Rest Of My Family Travel Diaries: Day 27 (part 2)

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The cable (leaked by Wikileaks) also read that exploitation or abuse of tribes who traditionally resided in the heart of the forests was a common phenomenon in the country. Many ‘non-tribals’ viewed the scheduled tribes as an obstacle to development who must be removed from forest lands and ‘integrated’ into the mainstream culture largely as landless labourers who occupy the bottom of the social hierarchy.

The burgeoning population and ever-expanding economy of India have only aggravated the plight of the tribal communities in the past few decades. In an attempt to eradicate deeply-rooted social problems, the then government decided to pay attention to tribal issues in a ploy to strengthen their political hold in the area.

The cable also stated that the Scheduled Tribes (Recognition of Forest Rights) bill was likely to fail owing to unethical interests exhibited in exploiting the forests apart from accentuating on the fact that India’s poorly motivated and often corrupt bureaucracy could not be relied upon to protect the environment and the Adivasis. All in all, it seemed as though that the socio-cultural upliftment of tribes could prove to be a hindrance to the so-called ‘development’ plans that the governing bodies had been insinuating for a few decades. Besides, Moopans were deliberately kept in the dark about these initiatives and hadn’t the faintest clue that a huge portion of the resources flowing into Attapadi under the pretext of tribal development never really reached them.

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When the tribes lived in the forests away from the modern civilisation, they were free dwellers of the wild with noone above them and noone below. They didn’t need any help or intervention from the outside world. It was during the British Colonial rule that the tribesmen were first enslaved to a social structure that dictated terms of their freedom and existence. Rather than equipping them with the skills they require to have a fair chance in the society, our current government continues to treat them as a handicapped community incapable of self-sustenance and unworthy of social acceptance.

They were undisputed masters of their destiny and there is no reason to think that they can’t excel in this new paradigm — one that they have been irreversibly and involuntarily sucked into — if provided with the right skills and opportunities. “We made it a point to include a tribal representative at every phase that involved both decision-making and facilitating specific projects. AHADS formed many institutions like Ooru Vikasana Samithi, Moopan Council, and other committees within the hamlets. This led to the tribes understanding what exactly happened with the existing government schemes and how much funds are actually required to do development work. No longer could they be fooled by corrupt officials who resorted to delaying projects by falsifying financial reports. The tribes grew stronger everyday and this eventually became a problem. When AHADS shut down, the contract system came back in full force thereby putting the tribal people at the mercy of middle-men yet again,” said Sheen in an impassive tone.

He then led the conversation towards child mortality rate and the efficiency of health care schemes in Attapadi. A look of sadness crossed his face as he told us that many 22-year-old tribal women suffer from high blood pressure and diabetes. He seemed convinced that this was due to rapidly changing food habits. Back in the day, their staple diet consisted of raagi, millet and green leafy vegetables. “Any illness affecting the mother will have an adverse effect on the child. Six years ago, a survey conducted by a group indicated that majority of the women survived on just boiled rice during their pregnancy. Where are the ‘hearty’ and nutritious meals they were promised?” asked Sheen.

We wondered if he harboured any bitterness in his heart towards those who destroyed the efforts of individuals or organisations that left no stone unturned to make a difference to the lives of Adivasis. To that he replied, “It is disheartening to see us come this far and not make it. Not a day goes by when I wish that we had some more time. These tribes gave up everything they had only to be included in a ‘civilised’ society that never considered them to be one of their own…”

(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

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