Crumbled pages fluttered in the light breeze amidst piles of books. Some sat forlorn, stacked on the shelf. Some were discarded. And, then there were those that once held records of importance. It didn’t matter now. For, they were all just gathering dust in the offices of a department that left no stone unturned to make a difference to the lives of tribal communities.
Sheen still lived in the AHADS employee quarters with his wife. His kids were enrolled in hostels. His colleagues moved out of the campus years ago. However, he decided to stay back and live alone in the quarters. While tribal members of the organisation were absorbed by the Forest Department, the non-tribal employees lost their only means of livelihood.
He also had an organic garden where he grew some drumsticks, passion fruit and chillies. The house had a traditional wooden décor with high ceiling. Every artifact and every hinge had a memory ingrained in it. Somehow, there was an eerie sense of abandonment in the air.
Throughout the living room, there were some scribbling and crayon drawings hung on window sills. A mini-library with a beautiful collection of old Malayalam and English books was placed in the middle of the hall. Sheen picked up a few books including The Count of Monte Cristo and handed them to us.
Both Sheen and Jobi have been an integral part of our journey in Attapadi. Through our numerous interactions, we were able to achieve clarity and draw conclusions on the tribal situation here. While conservation of wildlife and the biosphere was given precedence over preserving the natural ecosystem of tribes in the forests, the absolute failure in implementing holistic measures to handle their transformation led to disastrous consequences.
The tribal communities weren’t valued as much as animals, flora and fauna. Displacement and alienation only crippled them further. They should have been given the choice to decide on whether or not they wished to leave the forests. From being free dwellers with no one to answer to save the divine spirits, they were then forcefully entangled in a hierarchical society only to be shoved to the bottom of the heap.
Their lack of material possessions and their ability to survive and thrive in the wild was labelled primitive and backward by those who placed utmost importance on modernisation as the ultimate human aspiration. However, we failed to realise that these were people of the earth who belonged to the forests. Hence, they developed a strong bond with every rivulet, ridge and trail.
And, now the land of their ancestors were once lived a community in harmony with nature was deemed forsaken and demarcated by those who wished to ‘save’ it from its own protectors.
Rather than ensuring a smooth transition, the government resorted to mindless aid in the form of free food, housing, education and healthcare. Although the intention of lending a helping hand to the tribes might have been noble, corruption made the entire process slow and gruesome. Every positive step was smothered with selfishness.
Soon, the tribes got accustomed to more and more freebies and were completely untrained to survive in the urban milieu. Perhaps, the only way we can bring about drastic changes in their lifestyle today is through awareness programmes that will entail striking a balance between traditional and contemporary whilst accentuating on the importance of self-sustenance. Unless and until this is propagated, they will perhaps lose their identity and spend their entire life hoping to be accepted by a society that has consistently betrayed them.
However, the tribal downfall in Attapadi cannot be attributed to a particular person, group or governing body. Here, the story is yet another case of us having failed as human beings; operating out of fear for individual and selfish survival. Time and over again, we have failed to truly connect with one another. As a result, selfishness has always emerged triumphant. This raises another important question. Are we genuinely ready to come together not because it makes our individual survival easier but to support and empower each another?
We need to understand fundamentally that corruption is not something that exists only in the political or social realm. It is nothing but a manifestation of an individual giving priority to the self over larger or greater good. And, we all indulge in it. It exists in all walks of life — between brothers, between friends, between family and between societies.
As we left Attapadi, our minds wandered to what Jiddu Krishnamurthi once said, “We are going to inquire together about whether we can bring about order in our daily life of relationship. Because relationship is society. The relationship between you and me, between me and another, is the structure of society. That is, relationship is the structure and the nature of society. I am putting it very, very simply. And when there is no order in that relationship, as there is at present no order, then every kind of action must be not only contradictory, but must also produce a great deal of sorrow, mischief, confusion, and conflict…”
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