A.K.Balan: Give Malasar Tribe of Nelliyampathy, Kerala Their Land Back
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Situated 60 km from Palakkad in Kerala, the hilly town of Nelliyampathy has been grappling with tribal rehabilitation and land alienation issues for more than two decades. The people living in the Pollukad settlement identify themselves as descendants of the Malasar tribe.Most of the indigenous population residing in these mountainous terrains practised a lifestyle that sustained and nurtured a healthy ecosystem. They were the original inhabitants of the hills.
Decades ago, the Malasar tribe was asked to leave the forests since their land was forcefully declared to be a part of the Parambikulam Wildlife Sanctuary. As a part of their rehabilitation, the tribes were promised a temporary living arrangement and jobs within the estates. However, over the years, they soon realised that they were uprooted in the name of conservation to protect the forests and its wildlife. And, perhaps, they paid a heavy price for it.
Temporary residence in un-farmed lands
Their battle for land and ownership can be traced all the way back to the pre-independence era. The land that they are currently residing in was temporarily allotted to them by the government. In actuality, these are unfarmed lands that belong to private orange farms. The government refuses to give these tribals ownership of land nor do they allot them an alternate area where they can build permanent structures. The tribe is therefore stuck in a limbo. If they abandon their current residence, they wouldn’t be eligible for any help from the government. And, if they continue to reside here, they will never receive the help they were promised in the first place.
From being a mighty tribe who once dwelled in the forests and the mountains, they have now been reduced to hapless beggars at the mercy of an indifferent system. The reason behind the state’s refusal to give Malasar Tribe ‘rightful ownership of land’ is simply because they haven’t measured the area yet nor have they conducted appropriate reviews to determine the population residing there. Moreover, the private estates have stopped them from appraising the land for unknown reasons.
Refusal to hand over ownership of land to the tribe
A few years ago, the Vendari – tribal leader – expressed his discontent over the government’s haphazard attempt at surveying Pollukad. The leader put forth a condition that the entire tribe was to be given fair compensation rather than a small group of 29 families who have been fighting for their rights and making demands for years. It was wrongful on the state’s part to consider providing them a short term solution. The authorities starkly refused to make amends and eventually the plan was stalled.
There are about 156 families who belong to the tribe that are currently residing in the forests. Those who have jobs don’t stay here anymore. They have migrated to cities and bigger towns in search of greener pastures. Those who are unemployed are the worst affected. With nowhere to go and no means to earn, they often struggle to make ends meet. A quick glance into their dimly lit house feels as though one has entered a miniature household that’s barely held together with tarpaulin sheets and thatched roofs. Although thatch, straw and dried coconut leaves were woven to make sturdy structures by the tribals since the dawn of time, these houses are a haunting reminder of a thriving self-sustained community losing its soul owing to thoughtless urbanisation.
The tribes that once survived on their skills and ability to live in harmony with nature have now been declared as primitive beings in desperate need of help and redemption by those who displaced them, took away their homes and destroyed their identity. The wretched state of the houses in this tribal settlement presented a scene of appalling misery. Their inhabitants sat frozen in time. Their eyes vacant, and expressions desolate.
Water scarcity, another major issue
Owing to internal disputes between the forest department, state government and the Panchayat,the authorities haven’t been able to provide efficient solutions with respect to water, electricity, housing or even employment. Small black pipes with the diameter of an intravenous pipe run across their courtyard. Drops of water are collected in buckets and used for their daily chores. This is their situation in monsoons. In summer, water usually dries up and they have to walk a great distance to a water body nearby. They put these shoddy pipes themselves. Sometimes porcupines and elephants end up damaging them.
The tribal leader had approached the ministers and gave them all the legal documents they required in order to get fencing, electricity and better pipes in the area. Their pleas fell on deaf ears.
The Malasar tribe is yet another group of individuals entangled in the maze of a morally and socially corrupt paradigm.
Through this petition, we urge both Kerala and Central Government to give the tribal settlement the rightful ownership of their land and permit them to build permanent structures.
What the tribe demands?
The tribe demands that the government return their land or give them ownership of their land and grant them the permission to build permanent structures on their own land.
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