Life in the shadows around the sacred forests

The world of the Malampandaram tribe in the forest tracts of Sabarimala is full of pain, tears, abuse, sweat and shame

Published - November 13, 2013 10:04 am IST - PATHANAMTHITTA

Nowhere people: A nomadic tribal family camping at Nilacka. Photos: Leju Kamal

Nowhere people: A nomadic tribal family camping at Nilacka. Photos: Leju Kamal

The world outside seldom hears the cries of the tribal people, especially of the women, in the forest tracts of Chalakkayam, Nilackal and Plappally in Sabarimala, the sacred grove of Ayyappa.

A rough estimate shows that 37 nomadic families, comprising 200 members, of the Malampandaram tribe live in these forests tracts.

Their life is full of pain, tears, abuse, sweat and shame. It is sad to hear their tales of exploitation and social evils.

Satheesh, a literate youth of the tribe, a promoter appointed by the Tribal Welfare Department, says sexual abuse and exploitation of girls is rampant. Three girls were allegedly molested inside the forests at Ponnanpara, near Chalakkayam, by a few lower-level forest officials a year ago. All the tribal families were shifted to a remote forest area in Achencoil the next day when a television channel flashed the news, Mr. Satheesh says.

The hapless women and their men are scared to reveal the truth before anyone, as they fear further outrage from the culprits with criminal nexus.

Mr. Satheesh narrates stories of exploitation of girls by their relatives and neighbours and even incestuous relationships. Women are seen as sexual objects and simple objects of enjoyment here, he says. The women of the tribe at Nilackal and Chalakkayam complain of cruelty and sexual exploitation. Neither the police nor the forest officials touch the perpetrators, Mr. Satheesh says.

P.S. Uthaman, Literacy Prerak and Vana Samrakshana Samithi president of the Rajampara tribal settlement at Laha, says polygamy is prevalent in the tribe.

Mr. Uthaman, a two-time member of the Perinad grama panchayat and Adivasi Ekopana Samithi district unit president, who has been campaigning for the uplift of the tribe, says the situation is equally pathetic in the forest reaches of Moozhiyar, Sayippinkuzhy and Gavi, where 50 nomadic families, each with 10 to 15 members, live.

Mr. Satheesh and Mr. Uthaman say middlemen have been exploiting the nomads by buying forest produce at cheap prices.


Anaemia and malnutrition have been affecting the people, especially women and children, Mr. Uthaman says.

Nutrition supplements supplied by the government through the Anganwadi at Moozhiyar were recently found to have been contaminated and the matter was taken up with the Tribal Welfare Department authorities in Ranni later.

Mr. Uthaman says an attempt was made a year ago to make the tribal children computer-literate. But it soon fizzled out.

What is needed is provision of basic education, along with an environment for learning, for the children, he says.

Mr. Uthaman says exploitation of the Malampandaram tribe by other tribes is a problem. Alienation of tribal land is another issue.

Omana Podiyan of the tribe reportedly sold the family’s house and 34 cents of land in the Attathode tribal settlement and went into the forests.

Similarly, another 49 cents of land in the same colony has been sold, he says.

Sudhakaran of the Malampandaram tribe still has his house at the entrance of the Rajampara tribal colony in a rudimentary stage, though construction began 10 years ago.

He failed to receive finance support from the government all these years.

Mr. Satheesh and Mr. Uthaman say chances of tribal youth falling prey to the machinations of forest plunderers and other criminal gangs cannot be ruled out. Some have been provided cellphones to pass on information.

The Tribal Welfare Department has appointed 41 tribal promoters in the district, including health promoters posted at the government hospitals in Pathanamthitta, Ranni and Kozhencherry.

O.A. Rasheed, District Tribal Development Officer, says the department will soon set up a settlement colony on 4.4 hectares of forest land at Manjathode near Laha to rehabilitate 26 families of forest-dwellers from Nilackal, Plappally and Chalakkayam. But the nomadic community seldom prefers to settle down in a colony, he says.

However, Mr. Uthaman says the youth of the tribe are keen on settling down in a colony near Laha, bringing an end to an unsettled lifestyle. The tribe should be rehabilitated in a settlement colony adjoining a place such as Laha where they can be in close contact with the forests and human habitations.

Devendra Kumar Dhodawat, Secretary to the Tribal Welfare Department, accompanied by District Collector Pranab Jyotinath, visited the forest areas of Chalakkayam, Nilackal and Plappally in the Goodrickal forest range in May.

The Collector stressed the need to educate the tribe on the plus points of community living and the need to become part of the social mainstream.

Mr. Uthaman says the tribal families should be allotted five acres of land each, under the provisions in the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, on an estate in the possession of Harrisons Malayalam Ltd. at Laha.

They should be rehabilitated on the land and a monitoring committee comprising people’s representatives, Tribal Welfare Department officials and representatives of the tribal community should be constituted to provide them a support system for farming for five years, besides educating their children, he says.

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