June 19, 2013 | 05:51 PM (BD Time)
19 June, 2013 Wednesday
ACC a toothless tiger : Chairman ; Obama to call for nuclear cuts in Berlin speech ; 2 fake DB men arrested in Jessore; Hartal in CHT progressing peacefully for 2nd day ; NSA director says plot against Wall Street foiled ; Israeli premier: pressure on Iran must continue ; DCC elections after Eid-ul-Fitr : EC ; Indefinite transport strike (Khulna) enters day 3 ; 18-party to stage demo countrywide on June 22 ; One killed in Jamalpur ‘by brother’ ; Jhenidah road crashes kill 2 ;
Toto tribe gets a graduate girl
Like many youngsters in Kolkata, West Bengal's state capital, Rita, 22, works for an IT company. But few realise that when Rita graduated in Arts from Prasanna Deb Women's College in Jalpaiguri, she crossed a milestone by becoming the first woman graduate from the dwindling Toto tribe.
Says Rita,"There have been only four graduates from my tribe so far. The other three were all males. Jagdish Toto became the first graduate in 1920, but it's extremely unfortunate that in the intervening 91 years, there have only been three other graduates. This clearly shows the neglect and apathy shown towards tribes like ours that remain deprived of basics like education and healthcare even today."
The daughter of Sugrib Toto, a Group D employee in the Uttarbanga Kshetriya Grameen Bank, and Urmila, a homemaker, getting an education was an uphill task for Rita. "There are facilities for studying till Madhyamik (Class 10) at Totopara, our village in North Bengal, but access to higher education is difficult. The tribe elders, set in their ways, are not keen on education as they feel no opportunities open up for the educated youngsters," she says. Rita believes that "a government policy promising a job for every educated youth would go a long way in convincing tribe elders to send their children to school".
Asha Toto and Anguli Toto studied till Class VI with Rita but then dropped out and later got married as is the norm at Totopara. "We are happy for Rita and regret that our parents didn't push us to complete our education. Being a graduate is a matter of honour and it enabled Rita to spread her wings and move to Kolkata," says homemaker, Suktara Toto, another school dropout and Rita's former classmate, adding, "Rita's success is now inspiring other girls within the tribe to take education more seriously."
Living in Kolkata has been an eye opener and a learning curve for the determined youngster. "I have realised the opportunities available to educated women. My dream is that every girl child in my tribe gets a proper education. I want to complete my post-graduation, become a teacher and go back to Totopara to teach. However, my family's financial status does not allow me further education right now," reveals Rita, who is proficient in several languages, including Nepali, Bengali, Hindi and English, besides her mother tongue, Toto.
According to Rajib Chatterjee, senior research fellow in anthropology, Centre for Himalayan Study, North Bengal University, who has authored a research paper, 'Life Among the Totos of Totopara: A Study in Continuity and Change', the Toto society is patriarchal with succession going through the male line. "There is a clear division of labour among them. All household work such as cooking, child care, giving fodder to the cattle and collecting firewood, is done by the women. Education of the girl child or even the boys is not a priority at Totopara. Their traditional social and cultural norms also prevent women from participating in political activities," says Chatterjee.
Totopara village is located in the sub-Himalayan north-west side of the Indo-Bhutan border under Madaarihat block in Jalpaiguri district. The village, comprising 808.06 hectares, is situated along the west bank of the river Torsa and is divided into six hamlets. The Toto tribe, which has inhabited Totopara since the middle of the 18th century, traces its roots to Bhutan. While the 2001 census had put the population figures at 1,184 (males 618 and females 5660), the North Bengal University (NBU) in 2004 found the total population to be 1268 (males 671 and females 597). The male-female ratio as per NBU was 889.71 females/1000 males. "Some government measures to safeguard the population have been effective but nothing has been done regarding the socio-economic uplift and growth of the tribe as a whole," rues Rita.
Chatterjee adds, "Totos have an extremely bad health status due to poor sanitation, food scarcity and lack of nutrition. The average male life expectancy is just 35. The tribe almost became extinct due to malaria and kala azar around 1865. They have a prevalence of thalassaemia and aenemia is rampant, particularly among the women, even today. Clan exogamy and early marriage - by 15-18 years of age - also cause different diseases. Many of the men, who work in the mines as labourers in neighbouring Bhutan, also suffer from diseases like tuberculosis and various skin ailments."
Nutrition is a matter of concern within the tribe where the majority live below the poverty line. "For almost five months in a year, we are dependent on forest products or stored food grains. Food changes from season to season. We used to consume maize, kaoni and marua for about seven months earlier but now the staple food is rice. Beef and pork and dried meat are also eaten. Fresh vegetables are rare," reveals Rita, adding, "The Totos prepare a type of intoxicating drink from kaoni or maura known as 'eu'. It is the tribe's favourite drink, consumed daily, even by the women."
Totopara displays all the symbols of modern India like cellphones and some pucca houses. There is a school and primary health centre, too, along with a Grameen bank, but the grim fact is that the tribe is now struggling with land rights within its own village. Many Nepalis, Marwaris and Biharis have settled in Totopara and the rich are buying the land. Those Totos who can afford to do so are trying to build pucca houses to ensure their rights to the land are held by them. "The village gets cut off during the rainy season, when the surrounding rivers get flooded. Transportation is a big problem. Education, especially for women, comes far behind major concerns like food, health, shelter, transportation, employment and livelihood," sighs Rita.
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