Tribals being pushed to the wall: study
The Hindu
16th August 2000 By G. Prabhakaran

PALAKKAD, AUG. 15. "The Tribal development has become synonymous with tribal annihilation in Kerala," says a study paper being presented by Dr. P.R.G. Mathur, Social Anthropologist, at an international conference on `Ecology and Tribal Heritage' organised by the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts, New Delhi.

The study, which focuses on the primitive tribals of Kurumbas of Attappady and Cholanaickans of Nilambur, says that development funds from the Centre and State Governments have enriched the coffers of politicians, bureaucrats and contractors, without reaching the target population.

Dr. Mathur's study on the evaluation of Integrated Tribal Development Project (ITDP) during the last three decades in Attappady says that the project "exposes the biggest hoax of its kind in India. Vested interests would not allow the tribals to enjoy the constitutionally guaranteed benefits and safeguards."

Talking to the The Hindu here today, Dr. Mathur, former Director of the Kerala Institute for Research and Training and Development Studies for SC and ST (KIRTADS), said that the Constitution of India made promotion of the social and economic conditions of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes obligatory. It provided for the State to promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people and in particular SC and STs and protect them from injustices and all forms of exploitation. The 5th Schedule of the Constitution also provided for the administration and control of Scheduled Areas and Scheduled Tribes in any State.

Despite all these, the tribals are being exploited and they live a miserable life in a State like Kerala which boasts of its revolutionary social reforms and total literacy, he said.

Dr. Mathur said that his study on the overall assessment of the benefit flow from the ITDP schemes to tribals in Attappady shows that the schemes have failed thoroughly in some spheres and in others only marginal benefits have reached the tribals. If this is the rate of progress, the tribals would never be able to catch up with the rest of the society or even raise their economic status above the so called povertyline. At present, the tribals portray a gloomy picture on the canvas of Attappady, he said.

The study said that "the material existence of the tribal people depends on forests to such an extent that they cannot be visualised without forests. It appears that the tribals and forests are ecologically and economically inseparable. They have co-existed since time immemorial and will continue to co-exist in a mutually reinforcing relationship in future."

The study said that "tribals have always been sentimentally attached to the forests and considered them to be nature's gift. Their folklore has full of references to forests. There are several rites and rituals where some forest produce is used some way or other. Many of the leaves and climbers used in magico- religious rites are procured from these forests. Many trees of these forests are considered to be abode of deities and worshiped. The fact that they perform some sort of worship before cutting a tree is an indicator of a sense of attachment to the forests. The forests are also the resource base for pharmacopoeia. The local people are conversant with the medicinal plants in the area."

The study on the `Ecology and cultural heritage of hunting and gathering community of South India with special focus on Kurumbas of Attappady and Cholanaickans of Nilambur' said that "the natural ecology and hunting grounds of the food gathering community have been largely encroached upon by plainsmen and have been brought within the threshold of cultural heritage of neighbouring rural society. However, despite their cultural contact with the non-tribal people, the Kurumba and Cholanaickans did not get a respectable status in the present society. As a matter of fact, they practice primitive economy and, sometimes, live a semi-nomadic life."

The paper says that demographic pressure from outside on the Attappady tribals resulted in hundreds of unwed mothers even among the school girls. As migrators moved into such tribal areas, there is little or no recognition to the natives' rights on the land. The tribes of Attappady - Kurumbs, Mudugas and Irulas - are forced to live in abject poverty with primitive culture and backward subsistence. Land is perceived as being `empty'.

Dr. Mathur said the failure of the Kerala Government to implement the Kerala Scheduled Tribes (Restriction on transfer of lands and restoration of alienated lands) Act, 1975, resulted in the present plight of the tribals. This led to the alienation of thousands of acres of their land. Now the Government has brought an amendment to it which, instead of restoring the tribals their land, gives the present occupants the right over the tribal land. It is unfortunate that this anti-tribal legislation is being implemented and attempts are being made to uproot the tribals from the traditional settings. With this, large chunk of tribal land would go to the non-tribals with legal validity. If the Government had used a small fraction of the money spent in Attappady over the years, they would have been able to restore the entire alienated tribal land, Dr. Mathur said.

He said that in this situation when the Government, that is duty- bound to protect the tribals, favours the powerful non-tribals, there is no salvation for the tribals. The Government would continue to spend crores of rupees in the name of tribals that would be pocketed by the politician-contractor-official nexus.

The study found that after the implementation of various development schemes for the uplift of tribals during the last five decades, the tribal people of the State are pushed to the wall, taking away their land and means of livelihood, without making provisions for their rehabilitation.

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