A life of misery in the Nilackal forests

April 06, 2015 12:00 am | Updated 08:07 am IST - PATHANAMTHITTA:

Malampandaram tribeswoman Bhavani with her children in front of theirmakeshift dwelling at the Nilackal forests in Pathanamthitta.

Malampandaram tribeswoman Bhavani with her children in front of theirmakeshift dwelling at the Nilackal forests in Pathanamthitta.

Theirs is a tale of poverty, tears, and exploitation. Few know of the plight of the Malampandaram tribal families who wander the forest tracts of Chalakayam and Nilackal that come under the Sabarimala Poonkavanam, the sacred grove of Lord Ayyappa.

Staying in makeshift dwellings that are nothing but plastic sheets and wooden poles at Nilackal, these tribal families eke out a living by collecting forest produce.

With folded hands, Bhavani, a middle-aged mother of six, talks about a life of poverty in the wild. With the onset of summer, a majority of the streams turn dry, and they have to venture deeper into the forests to collect water, braving the threat posed by wild animals, she says.

She says they have not been getting foodgrain, pulses, cooking oil, or provisions from the authorities for the past five months. The children collect biscuits and other eatables thrown by the wayside by passers-by and the Sabarimala pilgrims, she says. “We have to go to Attathode to purchase rice and grocery, but don’t have money for the same,” says Bhavani.

A hurricane lamp hanging from a tree branch is the only source of light in the night, and they live in perpetual fear of wild beasts and anti-social elements.

The womenfolk and their men are loath to reveal more about the threat posed by certain “outside” elements for fear of further outrage from those “culprits having criminal nexus.”

Reluctant to settle in a colony outside the forests, they are dependent on the forests for earning their livelihood. But with summer tightening its grip, this source of income too has stopped for the present, says P.S. Uthaman, Vana Samrakshana Samiti leader who too is a Malampandaram tribesman.

There are allegations that some middlemen have been exploiting these nomadic tribespeople by collecting the forest produce brought by them for low rates and selling them to traders for higher margins.

Health problems

Anaemia and malnutrition are said to be major health problems, especially among the Malampandaram women and children, says Mr. Uthaman.

Absence of medical assistance is another issue faced by them.

Tribal Welfare Department personnel often find it difficult to locate these nomadic tribespeople.

Mr. Uthaman says they should be rehabilitated in a settlement colony near a place such as Laha where they can be close to the forests and yet be in touch with human habitations.

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