The Biate tribe reside in Dima Hasao district of Assam. This community is a rather obscure minority and largely ignored. They are endangered and there are currently 15,000-20,000 Biate people in all. Although they have been given recognition at the district level, they are still struggling for recognition as a community by the state of Assam.
The community still lives in the forests and farm using traditional techniques (jhum cultivation). They produce large amounts of organic ginger, turmeric, oranges, chillies etc. However, they have been exploited all along and get extremely poor rates for their produce. For example, the price of organic ginger can go as high as Rs. 250/kg but they are forced to sell it for Rs. 8-10/kg. As a result, they are extremely poor and are unable to take care of their basic necessities.
There is no public infrastructure in place either. Due to demonetisation, they have been hit even harder this year and they have not even been able to sell their ginger. As we spent some time with the villagers, we realised that a lot of good students have been forced to drop out of schools or are on the verge of dropping out. Some even have pending dues with schools because of which their report cards have been withheld.
Zir Sangpui is ten years old. Her little feet scurried along the paths of Thingdol throughout the day. Two-year-old Thlethle hung on her shoulder. She takes care of her little siblings while her parents go to the fields every day. Some days, she carries tiny logs of wood on her back and on some days, she carries pots of water.
One day, we asked her why she didn’t go to school. “Because my father does not have money to pay for the fees,” she said. Her mother and father never went to school. They are one of the poorest families in the village. Her father David had to make a tough choice between feeding his family and sending his children to school last year. So, they had to drop out. They would keep asking him when he would have enough money to send them to school. “I felt helpless and would cry quite often. I don’t want them to have a life like mine. I want them to study well.
“They should have a chance at a better life,” David told us a few days ago. As they left, one evening, Sangpui asked her father how many of them would go to school this year. “All of you,” David replied after confirming their admission. She had the biggest smile on her face as she ran towards home.