Mumbai Mirror contacted D L Hiwale, hostel superintendent, he said, “Earlier we used to serve food cooked by our own staff. But now a contractor serves them. Unfortunately, the contractor gets a mere Rs 1,000 per month, per student. The amount is so low that the contractor is unable to provide nutritional food. I have taken up the issue with the ministry and briefed them about the problem.”

What a nutritionist says
Mumbai-based nutritionist Naini Setalvad was appalled when told about the quality of food served at the hostel. “The diet is simply unbalanced. The vegetables are too less and too much of cereals has a negative impact on the growth of a child,” she said. Antioxidants from vegetables are essential for a child’s growth. Moreover, potato is not a vegetable, but a root, she said. “In the existing case, chances of diseases like cancer, diabetes and constipation are very high,” she added.

Setalvad said the gap between lunch and dinner was too long. “There is no fruit in the diet. Lack of adequate nutrients can lead to major depression and mood swings among children,” she said.

She pointed out that in 1992, a research involving students of 800 public schools was carried out in New York, USA. After the study the quality of food was improved, and subsequently  their grades improved and other disorders were also taken care of, she said.

Burnt food, according to Setalvad is carcinogenic (cancerous). “It affects memory and the attention span goes down,” she said. Undercooked food on the other hand causes gastronomical disorders.

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Pradip Virnekar,HSC, Sonawane College

“I don’t know what non-veg looks like here. We have never gotten any in the hostel.”


Jairam Wagh, TY BCom, Agarwal College

“The food here is pathetic. One can barely call it food. I think inmates in jails get better food than this.”
Pravin Waghmare, JJ School of Arts “We get stale roti and vegetable daily as breakfast.” 

D L Hiwale, hostel superintendent
“Earlier we served food cooked by our staff. But now a contractor serves them.”