“COVID19 Pandemic and Livelihood Strategies” – Practices of Karbi Women

Text by Trishita Shandilya

Photos by CBNRM Project KRB, Aaranyak

Karbi woman collecting wild edibles from the villages nearby forested areas

Covid19 pandemic creates a new context for every one of us. Probably, most of us are still searching for some kind of coping mechanism to deal with the new normal. It is very much vivid that lockdown, which was adopted as vulnerability reduction measure in the context of covid19 pandemic, fallout with livelihood, economic and social vulnerability to common people, where the marginalized sections have suffered more. However, there are some positive indications of coping mechanisms evolved with the traditional knowledge system of women belonging to indigenous communities, where they relied on biodiversity of their neighbourhood as sources of food supply by utilizing edible plants of wild origin. Certainly, it is not a segmental and momentary outcome, it is a part of the traditional knowledge system acquired by the women of the indigenous community for generations, which has been transferred from their mother and grandmother to them. The base of this knowledge system ultimately applies to developing a coping mechanism to withstand food supply of the families from wild biodiversity of the forest ecosystem. Present story is a reflection of coping strategies adopted by Karbi tribal women in Kohora River Basin area in the neighbourhood of Kaziranga National Park, located in Kaziranga-Karbi-Anglong landscape of Assam, India.

Being one of the significant indigenous groups of Assam, Karbis reside mainly in the areas belongs to Karbi Anglong Autonomous District Council of Assam. The natural milieu is such that they generally live in the forest fringe areas. They are traditionally nature worshippers, they later have adopted Christianity from Lokhimon, Hindu religious beliefs. With the influence of new adopted religion, through their rituals and worshipping practices have changed over time, the cultural undertone prevails the same. Many people belonging to the community still believe in totemic mythologies which are mostly centred on nature. In the neoliberal economic structure, many Karbi men and women have been involved in various livelihoods practices. But, a large number of people still are practicing their traditional Jhum cultivation which they call as Ara Kheti. Along with that, most of the Karbi villagers collecting wild edibles from the nearby forested areas, a common traditional practice which is still prevalent. It is important to note that, both Ara kheti and collecting wild edibles are overwhelmingly the tasks of Karbi women. Though Ara kheti is not very profitable in terms of monetary exchange value, the practice of collecting edibles from the forest has become a very important source of earning for many Karbi households nowadays. In that context Karbi women are the sole earners for many households, who visit weekly or daily markets in groups or individually to sell collected wild edibles. Moreover, with various tourist lodges and restaurants coming up in the district, especially in the areas nearby the Kaziranga National Park, many Karbi women find place to supply their collected materials in bulk. With the lack of educational qualification, poor educational facilities along with lack of other so called modern livelihood opportunities, the vegetable or wild edible based business is the major source of earning for many.