Last evening, sitting on reservoir banks, we glanced at the rugged low-lying hills one last time before the sun descended beneath the horizon. A few children played a game of catch in the narrow alleyways while women discussed prices of vegetables in their courtyard. A young boy sought permission from his mother to continue playing outside. At the end of the lane, an old man lit a kerosene lamp outside his house whilst a girl dressed in her school uniform ran hither and thither in search of her friends.
We asked the locals if we could find some place to rest for the night. They said the guest houses within the tea estates rented out rooms but they were unsure of the rates. We drove to a lodging house and inquired if they had any rooms to spare. They were completely booked. The owner also informed us that a herd of elephants were spotted nearby. “The Forest Department sent us an sms sometime ago. Be careful and drive safely,” he said.
We headed in the opposite direction. At night, after dinner, we discussed in length about the myriad underlying socio-economic issues that seldom gain any attention in Kerala. While the state prides itself on being developed and progressive, the deplorable state of the Adivasi communities brings forth yet another perspective on the government’s priorities with respect to addressing tribal issues. Marginalised tribes have been staging protests all over Kerala in hopes that their pleas would be answered some day.
However, the state’s apathetic attitude towards expediting tribal welfare programmes has had a devastating impact on the lives of these tribes. Apart from being duped with poorly executed rehabilitation schemes that were sabotaged by those who controlled the forest and plantation-based economy, they have also had to battle land encroachment and displacement . The blatant violation of High Court orders by the government of Kerala with respect to upholding the constitutional rights of these Adivasis is a powerful reminder of how our governing bodies continue to nurture a system that perpetuates moral decay and fosters social injustice.
Last year, the Adivasi Gothra Maha Sabha (AGMS), an umbrella organisation of tribals in Kerala, organised a standing strike wherein hundreds of tribesmen stood outside government offices for four months to protest against the empty and broken promises made to them by the state for decades. And, yet the government remains indifferent to their demands. According to reports received by an RTI Activist a few months ago, the centre and state government have spent Rs 1,347 crore on tribal development in the last five years. Vanishing funds and the deliberate strengthening of bureaucratic regimes as a result of decentralisation initiatives has played a pivotal role in belittling tribal issues today.
Thanks to the ‘money-order’ economy of Kerala, while rest of the so-called ‘civilised’ society has gone decades ahead in terms of development, welfare of tribal communities seems to have taken a back seat with the policy makers. This prompted us to delve deeper into the situation of Adivasis in Kerala.
We decided to head towards Attapadi. At 11.30 pm, we drove to Coimbatore through meandering roads and dense fog that added an eerie mystical charm to the forest. Within a few minutes, the jeep came to a screeching halt and Fayez pointed at a tree. A family of antelopes grazed in the dark in silence while some of them stood motionless. We sat still for a few moments staring at them while their curious eyes roamed the road. Sensing no imminent danger, they walked lazily into a patch of land disappearing into the night forever.
We reached Coimbatore in the morning. And as expected, the city was hot, dusty and polluted. Blaring horns and traffic congestion greeted us at every step, and we couldn’t wait to get out…
Through #RestofMyFamily, we will focus on highlighting social issues and human interest stories, documenting the triumphs of the ordinary man despite all the hardships they face constantly, and help these stories reach a larger audience and wherever necessary extend support to the individuals and communities that we write about. We hope to make a direct impact to the lives of those people we meet and find suffering due to various social issues; to connect the ones who need help to the ones who can help….
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