Verrier Elwin (1902 – 1964) was educated in Oxford university and came to India in 1927 as a christian missionary.He ended up marrying a Gondi (name of a tribe) woman and adopting
tribal customs and totally renounced Christianity.The following is an extract from one of his books where he tries to put into words the poverty and exploitation of the adivasis of bastar.
We are so used to poverty in India we forget what it is. I remember one day a family coming to us in tears. for their hut and all they possessed had been destroyed by fire. When I asked how much they wanted to put them on their feet again they said, ‘four rupees’ – the price of a single copy of Brave New World.( A magazine read widely by the bourgeoisie)
That is poverty.
In Bastar state once ,a Maria was condemned to death and on the eve of execution they asked him if there any luxury he would like.He asked for some chapatti and fish curry, made after the city style.They gave it to him and he ate half of it with great enjoyment ,then wrapped the remainder up in the leaf plate and gave it to the jailor, telling him that his little son was waiting outside the prison door.The boy had never tasted such a delicacy and he should have it now.
That is poverty.
Poverty is to see little children taken from you at the height of their beauty
It is to see your wife age quickly and your mother’s back bend below the load of life.It is to be defenseless against arrogant official, to stand unarmed before exploiters and the cheats.
Poverty is to stand for hours before the gate of the court of justice and to be refused admission.It is to find officialdom deaf and the great and wealthy blind.
I have seen children fighting over a scanty meal of roasted rat.I have seen old women pounding wearily at the pith of the sago palm to make a kind of flour.I have watched men climb trees to get red ants to serve instead of chillies.
Poverty is hunger ,frustration,bereavement,futility.
There is nothing beautiful about it.
- Verrier Elwin