Intimidation and suspicion are affecting Malyekudias
KUTLUR/KUDREMUKH NATIONAL PARK: Neelaiah Maleykudia (37) cannot even buy a few packets of biscuits for his brothers' children without inviting the wrath of the Anti-Naxal Force (ANF).
From his house, which is in the midst of a thick forest, it takes two hours for him to pass through a 10-km-long stretch of forest to reach the nearest market at Naravi in Belthangady. But even after going there, he cannot be sure of getting everything he needs.
“The moment a Malyekudia tribal buys large quantities of groceries, the shopkeepers alert the ANF. We will then be required to prove that the groceries are for our own consumption and not for the Maoists,” Mr. Neelaiah says.
Official figures show that nearly 1,500 of the 2,000-plus families living within the national park — covering parts of Dakshina Kannada, Udupi and Chikmagalur districts — are Scheduled Tribes. The Maleykudias are the largest of these tribes.
Vittala Maleykudia (20), a second-year BA student and the only one from his community in the region to have studied thus far, says there is a concerted attempt by the Forest Department and the police to deter the Maleykudias from speaking to the press. After he recently spoke to a group of journalists from Mangalore, forest officials visited his family and interrogated them for an hour.
“Some policemen came to my college and, in front of all my friends, they started questioning me about what I had told the journalists,” he said. Although no physical force was used, Mr. Vittala felt that it was an act of intimidation by authorities. In the years following the birth of the Maoist movement in these parts, the Maleykudias have been entangled in the crossfire between the police and the left-wing extremists. “Now, the police and forest officials are convinced that the only way to end naxalism is to evict us from the forest,” says Poovappa Maleykudia (32) who was allegedly tortured by the ANF recently for suspected links with the Maoists.
The State Government is now offering exit packages to those who are willing to leave the park ‘of their own free will'. The compensation package has been fixed at Rs. 10 lakh for a family. Insisting that there is “absolutely no use of force” and that the Maleykudias are “leaving of their own free will”, Assistant Conservator of Forests A.S. Abbas said that over 400 Maleykudia families were willing to leave. However, Mr. Poovappa claims that the authorities have been indulging in arbitrary acts of harassment, which have intensified since the exit package was announced. “If we question them, they tell us that if we can't live by their rules we must take the exit package and leave the forest,” he claimed.
“The question that needs to be asked is,” says Somnath Nayak, president of the Nagarika Seva Trust, an NGO working with the tribal people, “would the Maleykudias have left if they had not been harassed all these years? They surrounded the Maleykudias from all sides and then wait for them to come out with their hands in the air.”
The naxal-police conflict is only one of the many problems faced by the tribal people here. During a recent visit to 12 Maleykudia settlements in Naravi Gram Panchayat limits of Dakshina Kannada, The Hindu found that the residents did not have access to even basic welfare that is supposed to be provided by the Government.