“When we lived in the forests, animals never attacked the community or destroyed our crops. There was never any ‘food scarcity’. We all lived together in harmony. However, today things have changed. Peacocks, wild boars, goats and human beings are all struggling for food. There isn’t anything left for anyone,” said Nanji as she raked her fingers through her hair.
We asked her what she thought was needed for the community today in order to lead a stable life – one with fulfillment and satisfaction. She paused in contemplation and took a deep breath before responding. According to her, dreams and desires vary from person to person. What she wants may not be sufficient for someone else and what others need may not be of any use to her. She only hoped that the younger generation is encouraged to get a good education. “They must have a chance at a better life. I think we have enough to survive. We have water and electricity. However, it would be nice if farming practices were made better,” she added.
A few years ago, 243 homes from the hamlet were allotted electric fencing by the government but not a single household has received them so far. Apparently, the middle-men appointed by Panchayat sold them to dealers. The women further revealed that there have been several instances of ration shops stocking up on regular rice knowing fully well that the tribes consume Kerala Matta rice. The shopkeepers would then sell them to stores outside town to earn a quick buck while the tribes struggle with minimum supplies. “We never really get anything. Sometimes, I feel everyone hopes that we neither die nor prosper and continue to lead miserable lives,” she said as her brows furrowed with concern.
We wondered if she preferred living in the forests or the village. After pondering for a while, she pointed to the hills and said, “There. I would like to live there. Life was tough and we worked hard everyday to eat a grain of rice. It would test us beyond our limits but we were free. Our destiny was in our own hands. Now, what do we have? We are slowly losing everything from our food, land to even culture. Back in the day, we had songs and dances that immortalised our ancestry. We had one for every occasion where we all came together to celebrate. Today, all we have is a box to stare at. They call it cinema,” she said with a smile.
In a far corner, away from the chatter, sat a 90-year-old woman named Chelli on the verandah. Dressed in traditional tribal attire, she gazed into the hills with a solemn expression. Her eyes seemed distant while her fingers were clenched in the palms of her hands. Every crease and crinkle on her skin was reminiscent of the time she spent on earth. She listened to every word in silence and nodded in agreement. We longed to speak her language but we didn’t need to. For, in that instant, we felt an overwhelming sense of spiritual connection pulsating within our souls. No longer were we urban dwellers and tribeswomen. All distinctions dissolved before our eyes. And, for a fleeting moment we were all one…
(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