Landless tribespeople waiting for promised land

Members of tribal families still live in unhygienic surroundings, vulnerable to diseases

December 09, 2021 01:21 am | Updated 01:21 am IST - KALPETTA

A tribal couple in front of their makeshift hut covered with low-quality plastic sheets at an agitation point at Cheeyambam in Wayanad.

A tribal couple in front of their makeshift hut covered with low-quality plastic sheets at an agitation point at Cheeyambam in Wayanad.

Hundreds of landless tribal families who have erected huts on forest land in various parts of Wayanad district as part of the land agitation in 2012 continue to be in misery, with the authorities paying scant attention to their plight.

When the land stir intensified in the district, with support from major political parties, in May and June 2012, hundreds of landless tribal families participated. They erected huts on forest land under the South and North Wayanad forest divisions, hoping that they would get to own it at the end of the agitation.

More than 800 acres of forest land were encroached upon by nearly 1,000 tribal families at 53 agitation points in the two forest divisions.

The largest number of tribal families took part in the agitation at Moonnanakuzhi and Cheeyambam agitation centres under the South Wayanad Forest Division.

Balakrishnan of Anappara tribal settlement has planted nearly 400 pepper vines and 250 coffee plants on an acre of forest land ‘assigned’ to him by leaders of the Adivasi Congress, an outfit of the Congress party, at Cheeyambam. He was promised that he would never be evicted.

Nani, a resident of Irulam Paniya settlement near Pulpally, is an activist with the Adivasi Kshema Samiti, the tribal wing of the CPI(M). She says her party members told her that tribals should continue agitating and not leave the agitation centre till they got land.

Though Forest Department officials arrested 826 tribal agitators, including 296 women, after demolishing nearly 1,287 huts erected by the latter in July 2012 alone, they were let off. They were back when local courts granted them bail.

The families were those arrested under the Kerala Forest Act but later, the government cancelled all forest cases against them.

Once the intensity of the agitation abated, a few returned to the huts. Those who did not possess land stayed back.

“Though nine years have passed after we launched the agitation, nobody tells us how long we have to continue our wretched life inside the forest,” Ms. Nani said.

The members still live in unhygienic makeshift huts, with no potable water, vulnerable to diseases and attacks by wild animals. In a few instances, elephants have destroyed their huts. Their political support disappeared after elections.

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