Ananthapuramu is the southern-most district of the Rayalaseema region located towards west of Andhra Pradesh State in India. It is in the arid agro-ecological zone and is marked by hot arid bioclimatic conditions with dry summers and mild winters.
The geographical location of Ananthapuramu District is such that it doesn’t get the full benefit of either south-west monsoons or north east monsoons.
It is in the rain shadow region receiving an annual rainfall of 522 mm the second driest district in India and is one of the poorest districts in the country. Recurring droughts are a common phenomenon in this district which was one of the thirty one districts identified by the Government of India as being prone to agriculture related suicides in 2006. It is also one of the 17 districts identified as centres for human trafficking in A.P.
As per the 2011 Indian Census Ananthapuramu had a total population of 40, 83,315 consisting of 20, 64,928 male and 20, 18 387 female. The density of population is 213 per sq km as against 190 in 2001. The overall literacy rate in Ananthapuramu district as per 2011 census is 64.28% compared to 56.13% in 2001 which is lower than the AP State and National average literacy rate, 67.7% & 74.04% respectively.
Both literacy among male (74.09%) and female (54.31%) in Ananthapuramu district are also lower than the AP State and National average. The district is divided into 63 Revenue Mandals now called Taluks spread across 3-Revenue Divisions namely Ananthapuramu (20 Taluks), Dharmavaram (17 Taluks) and Penukonda Divisions (26 Taluks). There are 929 inhabited Revenue Villages and 3360 hamlets in the district as per 2001 census.
Concerning sex ratio in Ananthapuramu, it stood at 977 female per 1000 male compared to 958 in 2001 census which is lesser than AP State Average (992) but higher than the national average (940).
The child sex ratio as per 2011 census was 927 compared to 959 in 2001. The drastic fall in the number of girls is very alarming. There are 4, 26,922 children consisting of 2, 21,539 male and 2, 05,383 female in the age group of 0 to 6 years.
The total geographical area of the district is 19.13 lakh Hectares. The district occupies the lowest position in respect of irrigation facilities with only 14.08% of the gross cropped area under irrigation during the year 2006-07. Out of the gross irrigated area of 1.37 Lakh Hectares during 2006-2007 canals accounted for 17.37%, tanks 1.36%, Tube wells 70.83%, wells 10.02% and other sources 0.42% (Source: Ananthapuramu District Handbook of census 2008-09).
There are no other dependable sources of livelihood except Agriculture which plays an important role in the economy of the District. About 70 % of the district population depends on Agriculture for their livelihood.
Of the total geographical area of 19.13 lakh hectares, the total net area sown as per 2008-09 statistics was 10.82 lakh hectares (56.61%). The district occupies the lowest position in respect of irrigation facilities with only 1.45 lakh hectares (14.08%) of gross irrigated area, that too mostly through undependable tube wells and tanks.
Farmers in chronic drought prone Ananthapuramu district largely depending on rain-fed farming mostly grow groundnut as mono crop which often fails due to continuous failure of rains and attack of pests and diseases. With virtually poor industrial base, backwardness and poverty of Ananthapuramu district are well indicated in its severe rural indebtedness, distress sale of assets, high seasonal migration, low literacy levels, rapid depletion of underground water resources, highest number of farmer’s suicides in the country and trafficking of women in some areas of the district.
The impact of recurring droughts triggers desertification ultimately manifesting itself into extreme poverty conditions and deteriorating eco-systems seriously affecting livelihoods. All these cause undue hardships to deprived and marginalized sections viz., Daliths, Tribes, Backward Castes, Persons with Disability and Women.
Ananthapuramu was considered the neediest district by RDT in 1969 for its developmental work keeping in view the gravity of its socio-economic and geographical conditions.
Kurnool is the gateway to Rayalaseema Region and is the third largest district of Andhra Pradesh State. It has a geographical area of 17658 Sq Km with a density of population of 229 per sq Km.
The district has a total population of 40,46,601 comprised of 20,40,101 male and 20,06,500 female as per 2011 census. The literacy rate in the district is 61.13% and there is marked difference between male literacy (71.36%) and female literacy (50.81%). There are 984 females for every 1000 males. However there are only 937 girl children in the age group of 0 to 6 years for every 1000 male children as per 2011 census as against 958 in 2001 census, signifying the abortion of female fetuses or the practice of female infanticide. The district is divided into 54 Revenue Mandals spread across 3 Revenue Divisions. There are 920 Revenue Villages and 615 hamlet villages in the district.
The main crops raised are paddy, groundnut, jowar, cotton, bajra, tobacco and sugarcane. The crops like paddy, sugarcane and groundnut are cultivated in canal ayacut areas. Under well irrigation, crops like groundnut, onions, chillies and vegetables are grown. The mean annual rainfall of the district is 670 mm. Only 23% of land has irrigation facilities, the rest depending on precarious rainfall.
Like in Ananthapuramu there is also regular failure of monsoons leading to depletion of ground water levels and reduction in yields, which ultimately results in crop failure. Farmers prefer wet crops even when water supply is not adequate, thereby becoming debt ridden by taking loans from moneylenders. Non-availability of water at appropriate time, use of seeds and pesticides of low quality etc. are main factors for the failure of crops in the recent past.
It is also observed that there has been regular migration of people especially from villages under Aluru, Adoni, Yemmiganur, Pathikonda, Kodumur and Dhone Mandals in the district. The families leave their native villages immediately after Sankranti festival in January and return only towards the end of May for the next agricultural season. In those villages around two-thirds of the population mostly small farmers owning five to 10 acres, have deserted their homes leaving the aged people behind. Even children have accompanied their parents.
RDT has been implementing various integrated programs of development since 2007 covering a total of 296 villages spread across 11 Revenue Mandals of Kurnool district with Pattikonda and Aluru as its area headquarters.
As per Indian Census 2011 59% of tribes are literate which is lower than the national average which stands at 75%. There is a variation of 19.1% between male and female literacy among tribes. Similarly literacy gap of 12.9% is registered between urban and rural literacy among tribes. Overall literacy rate among tribes is the highest in Lakshadweep while it is the lowest in Andhra Pradesh (49.2%). Despite over six decades of Independence, tribes are still living at the lowest ebb of societal growth.
Chenchus-A Primitive Vulnerable Tribal Group (PVTG)
There are 705 Scheduled Tribes spread across 28 states and 4 union territories of India and of them 75 STs are classified as particularly vulnerable tribal group (PVTG) by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Government of India) based on the criteria of their low literacy level, stagnant population growth and primitive economy. There are 33 scheduled tribes inhabiting Telangana and Andhra Pradesh States and of them 12 tribal communities are notified as particularly vulnerable tribal group (PVTG) which includes Chenchus, a Telugu speaking aboriginal tribes living in small habitations dispersed over the western and southern stretches of deep and deciduous Nallamala forests covering Nalgonda and Mahaboobnagar districts of Telangana State and Kurnool, Prakasam and Guntur districts of Andhra Pradesh State.
The population of Chenchus in Andhra Pradesh is 49,232 as per 2001 Indian census. The literacy rate among them is 32.28%. There is marked difference between male literacy (40.87%) and female literacy (23.45%). Their traditional way of life is based on hunting and gathering forest products. They are still dependent on the forest and most clans do not cultivate land but hunt for a living.
Of the 32 tribes found in Andhra Pradesh, Chenchus, the aboriginal primitive tribes, are the most underprivileged living under extreme poverty conditions. The population of Chenchu tribes in the state is decreasing every year. As per the human rights activist by name Prof. Haragopal unless a great effort is made in the coming years to improve the living conditions of Chenchus, “not even one Chenchu would remain in around 40 to 50 years”.
According to a survey conducted by the students of University of Hyderabad the life span of an average Chenchu is around 40 years as opposed to the 64 years of the general population. This is directly attributed to lack of an access to proper education, health care, nutrition and livelihood and also due to the fact that as a community they are being displaced from their normal habitat to life outside the forest.
The population of Chenchu tribes in the state is decreasing every year. As per the survey conducted by students of University of Hyderabad, the life span of an average Chenchu is 45 years. This is because of their extreme conditions of poverty and lack of an access to health care services at grassroots.
Another Impact Assessment study on Chenchu Livelihood Enhancement Project conducted by NL Narasimha Reddy, Poverty Learning Foundation (August, 2010) reveled the following:
- Proportion of male and female population is 52:48
- Average size of Chenchu family worked out to be 4.3
- The age composition of the sample household members indicates low life expectancy; less than 10% of the household members were above 40% years.
- Proportion of illiterates was very high and even among literate education levels could be termed low, as most of them didn’t cross high school. Attainment of literacy level between the age group 6 and 14 years is significant. Ashram schools have contributed a lot to attaining literacy levels among Chenchus.
- More than a third of households were residing in Kutcha or temporary houses.
A study on the nutritional status of children in the age group of 0 to 4 years conducted by RDT (2012-13) in 25 villages of Chenchus revealed that 65% of children are malnourished. The percentage of girls who are malnourished is 69% as against 61% in case of boys.
Some information pertaining to the Chechu tribals is summarized below:
- A Chenchu village is known as “Penta”. Each penta consists of few huts that are spaced apart and are grouped together based on kinship pattern. The close relatives live nearby and the distant ones farther away.
- The traditional house of Chenchus is a small conical or oblong hut with wattle walls and thatched roof. The homes of Chenchus comprise of a few belongings which are sparse and Spartan in appearance.
- “Peddamanishi” or the village elder is generally the authority to maintain social harmony in a family or a village.
- v The Chenchus are a broad exogamous group that is sub-divided into various clans. They follow the ancient system in Hindu tradition of gotras, which represents the lineage and descent of clan members. There are 26 gotras found among the Chenchus and the various clans are identified by their gotra name. They never marry within the gotra or clan and inter marry other clan members.
- Divorce is allowed among the Chenchus on the grounds of incompatibility. Widow Remarriages are common among them.
- The Chenchus have a strong belief system. They worship their deities with great devotion. Lord Eshwara among them is known as “Lingamayya”, and Shakti as “Maisamma” or “Peddamma”.
- For ages, the Chenchus have been associated with the famous Srisailam temple in Andhra Pradesh situated at the heart of Chenchu land. The Srisailam temple dedicated to Lord Shiva and Devi Brahmaramba is a sacred pilgrim centre for Hindus of all sects.
- Lord Mallikarjuna, an incarnation of Lord Shiva fell in love with a young Chenchu maiden by name “Chenchu Laxmi” and married her. The Chenchus believe that they are the descendents of this couple and have a special place and mention in Hindu mythology.
- Family is nuclear. A very few joint families are also found. Chenchu tribe is patriarchal. Monogamy is the most prevalent form of marriage. Polygyny is also practiced but it is rare.
- They collect varieties of roots, tubers, wild fruits, edible leaves etc., and consume them. They are non-vegetarians but abstain from eating beef. Goats, sheep, buffaloes and cows are the domestic animals and there may be plough bullocks in the cultivating families.
- They are adept in honey collection from honey combs perched on the mountain cliffs and caves. They also collect minor forest produce items like gum, tamarind, myrobalans, nuxvomica, honey wax, mohwa flowers, chironji, soap nuts, broom-sticks etc., and sell them to Girijan Co-operative Corporation.
- A separate ITDA (Integrated Tribal Development Authority) is functioning at Srisailam for the overall development of Chenchus. This agency is implementing various development schemes in the fields of Agriculture, Irrigation, Education, Health, Nutrition, Horticulture, Supply of Drinking water, laying of Roads etc.
Centuries of life in the forest have made it difficult for the Chenchus to adapt easily to life outside. Though some of their children are sent to government schools, there are very few instances of educated Chenchus finding their way into mainstream modern society.
Though at times they work as forest labourers, they mostly prefer to fall back on their native skills to hunt and gather food. But the inroads of modern development have found their ways to the Chenchu homeland. Today, the forest region no longer belongs to the Chenchus. It has been declared as a tiger reserve sanctuary.
The government has been motivating the Chenchus to adapt to agriculture, but with difficulty. The Chenchus refuse to be displaced from the forest and continue to live in harmony with the tigers in the sanctuary.