One morning in May, 40-year-old Anushabai woke up as usual at 5 am to head into the nearby forest to collect produce. After returning home, she prepared mahua pudding, which she served in sal leaves to her ten-year-old nephews, Jangu and Srinivas. The children enjoyed their breakfast, but Anushabai despaired that she could not give them more to eat. Since the nationwide lockdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic began, her village of Markaguda has battled a chronic shortage of food.
The residents of Markaguda, 15 families from the Gond tribe, have migrated from nearby villages over the past thirty years in search of cultivable land. Markaguda and the families’ native villages were both part of erstwhile Adilabad district. However, after district reorganisation in October 2016, their native village falls under the newly formed district of Nirmal and Komaram Bheem. Its inhabitants still do not have proper documentation proving their ownership of the land.
COVID-19 has impacted many vulnerable communities worldwide, including indigenous populations, who fear ethnocide. Forest laws restrict what Markaguda’s residents are able to hunt or gather in the forest, which makes them depend on staples grown outside the forest. Now, in the absence of government aid during the lockdown, the forest is the only source of sustenance available to them.