“Years ago, AHADS conducted a raid and illicit liquor was seized from various outlets. Unless and until, individuals feel the necessity to change, we can’t make real progress. They must be made aware of the repercussions of prolonged alcohol addiction. Although, the ban on liquor brought much needed respite to many residents, it also fuelled black market trade. Those who felt caged by the new regulations rebelled against authorities by resorting to unlawful means while illegal distributors thrived in every corner of Attapadi,” said Lakshmi.
We asked her if their settlement pattern of dispersed hamlets has always been an integral part of the tribal culture. To that she replied, “We lived in hamlets as far as I remember. Earlier, houses were made of straw and bamboo and now we have permanent structures with cement and stone. We lived and farmed within the forests. When the tribal lands were split and scattered, government placed flags to mark territories and condone any farming activity within the forest reserves. While some couldn’t farm where they lived, others lost their homes.”
Despite introducing several food and health schemes, infant deaths continue to rise in tribal hamlets. In Vittiyoor, however, only one child was reported suffering from malnutrition. He received medical help on time and was able to make a quick recovery. As the discussions continued, an old woman entered the hall and sat beside us; her face set in lines of dread and steely resignation. With a deep sigh, she said, “Our food changed. Now, what we eat is provided to us by ration shops. Children get weaker with every generation. And, we are helpless.”
Lakshmi pointed out that many have started growing their own vegetables and grains in the villages. She secretly hoped that the practice caught on and the tribes soon became self-sufficient. She was all praise for the efforts of Kudumbashree — a project launched by the State a few years ago under the leadership of Local Self Governments. The organisation attempted at eradicating poverty through community involvement and women empowerment.
However, she maintained that the primary reason for the failure of government-led initiatives at grass root levels could be attributed to unrestrained corruption. Since everything from planning to implementation warranted the approval of Gram Panchayat, most of the time Moopans were always left out of the decision-making process. The department does not have a single tribal representative till date.
“Funds are handed over to middle-men and help never reaches these tribes. Instead, they are offered alternate channels to address their grievances. All the complaints get reported to the Panchayat; the same people who put them in this situation the first place. It is a never-ending cycle,” said Sheen who also reminisced about the time Rajiv Gandhi once said If you toss Rs 10 in the air, only Rs 1 comes back.
Lakshmi confided in us that there have been numerous instances of officials demanding bribes, as is customary in many parts of rural India, from villagers to get their work done. She was constantly worried about a particular hamlet or a person voicing their opinion against officials which had dire consequences. “Tribes are often forced to cough up exorbitant amounts of money to avail housing facilities that are supposed to be free. Many a times, houses meant for us were even sold to settlers. If you have been informed that you are eligible for a house allocated by the government, there is a strong possibility of someone else being allotted the same plot if he is willing to pay a higher bribe,” she said.
As these stories unfolded, the women around us looked to each other for support and shared their concerns without any remorse or fear. While some insisted that the water provided by the municipality was unfit for consumption, others confessed they had to walk for hours through rocky paths to fetch a bucket of clean water from the river.
“Whether we use any electrical appliances or not, we are charged at least Rs 600 per month. They are no TV sets or refrigerators in most of our houses. And, we experience massive power cuts throughout the day. In fact, an abandoned house in the hamlet was billed for a few months till we lodged a complaint with the electricity department. They informed us that our meters were faulty and that we were responsible for the repairs,” said Lakshmi in an exasperated tone and further added, “They collect rent from each household every month as maintenance charges. It almost seems as if the government is trying to earn back whatever they claimed to have spent on us…”
(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