Day 28 (part 3): ‘We gave up our identity for 5 kg rice and 5 kg wheat’

We hear them everywhere; faint strains of fragmented echoes floating within the realms of their spiritual universe. Detached from the earth and disconnected from each other, these tribes now find themselves wandering between two worlds — one that perished a lifetime ago and another that refuses to accept or acknowledge their existence – while their ancient wisdom struggles to reclaim those souls who have succumbed to despair. As we said our goodbyes to Nadavani, we couldn’t help but hope that someday he regains his faith in humanity…

We drove through an unfamiliar rocky road that curved into the forests. The jeep rattled across ruts and trenches as we started climbing up the mountains. The wobbling and bumpy ride came to a halt for the road vanished before our eyes. It was only later that we caught a glimpse of a tractor digging and levelling the road up ahead. We struck a conversation with the driver who informed us that it would take a while and that we couldn’t possibly drive ahead. We were 2 kms away from a Kurumba Hamlet. So, we decided to continue our journey on foot. In conversation, Sheen mentioned that these areas are prone to frequent landslides and debris flows especially during monsoons thereby making it extremely difficult for the tribes residing in the forests to travel to town and back everyday.

Fayez parked the jeep outside a small house. The locals assured us that our luggage was safe with them. Sheen and Jose suggested we make a quick visit to an Irula hamlet called Dhanya nearby. Enveloped by a wave of silence, the entire village seemed deserted. There’s a strange sense of abandonment lingering in the air almost resonant with the cries of a desolate soul desperate for a moment of human connection. Every pore, every pulse and every pebble throbbed with loneliness here.

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Neither could we see anyone nor hear any sound save the trees. It felt quite odd. We walked towards a tiny house in an alleyway and came across a woman carrying a little girl on her waist. Her lips curled into a broad smile as she spotted us. Jose spoke to her in a tribal dialect and explained why we were there. She then asked us to follow her to the Moopathi’s (an elderly tribal woman) house. Most of the buildings were in a shambles and barely stood upright. Collapsing walls and broken ceilings were the usual characteristics of the structures in this hamlet.

Sitting on the porch with her right knee raised to her chin, a 75-year-old woman guffawed at a remark made by someone beside her. Her frizzy black curls were woven into a huge bun. Her name was Nanji. Running her fingers through her dense hair, she flashed a widening grin and gestured us to come closer to her. Her ebony skin wore a lustrous sheen while her eyes shone like flames.

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Her features were almost reminiscent of an ancestry that once thrived in isolated regions of South East Asia. Undoubtedly, she was the descendant of one of the most ancient tribes that migrated to the Indian Peninsula centuries ago. With respect to ethnicity, the Irulas are classified as Negrito —  a slightly derogatory term coined by early European explorers. In fact, John Henry Hutton, an anthropologist who also served as an administrator in the Indian Civil Service during the British Raj, believed that the aforementioned race were the original occupants of the country. Although research indicates that they share a strong lineage with the Australoid-Melanesian settlers, some anthropologists also suggest that they bear close resemblance to the African pygmies.

We asked her where everybody was and why was the village so silent at this hour? She took a long look at us before answering and said, “They are out looking for jobs to earn enough and feed their families. The village is always empty. No one can afford to sit idle. The schools are far away. So, most of our children have been enrolled into hostels. There are hardly four or five toddlers living with their families in the hamlet. Some look for better jobs in the cities and move out. Sometimes, they never return. Then, there are others who can’t find work anywhere. For them, every day is a struggle. Those who reside in the village today are old and have nowhere else to go. And, that’s why my dear, you are greeted with silence here,” said Nanji.

There was something about her inner strength and beauty that reflected in her voice. For, within her heart dwelled the spirit of the forests and the earth. We asked her what the tribe had gained from modernisation and government schemes so far. She pointed to the roof and said, “This is what we got. We gave up our identity for 5 kg rice and 5 kg wheat. I didn’t get anything from the government. I walk with a stick and perhaps that’s the only possession I can truly call my own. I was born in the jungle, you know. I was three when we were banished by those who called themselves ‘civilised’…”

(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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