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Gullible to exploitation

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Whose fault? Jyothi (right) who has been expelled from tribal settlement in Valparai and her friend Anandhi. –
Whose fault? Jyothi (right) who has been expelled from tribal settlement in Valparai and her friend Anandhi. –

R. Ilangovan

For girls of Muduvan tribe, life is nothing but a tale of woes

SALEM: Just a touch, and that too without consent, is more than enough reason to declare a girl an outcast. Once out of the colony, the girl, with little knowledge about the world outside, has to battle it out with hawks on the prowl. Many are dragged into flesh trade, many commit suicide. Because Muduvan tribe in the hill ranges of Valparai in Coimbatore district considers their women folks’ “contact with outsiders” a punishable offence. Even some of the Forest Department employees are hand-in-glove with outsiders in exploiting the plight of these women, according to A Renganathan, the Tamil Nadu Convenor of the Tribal Associations for Fifth Scheduled Campaign. Many girls, who have married ‘outsiders,’ have been expelled from their settlements in the hills. Those who did not get any support have reportedly committed suicide.

According to the custom a touch or holding a hand of a tribal girl by an outsider, even against her wish, is enough for the community to banish them for life. An instance is the case of a 20-year-old girl, Jyothi of Karumutty Settlement, near Valparai, and her friend Ananathi. Jyothi, an assistant at a noon meal centre, was expelled from her tribal settlement when a forest guard grabbed her hand in a drunken state. “Now he insists me to marry him. A few of our tribal leaders support him. He has already married twice,” says Jyothi, who has to leave her widowed mother and sisters and brothers.Ananthi was ostracised for supporting Jothi. They are now planning to take recourse to legal remedy. “We are now caught between our rigid custom and exploiters,” Ananthi says.

They have preferred a police complaint against the forest employee who grabbed Jyothi’s hands and the elders of the tribal settlement who expelled her. .

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