Press the menu button, then go to inbox; with the centre key you can scroll up and down. Then you select the message you want to read and open it by clicking the left button,” explains Dada Padu Kachre, a shepherd in Maharashtra’s Phaltan district as he teaches other shepherds to read text messages on his mobile phone.
The message in Marathi says: ‘Take your sheep for vaccination’. Sent by Anthra, a Pune-based organisation that works for the betterment of the pastoral community in Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, the messages, sent twice a month, give important tips to ensure sound health of their livestock while they are on the move. Over 170 dhangars — a nomadic tribe — in Maharashtra benefit from the alerts.
“The content in the message is restricted to preventive measures and medication for diseases that commonly afflict sheep and goats. The dhangar community has to deal with common ailments like cold, cough, injuries and fever plaguing their livestock while on the move. Through these messages, we teach them how to make and use simple, herbal medicines to treat their animals,” says Nitya Ghotge, founder-member, Anthra.
The messages, which were first sent in 2006, are composed taking into consideration the season, the epidemics doing the rounds and most importantly, government policies and facilities for vaccination of livestock. “Many, though not all, shepherds have mobile phones. This is what helps us reach out to them. For some reason, many of these people are reluctant to approach the government. Through these messages, we tell them in advance about the vaccinations available for seasonal epidemic,” adds Ghotge.
The Anthra team consists of four veterinary doctors and animal health volunteers from the dhangar community. With an average of 100 sheep per dhangar, the facility directly benefits some 17,000 sheep. “Given the fact that the dhangars live in groups, each dhangar propagates the message to five others. Our data shows that over one lakh sheep and goats across the state are benefited because of the remedies we suggest through the messages,” adds Sachin Hagawane, member, Anthra.
So instead of seeking out mantriks who prescribe long drawn-out rituals for the health of their herds, the shepherds now wait for these messages. Jeevan Dnyaneshwar Kolpe, who travels 60 km every year to reach Aabhepuri village near Panchgani with his 75 sheep, says, “We note down these messages in a diary for future reference. Earlier, for the smallest of illnesses, such as ulcers in the mouth or injuries, we would look for a mantrik, but today we know that a mixture of ghee and turmeric works magic for both these ailments. The farms and the fields we live in have become our resources as nature offers all the medicines.”
Being on the move is not easy. And one of the challenges the shepherds face is charging their mobile phones. Anthra has provided them compact solar chargers-cum-lamps that not only recharge their mobile phone batteries in two hours but double as lanterns. With a number of other activities conducted throughout the year to boost the culture of these tribes, Ghotge says Anthra is a bridge between the government and the pastoral tribes. “We want to work for them, but we don’t want them to become dependent on us. For us, what is really valuable is one dhangar like Kachre who educates others, making the tribe self-dependent,” says Ghotge.