After a heavy breakfast of crisp rotis and aloo sabji, we headed towards Agali town in the morning. Joby planned to introduce us to a few officials who could provide all the information we required pertaining to tribal welfare projects apart from helping us out with research and acquiring comprehensive statistical data on the tribes.
Unlike the serenity of the hills, the town was bustling with activity. Temperatures soared and the streets were filled with carts selling flowers, snacks and coffee. A woman dressed in a red silk saree adjusted the flowers on her daughter’s hair. They shared a laugh together as a little toddler sprinted down the road. At the end of the lane, an old man read his morning paper amidst a crowd of strangers gathered at a tea stall.
Seated at the counter of a shop selling western closets and basins, Sharafuddin pored over his accounts. He looked up with a curious smile as Joby introduced us. In conversation, we learnt that he was a government official who was well-versed with the schemes and programmes initiated within the hamlets. Like most of the tribal areas, a 3-tier system of Panchayat is followed in Attapadi: village-level, block-level and district-level. And, entrustment of power and responsibilities is regulated at every phase. “I can help you retrieve any record you want. It was in the early 70s that the government decided to intervene in tribal affairs in order to rehabilitate those who lost their land through unfair means. Since then, numerous projects have been undertaken in these areas to ameliorate the social conditions of the tribes residing here,” said Sharafuddin.
Despite offering tribesmen help in the form of government development initiatives, he feels that the tribes continue to remain unsatisfied with the outcome. According to him, they have become lazy and do not wish to work towards nurturing a holistic environment with respect to long term sustenance anymore. They would rather wait for the government to provide them with everything they need. “We gave them fish but no one bothered to teach them fishing. When they lost their land and were displaced from their original homes, they should have been given the appropriate guidance to adapt to the urban lifestyle. They are still trying to cope with the change. While some of them are working hard to create a better future for their children, others are content with receiving timely help,” he said.
After some coffee, we decided to head towards the Block Panchayat Office with Sharafuddin. Joby suggested that it would be wise to approach the head of the departments before visiting tribal hamlets in order to eliminate the possibility of running into trouble with the authorities later. We entered the office and a man in his mid-forties beckoned us to have a seat. We explained to him why we were here and that we required co-operation from the department.
To that he replied, “You are more than welcome to take a look at any of the records. You will get a clear idea of what has been done so far and what projects or schemes are currently in the pipleline. If you visit the hamlets and discover anything that requires our immediate attention, please let us know,” said the Panchayat head. A few of his subordinates seated in the room tried to belittle our efforts and stressed that all the details required were available in the office. We explained to them that we were interested in finding out for ourselves. They couldn’t understand why we wished to meet these tribes.
After a brief discussion, we drove towards the Attapadi Co-operative Farming Society (ACFS). There, we met Sadiq who happened to be an ex-Tribal Extension Officer. Currently, he is the manager of the society. He invited us to join him in his office that was surrounded by files, cabinets and huge stacks of papers. Apparently, the ACFS was formed in 1975 under the Western Ghat Development Programme to settle 420 landless tribal families. The government had issued direct orders to assign 1092.70 hectares of vested forest land in Attapadi for farming purposes. Therefore, four farms were formed – Chindakki, Karuvara, Pothupaddy and Varadimala in Kallamala, Agali and Sholayoor village. The society was set up with the objective of utilising land resources effectively without causing any ecological imbalance apart from bolstering socio-economic and cultural changes in the tribal settlements.
Based on what we had discovered so far, we found ourselves in a perplexed situation yet again wherein official records allege that the tribes have received much more than they could have ever hoped for in the past few decades. Either the figures were grossly exaggerated or the pleas of the tribes contained no merit whatsoever. Nonetheless, their problems have neither been solved fundamentally nor have their circumstances improved over the years. And, we couldn’t help but wonder if the government claims are in fact preposterous and completely detached from ground reality…
(to be continued…)
Project ‘Rest of My family‘ is an attempt to connect back, re-discover our relationship with and understand our responsibility towards the larger family that we are a part of — the rest of our human family. Hence, it is titled Rest Of My Family.
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….
Find more about the campaign here: http://igg.me/at/restofmyfamily/x/539502